Notes on a Marriage
By Addie Morfoot
It was 10:30 PM on New Year’s Eve when a shot was fired and a car slammed into our front door.
This was as close to a party as my husband and I were going to get.
In the eleven and a half months since giving birth to our first child, I still didn’t feel like myself. I felt more like a bear in hibernation. My cave was a one-bedroom garden apartment in Brooklyn Heights.
My marriage didn’t feel like my marriage either. Each day got off to a hazy start at 6:30 A.M. and came to an abrupt halt at 7 P.M. when my son went to bed. After a trip to Florida, I realized that our family was more suited for a retirement community than The City That Never Sleeps, especially on New Year’s Eve.
The topic of celebrating the end of that tumultuous year never came up between my husband and me. Instead, after we put our son to sleep on December 31, Ross opened a bottle of wine while I found “Friday Night Lights” on our DVR so we could binge watch season three.
Gone were the days when we rang in the New Year overseas or at our local haunt on Elizabeth Street.
We had just endured a year that consisted of far too little sleep and plenty of financial distress. While our freelance jobs had once afforded my filmmaker husband and me—a reporter—the opportunity to travel the world, the minute I got pregnant we seemed to be in a perpetual state of instability. We had become the cliché of the struggling freelance couple: constantly depressed, moody, scared and only on rare occasions, exhilarated.
For the first time in our relationship, we were on a budget. A coffee machine replaced our morning runs to Starbucks. Then, a few days before my son was born, Ross agreed to a film project that would take him to war torn, dangerous areas of the world. Not bringing in any significant income myself, I couldn’t tell him not to go, so he left for weeks at a time while I tried to figure out how to care for an infant.
“Do you really need Pellegrino?” I hissed one evening while preparing dinner.
“No. But it’s cheaper than your $5 bottles of Kombucha,” Ross snapped back.
By the time New Year’s Eve rolled around, we were barely speaking. Our fatigue had morphed into anger. He’d been gone for three weeks that month working on a film and when he returned he had little time for anything but work. Whenever he had a moment to breathe and actually have a face-to-face conversation with me, I invariably got a writing assignment. The only thing we weren’t fighting about was “Friday Night Lights.”
“I gotta go to bed,” I said, two and a half episodes in.
“Come on,” Ross said. “It’s only ten-thirty.”
I was desperate to close my eyes, but before I could reply, a black sedan came flying toward our front picture window, landing with a boom on our stoop. The car, which sat inches from our landlord’s front door, was perched precariously on the stairway railing. Somehow the iron gate in front of our apartment had prevented the sedan from careening into our living room.
The loud crash didn’t wake the baby, so I followed Ross outside to help what we thought was a drunk driver. But all we saw was an empty car.
“Run!” somebody screamed. I couldn’t see a face, but the voice was coming from down the street.
We were too stunned to move.
We heard frantic feet hitting the pavement. As the sound of the footsteps disappeared, we heard a voice coming from the opposite direction.
“Help!” It was a man, holding his neck and walking slowly down the block towards us. “I’ve been shot,” he said, his voice barely audible.
His left hand fell away from his neck and out came a rush of blood.
As the wife of a documentary filmmaker, I’ve seen atrocities, but I never expected to see bloodshed in our pristine, tree-lined, Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. Our particular block resembled a movie set. Early 19th century Federal-style houses lined one side of the street, while the mansion where Truman Capote once lived stood opposite. Bankers who wore loafers without socks, bright Lacoste shirts and carried briefcases strode to the subway every morning, and celebrity sightings were the norm.
I ran inside to call 911 while Ross grabbed a bath towel (our nicest, most expensive one) and wrapped it around the man’s neck.
“There’s been a shooting,” I screamed into the receiver.
“Where are you ma’am?” asked the voice on the other end.
There was a slight pause and then, “Where?”
Back outside, Ross was holding the towel to the man’s bloody neck with one hand and rubbing his back with the other. The man leaned against our busted wrought iron gate. The same gate I walked by everyday. The same gate I opened to bring my baby home from the hospital and the same gate I decorated in Christmas lights every year.
“It will be O.K.,” Ross whispered to the man.
Those were the same four words he always whispered in my ear when I fretted over an assignment. “I believe in you,” he would tell me.
While waiting for the ambulance, the man told us that he was a livery cab driver. He had picked up two passengers who then demanded the car. When he didn’t immediately comply, the carjackers shot him and pushed him out the door. They then proceeded to botch the robbery by crashing the car into the front of the brownstone and taking off into the night.
“Please call my wife,” the man had said breathlessly. “We have a baby. I need to tell my family I love them.”
I felt terrible for him, but now every ounce of sympathy I had was with his wife. The only thing I could imagine that was worse than being a new mother was being a new mother alone.
Sitting upright, his feet splayed in front of him, the livery driver would occasionally jerk his eyes open, like he was forcing himself to stay conscious. I, on the other hand, felt more awake than I had in nearly a year. The fog of parenthood lifted for a moment and I saw Ross clearly, imagining what it would be like if I lost him. The anxiety that once washed over me whenever he traveled had been redirected towards my son. Now what kept me up at night—instead of worrying about him—was making sure the baby was still breathing.
For six years it had been unbearable to be separated from one another. We were a solidified couple in what seemed to be an unbreakable relationship. Then we became parents and the bond that had once been so strong slowly began to unravel. “Can you do the laundry today?” replaced good-bye kisses in the morning. Sleep deprivation mixed with financial fright and role resentment made our pre-baby relationship unrecognizable and our home not so homey.
I kept Ross company as he continued to hold the towel to the livery man’sneck. While only minutes had passed, it felt like hours had gone by without an ambulance. I worried that the man would die before EMTs could save him. The smell of death at our front door meant that for the first time in eleven and a half months there was no reason to fight about money, formula or whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher.
“Where are they?” Ross said, looking up and down the street for the ambulance.
“They’ll be here. Just keep doing what you’re doing,” I reassured him.
It was the gentlest, most civil exchange we’d had in months. We turned our focus back to the man, who had one eye open, and told him with confidence, “You’re going to be alright.”
I didn’t know if that was true, and I imagine Ross didn’t either, but it felt good to at least agree on something again.
Author’s note: While Ross and I were told that the man survived, we never spoke to him after the ambulance took him away. Our son is now four years old and while we still struggle with some of the issues raised in this essay, we agree on a lot more than just “Friday Night Lights.”
Addie Morfoot is a freelance reporter who writes frequently for the entertainment media. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Marie Claire, Daily Variety and The Wall Street Journal. She’s currently completing her first novel.