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If You Should Find Yourself in the Dark

Debbie Weingarten | Longreads | May 9, 2019 | 3,460 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Featured, Nonfiction, Story

If You Should Find Yourself in the Dark

Debbie Weingarten considers the anxieties of mothering and being human in a volatile world.
Illustration by Wenting Li

Debbie Weingarten | Longreads | May 2019 | 14 minutes (3,460 words)

If your son cries in the night, begin a slow insistent hush. With your lips, make the sound of a snake. Even before you are fully awake, place your bare feet on the floor. Say, Mama is coming, and then creep past the purple glow of the nightlight to where he is a ball in his bed.

Lay your hand on his back.

If the covers have gone astray, or if his brother’s pinwheel feet are in his face, or if he has rolled onto the plastic toy he took to bed — fix it all. Place the covers back beneath his chin. Readjust the brother, put the toy on the shelf, kiss the forehead. Feel your way back through the darkness, over the sleeping dog.

***

Long ago, my parents were spelunkers. They would disappear into a hole in the ground, unsure of where the cave would lead, and pick their way along in the dark, their carbide lights illuminating the stalactites and stalagmites. They insist they felt excitement and possibility.

Once they brought my brother and me to a cave they remembered from college. It was supposed to be a family adventure. Together we would explore, and my parents would remember the way out.

What I recall is the surprising totality of darkness. And the terror I felt when we squeezed through the smallest of passageways. And the solidness — the unmoveableness — of the rock. If I breathed out or turned my shoulders in a certain way, I imagined I could be stuck there forever. If anything were to give, it would not be the rock; it would be my girl-sized bones.

Decades later, I still cannot relax into the dark.

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