It’s difficult to convey emotions through words since there is no real way to express the depth and weight of a person’s state of being. Misery. Depression. Sorrow. Pain. These words are meaningless descriptions of complicated sentiments that exist to all of us. The language in those words is for others to empathize but it’s impossible for them to understand. Nothing can ever touch the roots of our suffering.
Beth’s mother volunteered to babysit for us that night. We took advantage of the opportunity and had a date night, dinner and a movie. When the film ended, Beth went to turn on the ringer. When she saw the missed calls we realized that something had gone wrong.
Both our phones had voice mails telling us there’s been a fire at Beth’s mother’s house. The color drained from her face and tears streamed down her face while she trembled and sobbed. My world felt like it had dropped from beneath me.
The drive from the theater to the house went by in a flash. Smoke bellowed in the sky the closer we came to the house. As we pulled in, a crowd watched the house burn from down the street. Beth bolted out of the car dashing past them toward the house fire. I pushed through the crowd as a police officer ordered us to stop.
We reached the fire trucks and Beth stopped in her tracks to behold the conflagration. Her mother’s two-story home in was engulfed and crumbling to the ground in yellow and orange flames. The smoke surrounding the house glowed orange and turned into a black and gray plume that ate the sky. Fire fighters sprayed torrents of water into the house but it made little difference to the inferno. Beth collapsed to her knees and begged God to save her family. The world around me ceased to exist as I watched on feeling helpless.
“Hey, you can’t be here!” a fire fighter yelled.
“Did you see an elderly woman with a newborn?” I asked him.
He said they were still searching for them but his face had betrayed him. He didn’t want to be the one to give the bad news. Beth looked down from the sky and towards the fire fighter as if he was God answering her prayers. The fire fighter lowered his eyes towards the ground and shook his head no.
“We’ll be looking out for them, they can’t have gotten very far”, he said running toward the rest of the emergency personnel.
The intensity the fire continued to grow until in the crackling of the fire, there was a loud snap and an inhuman groan. The fire fighters scrambled away from the burning debris when the roof collapsed. Beth screamed at the top of her lungs and charged towards the calamity. I reached out and grabbed her before she was able to get away.
“It’ll be okay. Let the firemen do their jobs. You’ll see that they’re okay”, I said trying to console her. I wanted to believe my lie as desperately as I wanted Beth to believe. The hope that they were alive was the only thing preventing me from losing my mind. Beth pounded her fists against my chest screaming obscenities and curses.
“She’s calling for me! Let me go! Can’t you hear her? Let me go!” Beth screamed into my face.
It was impossible to hear anything with the sounds of the fire tearing through the house and the emergency personnel. She pleaded for me to let her go but I wouldn’t pull my hands away from her shoulders. She screamed and punched my chest, calling me every horrible name imaginable. I held on until I felt a dull pain in my forearm. It felt numb, almost distant, like I was under an anesthetic. The adrenaline numbed the pain until I realized that Beth had clamped her teeth down on my forearm and broke the skin.
I placed my hand on my injured forearm, expecting Beth to sprint for the house but she turned to me and mouthed an apology. She smiled with my blood still on her face and raced toward the house. When I tried to follow, a hand grabbed my shoulder.
“Don’t worry, they got her”, a policeman said. Two other officers and a firefighter swarmed her before she could reach the house. She fought them off while they pulled her away, howling with anger and desperation.
“Get my daughter! Can’t you hear her? She’s screaming! She’s alive! Get off me!” Beth screamed. The men dragged her toward an ambulance and tried to set her down but she wouldn’t stop thrashing against them. The officer restrained me when I tried to wrestle out of his firm grasp.
“Calm down! Restraining you is costing three men that could be looking for your little girl. Trust me, I can understand how you are feeling right now but you aren’t helping the situation”, one of the policemen said attempting to settle her down. Beth’s eyes gave no indication of understanding. There was only panic, anger, and desperate determination to escape from their grasp. I listened for Jenny’s cries and couldn’t hear them. No one heard a baby despite Beth’s insistence that she heard her.
Beth’s commotion ended when the police officer signaled the paramedic inside the ambulance. He poked Beth with a syringe, pushing it down and backing away. The police officer released me and said that it was in my best interest to stay away and let them do their job. He warned that my wife was too far gone with grief. She needed to be sedated so they could search for the baby and my mother-in-law. I told him to go to fuck himself as I watched Beth lose consciousness and slump into their arms. They placed her inside the ambulance and strapped her into the gurney.
Looking back on it, the officer was right. Sedating her was the best choice. No one would have been able to stop her from going into the fire once they turned their attention away. The bite marks on my forearm were proof of that. I left my cell phone number with the paramedic and told him to call me as soon as they found them. The ambulance pulled away and we were taken to the hospital.
The call came the next day but it wasn’t from the paramedics, it was from the county morgue. The bodies were too burned to be visually identified. They confirmed it was Beth’s mother from dental records and by default the other remains belonged to my daughter.
That night we lost our child and we lost our lives. There’s nothing comparable to the pain of losing a child. A part of my heart and soul died with her that night. I replay it over and over in my head, wondering what I could have done different to stop it from happening. And there is absolutely nothing I can do. I’m angry at myself for not being able to save my daughter. I blamed Beth for wanting a dinner and movie night. I’ve cursed my mother-in-law for getting killed and failing to save my daughter. I’ve blasphemed and denounced God for taking away my Jenny from me. But mostly, I was heartbroken, and cried.
Debilitating depression kept Beth bedridden. Days turned into weeks and a month came and went, she still did not leave the bedroom. The curtains were drawn and never opened as she slept and cried away the nights and days. Our house was always silent except for our sobbing.
Her depression emotionally drained both our souls. She refused to eat unless I begged and pleaded her to take a bite. In anger, I’d threaten to shove it down her throat but luckily she never reacted to my threats. She’d lost a lot of weight and dark circles appeared under her eyes. Her night terrors wouldn’t let either of us sleep. She screamed for Jenny while throwing punches and kicks at the invisible police officer holding her back. Being on the receiving end of a nightly beating forced me to sleep in the guest room. It didn’t help because I could still hear her shouting through the walls.
There’s no return to normality after losing a child. When I returned to work, leaving Beth’s side was difficult. I feared leaving her alone but it was also a welcome break to not have to worry about her for a little while. Friends and family would check in on her and there hadn’t been any phone calls so I assumed all was well.
I came home to an empty bedroom and a silent house. No sobbing or crying, no shouting or screaming, something was wrong. Beth was nowhere to be found. There was no response when I called out. Moving from room to room, I searched until I found the door to Jenny’s nursery open. Neither of us had been in that room since the fire.
A cold shiver ran down my spine seeing Beth laid out naked in the middle of a circle of Jenny’s clothes and toys. There was a lit candle next to each, wet and stained with the blood that flowed from Beth’s slit wrists. My daughter’s bloody pacifier was in my wife’s mouth. It reminded me of some sort of a satanic ritual or witchcraft. I shuddered thinking that Beth could have fallen so far away from God in her grief. Her chest still moved showing that she was breathing. I called an ambulance and she was taken to the hospital.
After the suicide attempt, Beth changed for the better. She was forced to seek help after being admitted into the psychiatric department at the hospital. She was given antidepressants and referred to a therapist specializing in grief counseling. The curtains at home opened for the first time in months allowing the light to penetrate our lives. Beth ate without having to be convinced. The night terrors stopped and instead we stayed up all night talking about Jenny, her suicide attempt, and the death of her mother. We cried, we hugged, and we loved again. Most importantly, we began to heal.
But something about Beth’s change bothered me. It was almost as if she was too normal, if that makes sense. She spent entire days in the kitchen cooking from the time I left for work until before going to bed. The house was always muggy and hot like the oven had been left on for hours but it never smelled like anything had been cooked. Beth lit candles in the bedroom and prayed over them before going to bed. She would finish her prayers by saying good night to Jenny and sing a lullaby to the flames.
My suspicions were confirmed when I caught Beth standing over the stove top, laughing and cooing at it like it was a baby. She addressed the flames as Jenny. I crept back upstairs and checked her antidepressant medicine bottle. It was full. I crawled back into bed and pretended to be asleep to think about how to handle the situation. For the time being, it would be best to let her continue. If it made her feel better and she wasn’t hurting anyone, there was no reason to stop it.
When the burns and blisters appeared on her body, I confronted her about what I had seen in the kitchen. I begged her to take the antidepressants and get help since it wasn’t a healthy way to cope. Her lips curled and her nostrils flared. She screamed that I wouldn’t take Jenny away from her again. She pulled a kitchen knife from the drawer and slammed it onto the counter. Without another word, I grabbed my keys and walked out the front door. Beth comforted the flames saying that daddy didn’t understand.
I spent the rest of the day at the movie theater, watching movie after movie, even if they didn’t interest me. Being at home with Beth would drive me crazy too and I wasn’t going to let that happen. A divorce would be the best thing for the both of us. It would be a chance to recover without someone constantly reminding me of my failure as a parent. Beth really needed help. She wasn’t living in reality anymore. But where does that leave me? When was my time to heal? Who comforts me?
When the last movie finished, I looked at my cell phone and saw that I had a ton of missed calls. I jumped into my car and sped home knowing what I would find.
The police named Beth the primary suspect as the case was ruled as arson. Her remains were discovered in the nursery where the fire originated in Jenny’s crib. Funeral arrangements were made and Beth was buried with Jenny and her mother, she was with her family again.
Alone and without a home, I moved back into my parent’s house until I figured out my next move. That’s what I told everyone that asked. In reality, I couldn’t continue to live with myself. The guilt and shame of wanting to abandon my wife in her time of need left me feeling like less than dirt. My nights and days were spent in bed, crying and sleeping.
I’d close my eyes and try to go to sleep but their faces would flash through my mind. I relived the night of the fire again and again in my nightmares. Beth and Jenny burned alive in the fire and her mother condemned me for not saving them. Then we’d be standing in burning field and I’d see Jenny at the center of the same circle I’m seen Beth make. I’d try to take her out of the circle but the candles would shoot out into a wall of flames preventing me from getting to her. Beth would come up from behind me, hand in hand with her mother, and they’re walk straight into the circle. I tried to follow behind them only to be burned alive. I’d wake up shouting my apologies for letting them die. When I realized that it was a dream, I cried until I passed out.
There have been days where I’ve found myself standing in the middle of a circle of Beth and Jenny’s old stuff with candles on the edges. I’d stand in the middle, naked, and holding a knife to my wrists ready to cut. I can feel Jenny and Beth in the circle with me and I press down into my flesh. Blood pours from the cuts and I feed them to the flames. I hear whispers telling me to cut more but I don’t. I think I’m going mad.
Aside from the nightmares, fire is the only connection I have left to my family. I spend my days outside in the backyard with the fire pit keeping the flames going day and night while I contemplate my own demise. I reach in hoping for one of them to grab my hand and take me away to their fiery afterlife. My burnt flesh is feels like nothing when I hear those angelic voices calling for me to come to them. They tell me they want to be a family again. I want to be a family again too…