After lying in agony for some unknown length of time, uselessly trying to feel calm, uselessly trying to feel safe, you hear your family start to move around downstairs. It's the first day of a new school year for your daughter, and she's excited. You hear your husband giving her breakfast, packing her lunch, and telling her how wonderful everything will be for her today. "Where's Mommy?" she asks. You can't quite make out what lie he tells her this time. Part of you wonders what he dressed her in, and this almost gives you the energy to get up, at least to see how she looks today, but in the end you decide that it just doesn't matter. It's not like you could do any better for her right now.
They all come up before they leave for school, work, and daycare. Your daughter stands in the doorway, as if she already knows that there's no use coming in. That's right, you think to yourself. You know that I have nothing to give you. Nothing at all. Then she surprises you by walking up to the bed. She reaches out to hug you, and as she does, you notice a red dot on her arm. Your heart begins to race. This is it. This is my punishment for not being a good mother, you think. She has the measles, or the chicken pox, or probably something worse. She'll probably die. It's what I deserve. You grab her arm, push up her sleeve, and search frantically for more spots. There aren't any. Your gaze moves up to her face, and what you see on it is terror. She bolts from the room, her daddy trailing after her, saying comforting words and trying to explain.
Your tiny son has managed to crawl up onto the bed, and is lying next to you, holding your hand. "Play with me after daycare Mommy?" he asks, looking up at you hopefully. "I don't know, little dude. I'll try," you answer through your tears. His face falls. He's heard this many times now, and he knows that what you really mean is no. His dad comes back and scoops him up. "Time to go, bud," he says. "David..." you croak hesitantly. Your husband just looks down at you. Exhaustion runs rampant in every corner of him, in the lines of his face, and in every heavy movement he makes. When you don't say anything else, horror-struck with the realization of how tired he is, he turns and walks away, carrying your youngest out of the room, away from you.
When they all have gone, there is nothing left but you torturing yourself. You think of all the times you've let them down. You think of all the dreams you had: for yourself, for them, and how all those lovely dreams have evaporated, leaving nothing behind but a burning sense of loss and emptiness. You think of how much better off they would be without you. Without the shell of darkness you've become. You're a black hole, you think. Better that they don't get sucked in.
When you finally go downstairs, you don't notice the flowers your worn-ragged husband stopped last night to buy you. They bloom brightly in a vase on the table. You don't see the handful of shiny rocks near the base of the vase, rocks your son proudly collected one by one from his daycare sandbox "for my nice Mommy." At school, your daughter wears the outfit you bought for her the last time the two of you went shopping together. She picked it out herself.