16 March 2022

The Ides of March


She stands alone on the rock.

She can see her father sitting on the curb by a drain, 50 yards away, illuminated by the dull orange streetlight in the parking lot.

Why didn't he just let her stay at home? She didn't want to come in the first place. She said she'd come some other week, but no, he had to make her come this week.

And why didn't he just stay inside? He kept coming out to check on her. She was having fun running around in the dark by herself. Until he came outside, and she had to be mad at him again for making her come to this dumb activity.

It is a great rock. Fun to stand on. It's cool that she can get on it so much more easily now. She's definitely taller and faster than she used to be.

She thinks about climbing onto the rectangular rock with letters carved in it that declares the building behind it a church. She used to love standing on the sign, but she decides to sit on it instead. Her dad might get mad at her for standing in the dark. Maybe if he leaves she can stand on it again.

She likes being outside in the dark. Her dad always makes her come inside when it gets too dark, but she's thirteen now. She knows to stay away from bobcats, and to stay out of the street. She'll be fine. Even here at the church he doesn't leave her alone outside for more than 10 minutes without checking on her. She hopes he doesn't ask her to come inside and at least hang out during the activity again, but he's just sitting there on the curb, not even looking at her. 

When's he going to leave? Maybe she can sneak away from him and wander some more before it's time to go home. It turns out she can. 

She starts running again, feeling the wind blowing back her hair. The parking lot on the other side of the church has plenty of space, and the grass and pavement feels sure under her feet.


He stands alone in the dark.

He watches her walk towards the rock. As she draws closer to it, the hazy moonlight through the clouds that illuminates her is blocked by shadows from the pines. He watches as a blurry shape that used to be his daughter sits down.

He walks towards the curb by the drain. 

As he does, the grass beneath him starts to move. Spirals of motion everywhere pulsate. The world is creeping, moving, shifting. The night itself begins to swirl.

He sees his daughter at 7, running out to the rock after church, faster than her siblings. She's 9 and racing to the other end of the building to climb the hill. As high as she can go, she runs down as fast as she can. Her siblings try, but they're not as sure-footed as she is and they fall and scrape their knees. She keeps running.

She's 6, and climbing in a tree near the rocks. She gets his help to climb down.

She's 8 and jumping out of the tree herself.

She's 13 again, and the rock seems smaller than it used to seem. She thought it would make her happier to play on the rock again, but it's not the same.

He sees all of this. 

And then suddenly he doesn't. His connection to reality is severed, and he just sees the night. The haze persists; the night is still.


He's in a car driving his kids home. He asks his son if he enjoyed the activity. 


He makes (another) mental note to note ask yes or no questions when he's trying to prompt a conversation.

He doesn't even try with his daughter. What's the point? Is he even helping? He knows he was trying to help. She hasn't had regular interactions with anyone outside of the family for the past 2 years. Staying home for school has been the least bad option, but she needs friends, right?

He remembers not enjoying youth activities at the church when he was a teenager, but he still had to go. Ultimately, it was good for him to interact with people his own age. He even learned stuff sometimes. She doesn't have to do the actual activity, but she at least needs to be there, right? Right?

He remembers taking books to church dances and reading them in the hallway. He remembers attending church services and activities, and he remembers occasionally escaping from them to be able to think, and breath, and exist. Is he a hypocrite for trying to help her find sustenance in activities that left him starved?

But that's just him, right? Just because he doesn't make friends doesn't mean his daughter is condemned to the same fate. Just because he can't sleep at night doesn't mean she won't be able to. Just because he considered running into the street outside the church doesn't mean she did.

[besides, it wouldn't even have worked; the speed limit is 35 mph and even if a car is speeding, it can slow down enough that he'd most likely just end up with some broken bones and maybe another concussion (and he wasn't serious about it anyway)]

The road blurs in front of him, the light from his headlights diffracting through moisture that begins to run down his cheeks. He starts breathing slowly and quietly through his mouth. He avoids sniffs that would make the changes to his mucous membranes obvious. He turns on cruise control. When his muscles start involuntarily convulsing, he clenches his face and abdomen to keep himself from shaking visibly, quivering in place instead. He opens his eyes quickly and blinks to make sure he can still see the road, but the rural highway is unchanged and empty, his headlights providing the only light between the towering pines.

Eventually the spasms stop. He's pretty sure the kids in the back didn't notice anything. He's had some practice.


They arrive home and she heads inside. She hangs out and enjoys as her brother recounts his delightful activities to a disapproving mother. She laughs when her parents start to argue. Sometimes her dad gets really mad and scary, but this one is just a silly argument, at least for now. Once it gets boring she heads back to her room to continue reading her book.