My daughter died on her sixth birthday. A man just handed me photos of her seventh.
I cannot describe to you how I feel right now. What I’m experiencing is so detached from the normal, I’m almost convinced I’ve finally gone insane.
My wife, Bea, died during childbirth. She was gorgeous, funny, intelligent – stubborn. A woman whose laugh was so loud eating in restaurants was a challenge, and whose stare was so intense it made my hands shake. I lost her, as she gave birth to our daughter.
Of course, I could have resented Sam. For taking away what was once mine in a way nothing else can be. For taking what was so truly and utterly pure. But I didn’t. I knew Bea wouldn’t have wanted any resentment. She wouldn’t have wanted our only child to have a life ruined by hate.
But this isn’t about grief. This isn’t about the physical sucker punch of losing forever something you loved. This is about something far more sinister.
My daughter was lively, always running and screaming, leaping up and down the climbing frame – causing havoc in her nursery classes. So for her sixth birthday, a trip with friends to the movies had left her so pent up with energy I could barely keep up with her as she dipped and dodged between people on the pavement. She’d occasionally turn back, through the sea of people and shout “Daddy, come on!” in a tone that was almost petulant. I couldn’t help but love her.
I tried to chase her, I really did. She was too busy looking at me when she dashed out into the road, and the bus didn’t have time to stop. A sickening crunch, and the world fell silent. I cradled her broken form in my arms, too numb to weep, too hurt to move. All I could feel was the warm blood gently seep into my clothes. In the state of shock I was in, I could just think about how I was going to wash my jeans. It sounds horrid, I know – but a loss like that tears everything away from you and leaves you with only the bare thought process that make us human.
The next week was a blur. I cannot place a single memory to a time, in between friends and family extending their condolences, and the howling sobs of mine that would break out at any moment – a door slamming, the gentle hum of the fridge or voices laughing on the radio.
I attended her funeral dressed all in black. By dressed, I don’t mean merely clothes, my very essence was dark. I couldn’t feel, or think and the day continued as I went through the motions, like a dying man treading water. Everyone wanted to tell me about Sam, and how perfect she was – what an angel she was, as if I didn’t know. As if I didn’t realise what a gift my own daughter was.
The man, stood out from the rest, as he walked up to me and handed me this large leather book. I assumed, at the time, he was a parent of one of Sam’s friends, handing me a collection of their photos together. Or maybe I was too numb to even process his cold hands, and how he never mentioned my daughter once.
For a month, I was lost. I drank, and stayed in our now empty apartment alone, watching old boxsets – too numb now to even cry. It was only when my sister arrived, when she held my hand and talked to me that I began to come out of my shell. She’d sit and listen to the most inane things I said, and gently coaxed me out of my depression. Not completely, but enough for me to begin to live what was almost a real life again.
That was when I opened the book. I’d decided to remember Sam for all the joy she gave, and was prepared to reflect on her life without feeling miserable.
I opened to the first page. It was essentially a binder, full of Polaroid photos of my daughter growing up. I furrowed my brow. They were taken from a distance, blurred slightly – and I was in a few of them.
I began to feel sick, but hoped that the following photos would provide some explanation. I came up with every excuse of how the man obtained these photos, desperate to view the moments of my daughter’s life without a sense of trepidation. The photos grew closer and closer to my daughter’s birthday. I could see the day I gave her a tiny bike after she turned five, and the skinned knees that ensued. The book had so many more pages, that I assumed the rest were empty.
But there was a photo of her just before the movies on her sixth birthday – I could recognise the pink raincoat she insisted on wearing, and my hands on her shoulders.
There was no photo of the crash.
Instead, her life continued inside this book. Her seventh birthday had a photo of me and her in the garden, covered in paint – with a huge canvas on the floor and an extremely messy painting. Her seventh birthday.
Her seventh birthday.
The reality of what I was seeing hit me then and I slammed the book shut. I sat there, at the kitchen table staring at the leather. This must be some sadistic photoshop, I hoped, someone had taken the time to pull a horrid prank on me. I say I hoped, because essentially – I couldn’t believe the other explanation. If there even was one.
Gritting my teeth, I decided I had nothing to lose and kept reading.
I can’t explain the emotions I felt whilst I read accurately, listening to the sound of the page turning. I can try, but nothing could prepare you for something like this.
Her life continued, showing her losing her baby teeth, her first day of senior school. My turning of the pages became more frenzied, and I began to notice something. The photographer was getting closer. Closer to her. As she grew older – not in every photo, but a general trend – the photographer was getting closer and closer. More daring, perhaps.
She was beautiful. Stunning. As a teenager she looked just like her mother, all curls and smiles. I grew older too, but the photos began to include me less and less.
Her sixteenth birthday was strange. A group of her friends, sitting outside, drinking from little plastic cups at a picnic. But there was someone in the background. Near the bushes of the park where this was taken, a dark figure stood. You wouldn’t have noticed him, if not for the small shadow he cast on the grass.
I leant back for a moment and exhaled. This was too weird. I’d been so caught up in watching my little girl grow up I hadn’t thought about how this would end. Moments like this, are so utterly surreal that sometimes you remove yourself from them. I almost felt like I was watching myself read these, like this was a dream, or a program on the television.
The dark figure became more and more present in each photograph. I could almost make out features. His presence was towering, and as I turned the page I expected to see him disappear. But instead, as the photographs grew closer to her eighteenth (each birthday was marked by a caption underneath the Polaroid saying “Another year.”) she was no longer somewhere I recognised.
Instead, the photos were of her in a dimly lit house. Her face contorted by fear, striking all sorts of weird poses. Sometimes she would be dressed like an ancient queen or she would be dressed like a maid scrubbing the floors, the figure was there even closer now. His legs, or his arm would appear in each and every one. No matter how she was dressed, in every photo her face had this desperately pained expression. It killed me. There were bruises on her face. She looked thin, ill even.
I couldn’t do it.
This was sick. Properly sick.
I soldiered on.
The last photo I looked at, before I slammed the book shut and swore to never, ever look at it again was of her eighteenth. The caption underneath read “At last!” in sloppy writing.
She was looking straight at the camera, crying. She was on her knees, dressed in a black evening dress – with an apple in her mouth and her hands bound behind her back. Her makeup was ruined by her tears. It was as if she was pleading me, begging me to help. But I couldn’t.
I closed the book and left the room, my whole body convulsing with sobs.
I couldn’t call the police, of course. She was dead.
The thing that keeps me up at night, isn’t the content of what I saw.
It’s that there were so many pages left.