The pieces sat up and wrote

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” 

Skiparee is an unpaved road that cleaves to Mount Anthony’s graduated ascent, a clay and quartz limn up a spare corner of southwest Vermont. A modest mountain; a serious hill; here rolling dales, there furls of pine and spruce; a well-kempt farmhouse, a cruel assemblage of corrogated metal and peeling paint and furious baskervilles. A creek splinters off the Hoosick and parallels the road for the first mile.

Between March and May of 2020, I ran up and down Skiparee dozens of times. Occasionally, I walked it with then-baby Irv strapped to my chest and two-year-old Perry in the jogging stroller, fists full of cords and stones and sticks. The sky, often, was startlingly blue, and I would push myself and passengers up the steepest section and peer, panting, out over the greening ridgeline. By April, the creek that parallels the road is full of hutzpah, wide enough for fly fishing and pine needle picnics.

But this was early February, and the rush of water was quieted by snow and ice and a heavy layer of dead leaves. The surface of Skiparee was pelleted in sleet and heaving in places, like a frozen sea.  The sky was claustrophobically low and roughly the color of the ragged snow.

Those earlier months — they were dark, with silver linings. Running or heaving a stroller up Skiparee were the linings. Skiparee was a lining. As silver lining, it could have no bearing at all on the full-blown darkness – a haint – that came over me then, nearly three years on.

I had just passed the little green sign proclaiming the road’s beauty (sometimes true) and thanking readers for not littering when the haint snuck with the falling sleet into the lip of my jacket and down my back.


I had done something very foolish the night before, which was to go to the homepage and click on the tout of a woman in a hospital bed, wearing a neck brace and a face mask. It was the sort of shot I could imagine an aggressive photographer taking as he was hustled back out of the hospital room: disturbing, dehumanizing, with little point beyond giving us a new and much bleaker visual for what the mother looked like. The prior photos – smiling headshot, lively brown eyes – established dissonance with the act, intentionally or not. With this one, the Globe seemed to have changed stances, from one of sympathy to something harder-nosed. Where there is madness, there is method, the photo, the accompanying headline, the led text implied. 

I had been a fool to go to the paper’s homepage at all, and a greater fool to read the latest developments, most advanced by the prosecution. I had worked until close to midnight after a day of skiing; i was foggy from staying up the night before – I ought to have turned straight to Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and allowed the story of genius and friendship and captivatingly foreign sub-culture to work its swift magic. 

Instead I read the developments – I felt compelled to, once I’d seen the photo (as I said, the real bit of foolishness was going to the homepage at all; I had done so knowing full well what I might find there). In the moment, I grappled more with whether it was more awful if the mother was undergoing a psychotic break or if she was not. The former, I decided.

I’m skirting the story’s specifics deliberately, but it was the specifics that caught up with me the following morning. I pictured – pictured is too complete, but I began to imagine aspects of the scenes.

Stop that, I told myself. But I had already gone too far. Ice like film strips over the rucked road, the sky bearing down, and I was in the grip of a spectre I myself had conjured. Back at the house, various members of my team were making breakfast, packing up, readying to depart for the city. I did not want any of them to see me in this state; certainly, I had no interest in explaining its reasoning. 

The haint pushed the door open a little further. Imagine —

like a grave Sienese face a thousand years

would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of.  Ghastly,

with open eyes, he attends, blind.

John Berryman, Dream Song 29

Stop it, I said. I was close to begging. I should call my husband, I thought. There is almost no cell reception on Skiparee but I could, at least, imagine his reassurances, their steady cadence.


That was a start. I had taken off my airpods almost instantly — the rustling of my hood overpowered whatever I’d been listening to. A mistake. I put them back in and scanned through one of the two downloaded playlists until I found “Modern Swingers,” a song I had listened to so frequently my freshman spring that it had become inextricably linked with the rooftop track of Coles. The lyrics are full of glib perversities – “my baby’s pretty as a car crash / sexy as the splinter of a hornet in your arm / just another modern swinger,” to take a few, plus a zippy little baseline and some energetic drumming. Anyways, it was significantly silly and bratty and incongruous and evocative to quell the haint.

I got back to the house in reasonable comportment and oversaw the exodus and remembered (I think) to bolt the barn door and forgot (I think) only my spectacles and possibly a charger, and then I raced home in time to join an intro call with the head of content, during which I fidgeted with the straps of my too-tight french-girl overalls and made occasional halfhearted mues about monetization and GDPR. I kept Modern Swingers’ chorus on a loop, actively bricking up the morning’s phantasmagoria.

I’m still bricking, if I’m being honest. I’ll go about my day and then spill into the story within minutes. In New York last week, I met some of my college friends for drinks. One was in the throes of trying to conceive; I had no business to be reconstituting my haint with its whispers of basements and exercise bands. I apologized.

You’ve been haunted, she said, nodding. You have to get it out. 

But did I? There is nothing particularly interesting nor compelling nor personal behind my macabre attachment to the story. I did not see myself in the mother. Three young children, close in age, the familiarity of the house, the small old Massachusetts town, the, what was it, 10 or 12 or 15 days where the sun didn’t come out at all– a few basic and not at all remarkable commonalities. It feels highly self-indulgent – perhaps callously so – to have gone on at such length about my reaction to someone else’s event.


One – two out of every thousand mothers experience post-partum psychosis; among mothers with bipolar disorder, the chances skyrocket to one in five. Rare until it isn’t. Hospitalization is insisted upon, though few hospitals have mother and baby programs in their psychiatric units. This I had known from Erica Schweigerhausen‘s essay in The Cut. Schweigerhausen experienced a powerful and not, initially, unenjoyable mania. “I couldn’t believe how happy I felt. I was full of ideas and plans for the future…I could feel my hormones kicking into gear, helping me become the best version of myself.” It’s only when she widens the camera to her her worried friends and partner that the narrative destabilizes. Her doctor is not concerned; her friends drive from New York to “trick” her into going to the ER, which leads to an agonizing few days of inpatient care.

But Schweigerhausen is able to enroll in one of the few mother-baby outpatient programs for perinatal health in the country; with therapy and medication, the mania ebbs. Its wake comes with its own hardship. “I had spent years yearning for motherhood and was humiliated by the ways I had failed. It was awful to learn that the people close to me had recognized that I was too ill to care for my baby and to accept that they had been right.”

It’s only in the re-reading that I note the few lines about the baby’s safety.

And feel a chill, and put on Debaser.


It has been a mild winter under all the gray. Perry spotted the first daffodil shoots in early February, weeks ahead of schedule. All of January and much of February passed by without enough snow for sledding, and the cold snaps have been too abbreviated to reliably freeze any of the ponds. It’s unsteadying, as if we’ve been living in perpetual December. Only the lightening days give testament to the contrary.

That was the crook of it, I suspect. Me in my hyperpresent, the scenery unchanging, and now horror tendriling the edges of the frame.

Perry sketches Maine in sky blue, celadon, bright yellow. There is the island; there is the rocky beach, here the green crab. He sketches Iowa, which looks, initially, indistinguishable from Maine. Are there ponds in Iowa, he asks, doubtfully. Sure there are, Brady says. Perry redraws it, with mostly yellows. North Carolina is mostly green.

That’s what goes in a diary, he says. The places I have been.

Adding, morosely. “I wish I had been to more places.”

I, too, am desperate to go somewhere – the children need experiences! – but also to wallpaper the boys’ room and get the algae off the window caps and finish a story that has been open in three segmented google docs for over a month.

“Plenty of time for that,” I say.

There is the night when Ottelie, scaling the builtins, is too ambitious, hurts her wrist. She howls, refuses all but a few noodles, refuses a gummy fish, a popsicle, a pouch. I rock her to sleep, with her bottle and her deflated merino gunny-sack and she pulls at my hair and nose. This was a year ago.

I wake up one morning to the sloosh of tires on snow, the occasional crunch of plow. The leaves of the japanese ivy are encased in ice and glint against the lamplight. Someone (me?) has left a piece of malachite in the pocket of my fleece and I worry the smudge away as the train lows and the light goes from lavender to silver.

The end of that Berryman poem — how does it go?

Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.

Nobody is ever missing.

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