I Never Liked the Night

second draft of a story by
Lisa Marciano
1,140 words

I never liked the night. It was too quiet. And dark. When bedtime approached, a dread would wash over me and I would beg my parents, “please, please, don’t make me go to bed!” My dad, who was always on my side, would smile at me and push against mom, “It won’t kill her.” I was just three years old, but even that sounded scary to me.

To this day, I don’t know how the nighttime became a monster. At seven, I still panicked when I was forced to put on my pajamas. I would shake uncontrollably. “Stop that right now! I mean it.” I knew mom meant business whenever she said, “Right now.” Then she’d say the words I didn’t believe, “You’re fine. Everything and everyone are fine.” I would creep up the ladder to the top bunk. The wooden rods sounded like someone kept stepping on a chihuahua. “Shh! You’ll wake your brother,” mom would snap.

My brother, Ben, mom’s favorite, was already asleep in the bunk below mine. He was four years younger than me. When he slept, he looked so harmless. In the daytime, he acted like the child of a Tasmanian devil who mated with a semi-truck. I loved him so much that, at night, I would listen to him breathe for hours below me, just to making sure he didn’t stop. That’s how it all started.

I had always struggled to fall asleep. Later in life, I’d know why, but by eight it got even worse. I’d worry about everything. That’s when my nighttime roaming began. I had a heavy feeling in my stomach and the only way to appease it was to know everyone in my family was breathing.  In the middle of the awful night, with no one awake to stop me, I would slide down the bunk bed ladder. I had to be careful not to shuffle my feet on the vinyl floor, or my plastic PJ feet would scrape. I would lean over Ben and listen to the sure sign that he was still breathing. I wasn’t supposed to be out of bed, but I had a mission to complete: to save my family. I wasn’t sure from what, and I knew the night monsters were out, but I couldn’t let that stop me.

Every night, until I was eleven, I methodically did my routine. First, I would check on my sister, Sheila. Her doorframe was right next to mine, and had an open door for easy access. I was a little afraid of Sheila. She was so much heavier than I was that she’d sit on me if she woke up. I placed my tiny fingers under her nose, searching for breath. There it was: warm, in, then out, then in. I smiled and sighed in relief.

Then past my door to Jenna’s room. She was 16 and could turn scary at any given moment. In the daytime, if I looked at her wrong, she’d show me her knuckled fist and I’d run. I prayed she wouldn’t wake up. I turned her door handle and it clicked. Loud. I inhaled and held it in, not daring to breathe. Then, anxiously, I turned the handle the rest of the way, breathed out and slowly opened her door. Nothingness. I stepped forward and stumbled over something, but caught myself. I picked it up and knew it was one of Jenna’s sequined mini-skirts. She kept them hidden from Mom. I knew the path to Jenna’s bed by heart, but my nail-bitten fingers almost touched her. She turned over towards me, but still slept. I checked. She was breathing, and I would have been happier, but she had the worst breath. I backed away in the darkness, knowing she was alive, then closed her door and just stood there, searching for the courage to continue.

I had to check on mom and dad. To make it down the long, dark, hallway, I would place my hand on the side wall and skim it as I walked. In my head I’d say, “My room, wall, Sheila’s bedroom, wall, bathroom door, wall, turn left.” On nights when I could sleep, I had recurring nightmares, but I was afraid to wake my parents. When I did, I would gently shake my mom, who would open one eye and whisper, “Go to your dad.” “No,” I’d think to myself, “anything but that.” Even if I barely touched my dad with one finger, he would startle and sit straight up, which would freak me out, more than I already was. Then he’d grumble, lay down, open the covers, and let me crawl inside. This night, after examining my parents for signs of life, I was so thankful they were breathing, that everyone was breathing that, exhausted, I laid down on the green, shaggy carpet next to my parents’ bed and slept easy for the rest of the night. All was well, again. That night.

   I still think back on that poor little girl. She spent nights walking the halls of her house, full of fear, wondering if death walked before her, always thinking about what the night might force on the morning. No. I think, in checking on my family each night, I was protecting them from death and preventing my tomorrows from being different than my todays. As if I could control that.

     That night, “the” night, was unusual. At 11-years-old I still checked on my family every night. This particular night my parents went to a party so my mom didn’t put me to bed. My sisters and brother were home, but I was on my own. I crawled into bed really, really, really late. I figured that I’d have less nighttime to get through. As usual, I listened to Ben breathing for hours, hoping I’d hear my parents come through the front door. I did my nightly check of Sheila and Jenna. Both were breathing. I went back to bed, but I must have fallen asleep. The next thing I heard was dad shouting to my sister, “Sheila, Sheila come here. Sheila, call an ambulance!” I rushed out of bed and ran down the hall towards the light in my parents’ room. Sheila was on the phone. Mom, with her hair wrapped in her typical curlers and toilet paper, was in bed. Her eyes were closed and her face was the wrong color, a purple. Dad was doing something to her, face to face. I didn’t know what. I don’t know why, but I ran back down the hall to my room, flew up the ladder to my bed, put the covers over my face and said out loud, over and over again, “It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream, it’s just a dream.” But it wasn’t.