When Danielle was growing up, Ron and I knew she was plagued by depression. It was the same demon both my husband and I had to face daily, so we had no trouble recognizing the signs. As her condition worsened, she wouldn’t bother hiding the cuts on her arms. Once she graduated high school, we couldn’t force her to see a psychologist or get any type of positive intervention. She just sat in her room with the door closed and ate no more than five meals a week. If she ever went out, it was long after her father and I had gone to bed.
She’d been picked up by the police a number of times for trespassing in graveyards or standing on the rooftops of local businesses. She never stood close enough to the edge to make the police think it was a suicide attempt, though, so she wasn’t held for psychological observation. They chalked it up to her being a rebellious kid and sent her home.
Danielle’s behavior took a significant toll on the relationship between Ron and me. Like I said, we both knew depression. We also dealt with its manifestations in different ways. I was a yeller and a crier, Ron was taciturn and brooding. But I knew his silence could be broken by occasional fits of rage.
One night, Danielle was brought home by the police for the third time in as many months. After the officer left, I began screaming at Danielle for being so reckless. She stared at me, muttering obscenities under her breath like she usually did in those situations. Ron, who’d been observing and glowering as I shouted, strode across the room and slapped Danielle across her face. Hard. She fell sideways, her head denting the sheetrock of the wall beside her. She lept to her feet but he hit her again. That time, she stayed down. As I rushed over to see if she was okay, Ron stormed out of the house.
Aside from a nasty handprint on the side of her face, Danielle was fine. Once she’d gotten over the shock of being struck, she bolted out of the kitchen, up the stairs, and slammed the door of her bedroom. Neither of us saw her for a couple days after that, but we heard her walking around. She didn’t leave at night, either; Ron stayed up to make sure of that. As much as I hated him for striking her, I hated myself even more for hoping he’d actually knocked some sense into her.
A year passed. I drifted away from Ron and he drifted away from me. We were strangers in the cavernous wreckage of the home we’d built together. I wouldn’t sleep in the same room as him, so he slept in the basement. I moved all my paints and canvases upstairs so I’d never have to see his face. That July, Danielle tried to kill herself. Had she not puked up the pills and wine before the paramedics arrived, she would’ve been dead. She was hospitalized until September. When she was released, she was no different. No better. And she returned to a home where resentfulness had undergone unchecked growth since she left.
On her 19th birthday, Danielle disappeared. We figured it was another one of her rooftop or graveyard romps, but she didn’t come back. After four days, we called the police. Two days later, they found her car on the side of a wooded road 20 miles away. Three days after that, they told us they’d found an empty bottle of pills and backpack in the woods, torn to shreds and covered with blood. We identified the pack as the one we got for Danielle a couple years earlier. 12 days after finding the backpack, the police called off the search. We were told if she’d attempted suicide and gotten dragged off by wolves or a bear, her remains might never be found. And they weren’t. We buried an empty coffin a week later.
Months went by. Ron lost his job not long after the funeral because he just wouldn’t show up to work anymore. I still had mine, and my salary was more than enough for the both of us. Still, I despised myself for continuing to support the man. I spent more and more time in the office, desperately trying to avoid going home. The few coworkers who knew about everything that was going on tried to get me to leave him. I always refused. He was the man I married. Things had to get better someday.
I came home from work on a Friday evening in early October. As always, I made my way to the kitchen to start dinner for myself and Ron. He knew to come get his food after he heard me going up the stairs to eat in my bedroom, so I was surprised to hear his footsteps as I diced onions, carrots, and celery for the stew. I bristled with anger and wouldn’t turn around. I didn’t want to see him before I ate.
“Danielle and I have a surprise for you,” he announced. Just hearing the name of my daughter made me wince. I turned around with a grimace etched into my face, ready to scream at him for invoking her memory. The grimace turned into a look of desperate, uncomprehending horror.
Standing next to Ron was Danielle – bound by the wrists and gagged. Her spindly arms and gaunt face had horrible, scarred ligature marks from the constant friction of the rope holding the bindings in place. Her hair had grown down to her naked, bloody thighs. In my delirious state of shock, I’d failed to notice the little bundle in my husband’s arms. He unwrapped a small towel from around it and presented it to me. My knees weakened and the room around me desaturated and blurred. I reached out and instinctively clutched the infant to my chest as it began to scream.
“I was hoping we could start over,” Ron whispered, tears filling his eyes. He pulled Danielle and me and the baby into an embrace. “Can we start over? Please?”