Quiet Play

by Adrienne L. Clarke

September 12, 2004

Dear Julia,

I am writing to you from home now. Sitting at my own desk with all of my books around me helps me to feel calm. It’s funny how much I used to hate writing letters, but since the accident I can’t seem to stop. I much prefer putting my thoughts on paper than talking on the phone. I am more myself somehow – less afraid of the wrong words getting in the way. Dr. Frankel says that finding new ways to express my emotions is an important part of my recovery. After each of our sessions she gives me some kind of homework assignment. The first time I sat down to write I couldn’t think of a single thing to say, but now the words just seem to flow out of me. So all of this means you can expect to receive a lot more news from your faraway sister.

I’m sorry I wouldn’t see you at the hospital. I knew that if I saw your face I would see a new Karen written there – the old one lost forever. I hope you understand. Maybe in a couple of months you could come down for a visit, or Sara and I could come up there. I’ve only been home a few days so I don’t want to make any promises, but it’s something to think about. In the meantime I would love to hear from you, so drop me a line when you get a chance.

All my love,


P.S. Sara sends you big hugs and kisses

September 16, 2004

Dear David,

Sara and I went to the park today. It was wonderful to do something normal for a change. Although I’m grateful for all of Dr. Frankel’s help, it’s a relief not to have to talk about myself so much. Everyone agrees that I’m doing much better now, so my sessions have been reduced to one visit a week. Dr. Frankel was supportive of my decision to come home, but says she’s concerned about, “how I’ll fill my days now that I’ve stopped working.” I assume, although I have never asked, that Dr. Frankel doesn’t have children. If she did she would know that no stay-at-home Calliou mom with a three year old is ever in danger of boredom. Besides going to the park, reading books and watching endless hours of Dora the Explorer, Sara and I find ways to entertain one another.

She’s so good, our girl. She almost never cries anymore. Sometimes I think I hear her in the night, but when I go to her bedroom door everything is quiet. I guess I must just be imagining the sound. It reminds me of when Sara was first born, and I would suddenly sit straight up in bed, caught in that strange state of awake and dreaming, convinced that I had fallen asleep still holding her. While I searched frantically beneath the covers you’d whisper, “It’s O.K. Karen – Sara’s fine,” until finally, the panic slipped away, and I realized Sara was safely asleep in her bassinet.

I miss you David. I wish you would come home. When I open the closet door and see all of your shirts and ties – a tidy rainbow of cotton and silk – I forget to breathe. Like me, your things are waiting for you to come back and fill their empty spaces. Sara likes to press her face against your shirts; she likes the way the smooth cotton feels against her cheek. Sometimes I catch myself doing it to.

Keeping busy helps with everything. Yesterday I made us a real dinner instead of heating something frozen in the microwave. It seemed like I was in the kitchen forever, chopping vegetables, opening cans, stirring pots on the stove. It’s been so long since I’ve cooked anything from a recipe I was sure I’d forgotten how. And the entire time I was making dinner Sara didn’t fuss or grab my legs crying, “up, up, up” in that insistent little girl voice. She played so quietly in the other room I hardly knew she was there. I guess she’s learning how to entertain herself. Before long she won’t need me at all anymore. It makes me sad to think about that… but then I tell myself it’s a long way off. For now she’s still our little girl.

All my love,


Karen’s Journal Entry September 20, 2004

I told Dr. Frankel I wrote David a letter and she thought it showed how much stronger I’m getting. We talked about David for awhile and it was fine, and then we talked about some other things, but I don’t remember the details very clearly. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay focused during the sessions. I worry about what Sara’s doing when I’m not with her.

My homework assignment for this week is to start keeping a journal to record my thoughts – both the good and the bad. This is my first entry. Today has been a quiet day. I might take Sara to see a movie later on. I saw in the newspaper that Pooh and the Heffalump is playing downtown. Except for the park we haven’t gone out much. After I came home from the hospital the phone seemed to ring constantly, but I guess everyone’s finally given up, because it’s become mercifully silent. I’ll wait and see how I feel about a movie after dinner. I’m making Sara’s favorite: fusili pasta with corn, cherry tomatoes, and lemon butter sauce.

September 29th, 2004

Dear Julia,

All is well here so don’t worry about me too much. Sara and I go to the park every morning after Sesame Street. Yesterday we met a little boy there. His name is Micah and he’s the sweetest little boy you’ve ever seen. He reminds me a little bit of David with his big dark brown eyes and serious expression. He must live close by because he didn’t have a bike, or one of those scooters all the kids seem to have now. I’m glad that Sara has someone to play with even if he is a few years older than her. I’m guessing he’s about seven. Remember how much we wanted an older brother when we were little? I didn’t want Sara to be an only child, but life doesn’t always turn out the way you think it’s going to, does it?

I’m still seeing Dr. Frankel once a week, and she says she’s happy with my progress so far. Every morning when I wake up I make a short “to do” list to help keep me focused. Today’s list reads: take out recycling, buy stamps, and mow the back lawn. It’s harder to find ways to keep busy at night. I wish I could remember when David was coming home. It seems like he’s been gone such a long time.

Dr. Frankel says it’s important for me to be present in my life. When I asked her what she meant she told me, “You need to accept what’s happened and work on finding a new normal.” Since I’ve come home things do feel as though they are returning to normal. Having Sara with me has made all the difference. Sometimes we just lie on her bed and look up at the stars painted on her ceiling. I told her the story about Menana, the little Indian girl who begged the Great Spirit to let her live as a star in the sky, but who then grew so lonely she would do anything to become human again. I know Sara is too young to understand what I’m saying, but I think she likes the sound of my voice. David used to say he loved the sound of my voice in the dark.

All of my love,


Karen’s Journal Entry October 4, 2004

Sara and I played with Micah in the park again today. We had a wonderful time together, but I can’t help but wonder what his home life is like. I asked Micah what his mother and father did during the day, and he told me (proudly) that his father gets to work outside and “wears a big yellow hat.” All he said about his mother is that she’s “very, very tired and needs to sleep a lot.” I take this to mean that his mother is depressed. When I was alone in the hospital all I wanted to do was sleep and sleep and sleep. But as soon as I came home I knew I needed to get myself together to take care of Sara. When I asked him if he was eating O.K. (he is painfully thin) he told me, “My dad makes me breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and snacks too. He’s a very good cook my dad. Even Mom says so.”

He’s quite a funny little boy in some ways. He asked me why I came to the park everyday and I told him because Sara loves to play outside. He just smiled and showed me his Mighty TransFormer. It’s actually quite an amazing toy. But when I asked Micah if Sara could play with it for a little while he gave me the strangest look. “Little girls don’t like TransFormers,” he told me.

Dear David,

It’s two-o’clock in the morning and the most frightening thing has just happened. I woke up thinking I heard Sara cry out, and when I went to check on her she wasn’t in her crib! I ran through the house crying and screaming her name over and over but she didn’t answer and I couldn’t find her anywhere. Of course I feared the worst, thinking that someone had come into the house and taken her, but I checked the doors and windows and everything was locked. I don’t know how long I looked for her but it felt like hours. I was just about to call the police when I heard a soft peal of laughter. I followed the sound up the stairs but everything was silent. “Sara,” I called, and then I heard her laugh again; this time the sound was definitely coming from her room. She must have been there all along – hiding in the bedroom closet with her books and Princess Dora doll. “You frightened Mommy!” I yelled at her. “Never frighten Mommy like that again.” And then she started to cry and I felt terrible for getting so angry. I’ve never yelled at her like that before. I held Dora so tightly against my chest that her crown came off.

But everything is fine now. Sara went back to sleep like a dream. I wanted to tell you about it because you’re the only one who would understand how scared I was. Everything is different at night. All of the bad things seem so close, and I am tired of bad things, David.

Good night, good night wherever you are.

Karen’s Journal Entry October 20, 2004

Micah has become such a good friend to Sara. He’s not loud or rough like some of the other boys that come to the park. He likes to build things with his hands. Yesterday, Sara and I watched while he made a giant dragonfly out of sand and clay. I ran home and got two black buttons out of my sewing kit for him to use as the eyes. By the time he finished it was such a work of art that I feared Sara would step on it. “Don’t touch,” I said, reaching for her hand.

Micah put his arms around my shoulders and pressed his face against mine. “Don’t worry,” he said. “She won’t hurt anything.”

I wish Sara could have a brother just like Micah. I wonder if his parents realize how special he is; how lucky they are to have him. He told me once that his father likes to sing. “What kind of songs?” I asked him.

“Silly ones,” he said. “The kind with made up words that always rhyme, sort of like the poems in Alligator Pie. He promised to get me a guitar for my birthday so I can play while he sings. My mom wants us to start a band, and then maybe we’ll get rich and famous.”

I hope Micah gets his guitar. I’d buy it for him tomorrow if he was my son.

The mornings at the park have come to mean everything to me. Micah plays with his trucks in the sandbox while I watch from my bench. Sara laughs and I am almost happy again. The sound of children mingles with the breeze whispering through the leaves overhead until I can no longer hear Dr. Frankel’s voice telling me how to think, how to feel. So much talking. So many words with nothing to say. Some things are beyond talking and little blue pills. This is the truth that the park whispers to me. I watch Micah swing higher and higher – his small body a dark outline on the blue sky overhead. In the park there is only Sara and Micah and me.

October 23, 2004

Dear Julia,

I’m sorry it has been a couple of weeks since I’ve written. I feel so tired all the time. I thought it might be the pills Dr. Frankel prescribed for me, so I stopped taking them. When I confessed this to her at my last session she got very upset and suggested it might be a good idea for me to come back to the hospital for a few days. “I’m never going back,” I told her. “Sara needs her mother at home not locked up in some hospital.” Then everything got very quiet. I immediately regretted bringing Sara into it. After those first few weeks I had been so careful. Whenever Dr. Frankel said her name, I would make my mind go still and quiet, but this time I couldn’t seem to block out the sound of her voice. She kept asking me over and over again. “What do you mean Karen? I want you to tell me about Sara.”

All I want is to be left alone, Julia. Sara and I would be fine if everyone would let us go back to the way it was before. I think we need to get away for a little while. Maybe someplace warm where Sara and Micah can play outside for as long as they want. It’s already beginning to turn cold here. They said on the radio this morning that we might even get a few flurries by the end of the week.

Can you believe it’s almost Halloween? I need to start thinking about a costume for Sara. She loves dressing up. Do you remember the gypsy girl outfit I made her last year? It took me forever to sew all of the tinkling bells onto that little skirt. Of course, we may not still be here for Halloween… The important thing is to do what’s right for Sara. Nothing else matters. I wish David were her to help me, Julia, because sometimes I’m afraid of what will happen next.

Karen’s Journal Entry October 24, 2004

The leaves in the park were beautiful today. The trees are in their final stage of glory, their branches still full, the leaves still drenched with orange, yellow and green-gold. Yet in a few days a strong wind, or an aggressive rain, will be enough to rip the leaves from their branches until only skeletons remain. They try so hard to hang on those leaves, but their fall is inevitable. I wonder if the trees mourn the loss of their beauty as it lays scattered at their feet? Or are they so used to having it taken from them that they have grown indifferent? Despite their stoic appearance I think they care. I think they care so much they fear they will die of it.

Karen’s Journal Entry October 25, 2004

This will be my last entry. I’m going away for a little while and I don’t expect that I’ll have much time to write. But I want to thank you for listening these last few weeks. I know that’s probably not the best way to describe writing in a journal, but that’s what it felt like for me.

This morning at the park I gave Micah the new jacket I bought him. The colour is perfect: Navy blue with a beige corduroy collar and matching stripes on the sleeves. His beautiful dark eyes went as wide and round as an owl’s when I helped him put it on. I only planned to stay for a little while. I watched him play like always; and when the wind turned cold I told him I had to go home. I would have left him there – I would – but he looked so said that I wanted to make him smile. “Micah,” I said, “can you keep a secret?”

2 Responses to “Quiet Play”

  1. Terry Ervin says:

    I liked the story…the journal and letter aspect, but I think I must’ve missed something at the end.

  2. Thane Thompson says:

    Dear Ms. Clarke:

    What a powerful story of loss, mourning and madness. So sensitive, so subtle. The October 24th journal entry simply took my breath away.

    “I wonder if the trees mourn the loss of their beauty as it lays scattered at their feet?”

    Amazing writing. Thank you.

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