I met Marianne in the fall of 2013.
After a few months of wandering the west, I settled into the small town of Turner, Wyoming with my boyfriend and dog. We lived in a camper, spent our weekends in the woods, and enjoyed the peacefulness of the almost-empty state.
Though we attempted to live on love and spare change, I quickly realized I needed a steady job. So, I kissed my freedom goodbye and posted an ad on Craigslist.
“Energetic and Kind Local Woman Looking for Childcare Position”
Marianne* was the first to reply, and after a short conversation via phone we had plans to have coffee at her house the next day. All I knew about this woman at that point in time was that she had recently moved to Wyoming from Texas and she had one daughter named Taylor. Taylor was eight years old and autistic.
When I reached the end of Marianne’s winding driveway the next day, a log-cabin style mansion with a four-car garage towered in front of me. A middle-aged woman in a nightgown stood on the porch talking on a cellphone. Boxes were stacked in columns around her. When she finally noticed my car, she gestured for me to come inside.
“Hi. Sorry!” She whispered to me, as she listened to the voice on the other end of the phone. I smiled and quietly removed my muddy boots as she “mhmm”-ed into the receiver.
“The nanny is here. I’ll talk to you tonight. Love ya!”
Once she hung up, Marianne apologized and explained that she didn’t expect for the conversation with her lawyer to last all morning. She asked if I would wait a few minutes while she changed into “real clothes”. I happily agreed to wait and made myself comfortable on a gigantic suede sectional. I remember initially thinking it was odd that she ended the conversation with her lawyer by saying, “I love you,” but that thought quickly slipped my mind as I took in my surroundings.
When Marianne reentered the room she was wearing an oversized sweater and leggings, her silver hair was held back by a rhinestone-encrusted headband. Tiny gold horses clung to each of her earlobes.
“Hey is this a stupid outfit?” Marianne asked, as if we were two teenagers before a school dance.
I assured her that she looked fine and explained that I had never met a chunky sweater I didn’t like.
“Well, it was Stan’s before he died… so I guess it’s mine now” She sighed as she plopped down next to me.
Marianne and I chatted over our cups of coffee for around an hour. Taylor was attending a therapeutic horseback riding class that morning, so Marianne used the one-on-one time we had together to explain her background and reasons for being in Turner.
I learned that Stan died the month before when he suffered a massive heart attack while driving his Lamborghini home from work. Shaken by her husband’s sudden death, Marianne decided to leave their home in Texas in search of a new beginning. She and Taylor moved into Stan’s hunting lodge two weeks after the funeral.
Since moving, Marianne had been completely alone with her child for the first time in her life, as she employed a nanny for Taylor since the day she was born. With plenty of inheritance from her husband, she was still lacking a nanny because there simply weren't many experienced caretakers in the area. When she read my ad she felt as if her prayers had been answered.
That day, I left Marianne’s house with a job. The next afternoon, I greeted Taylor at the school bus.
During the first few month working for Marianne, I spent my afternoons with a creative and hilarious 8-year-old girl. Taylor was an incredible human, and as we spent that winter making snow angels together, my love for her grew. Her mild autism created some word repetition and self-stimulation, but on peaceful days it was easy to forget that Taylor struggled at all.
With my help, Taylor completed potty training, made friends at the public pool, and learned to braid her hair. On Wednesday I would bring my dog to Taylor’s house and we would spend the day learning how to be gentle with animals. Taylor was growing in ways that Marianne confessed she thought were impossible before hiring me. Things were good.
All of these wonderful achievements happened while Marianne slept or loudly spoke on the phone in her bed. I didn’t have a problem with her lifestyle. Taylor would always tell me about how much she loved her mother, and I felt good knowing that Marianne felt she could mourn while her daughter was being cared for a few rooms over.
Then when spring arrived Marianne suddenly wanted to have nanny-less weekends. She expressed her fear that she was losing touch with Taylor and promised that my pay would remain the same.
I was happy that she felt comfortable taking care of Taylor alone, though it was hard not to worry. I reminded Marianne that I was a call away and that she shouldn’t hesitate to contact me.
When I returned on Mondays after weekends away, I would often find Taylor in a soiled pull-up watching two television sets at the same time, rocking restlessly on a rocking horse. Marianne would be on her phone walking around the house or watching QVC in her bedroom.
When I tried to explain to Marianne that Taylor should have some structure during the weekend, she would begin to melt down. She would call me a “drill sergeant” and mockingly salute me, only to apologize moments later.
Marianne would sob after these fits, explaining that she was just trying to make Taylor happy. This carried on for weeks, and then my paychecks started to bounce.
The first time a check bounced, I was at the local bank with my boyfriend. The teller explained that the check wouldn’t go through and that she could contact the account holder if I wanted her to clear things up then and there. I declined, knowing that I would see Marianne that afternoon.
“Let me see that,” my boyfriend said as he took the check from my hand.
“Why does this have Stan’s name printed at the top?”
When I quietly stepped into Marianne’s room that afternoon she was in bed with a pillow over her face crying. I tried to tip-toe back out before she realized I had entered, but the floor creaked.
“ I just watched a really sad movie” Marianne giggled as she aggressively wiped tears from her cheeks
When I started to explain to Marianne what happened earlier that day at the bank her eyes began to well up with tears all over again. I told her it was not a big deal, and that mistakes happen.
She explained that she accidentally wrote checks with Stan’s checkbook all of the time, forgetting that the account was no longer there. She grabbed the purse on her nightstand, handed me my salary in cash, and asked me to start Taylor’s dinner. That was the night I found the first note.
On multiple yellow notepads throughout the house, I began finding lists and poems. These handwritten notes outlines the issues that her and Stan were having in their relationship, they were entitled “Stan’s Downfalls” and “Why Stan Left.”
These pieces of writing were heartbreaking, filled with anger, and much too personal to be left for children and nannies to stumble upon. One night as I dusted around a notepad on the coffee table, Marianne spotted me from across the room. Without looking up from the computer she was sitting in front of she casually addressed me,
“That’s just some creative writing….Oh yeah, please make sure you don’t tell Taylor that her dad is dead, OK? Just say he left for a long time. She wouldn’t understand, being disabled and all. Your work is done for the night, you can go home now”
On my drive home that night, I was radiating with uncomfortable energy.
Why would she say that after all of this time?
Did she sense that I doubted her story?
Who is she always loudly speaking to on the phone?
I wish she would stop calling Taylor disabled like that.
A mug of tea and silence where the only things I desired upon arriving home that night. I was exhausted and my skin itched with anxiety. I realized I needed to figure out an exit strategy, but I didn’t know where to begin.
I didn’t want to leave Taylor, and yet her mother was destroying me. My breaking point was edging closer. I suddenly realized that at 20 years of age, I was in an abusive relationship with a 50-year-old woman.
Then as I walked through the doorway of our camper I found my boyfriend sitting at the kitchen table, staring at the cellphone in his hand. In the most cliché way possible, he looked as if he had seen a ghost. Before I had time to ask, he spoke,
“I just got off the phone with the secretary at Stan’s dealership, she connected me to the voicemail of a very alive Stan.”
After a phone call of my own, in which I spoke directly to Stan as if I were a customer interested in selling a boat at his dealership, I created an exit strategy.
I wanted to make sure that I was as subtle as possible; after all I had absolutely no intention of embarrassing Marianne. Though she had lied to me, and verbally abused me throughout my time as her nanny, I was not in any way qualified to judge her situation.
There was a reason why she created a story to explain Stan’s absence, but I didn’t care what it was. I just wanted out.
Taylor’s emotional wellbeing was what I worried about impacting the most. Taylor’s autism didn’t allow her to become attached to people in the traditional sense, so I didn’t worry that she would miss me or feel betrayed. My main worry was that she wouldn’t be bathed or listened to as often as she deserved.
Marianne was not in any way abusive toward Taylor while I was around, but I did see Marianne’s darker days and felt obligated to do all I could to shield Taylor from those difficult moments.
With no desire to involve any person or organization that would possibly take Taylor from her mother, I phoned a friend. Trish was Marianne’s neighbor and my occasional running partner. I had babysat her five children many times and I trusted her judgment.
Trish worked part time at the school, so I knew that she would see Taylor from time to time. I told Trish that I was leaving my job with Marianne and asked if she would make a special effort to occasionally touch base with Taylor and Marianne when she saw them at school events.
Trish assured me that she would continue her efforts to create a friendship with Marianne and that I shouldn’t feel obligated to work for anybody that didn’t make me happy.
After meeting with Trish, I spend one more day with Taylor. We rode our bicycles and made crowns out of wildflowers. When it was time for bed I read her favorite bedtime story and told her that I wouldn’t be coming over anymore. Taylor wasn’t phased when I told her this, and asked me to turn on her nightlight before I left. I squeezed her little hand and flicked the switch.
I tiptoed downstairs and knocked on Marianne’s bedroom door, she told me to go away because she was sleeping. I thought she might say this, so I left a letter pinned to her corkboard.
The letter explained that I would be seeking new opportunities elsewhere, because my paychecks were becoming smaller and more sporadic. I explained that I would be willing to nanny for two more weeks while she looked for new help and that I was not in anyway quitting because of Taylor.
The next morning I awoke to a lengthy, and jumbled, text message. Marianne called me a “stupid little bitch” with an “ungrateful soul.”
She told me not to bother ever coming back and “promised” to let everybody in the town know how terrible of a human I really was. That afternoon Marianne showed up at the ski shop my boyfriend worked at with a trash bag of my belongings.
The manager told her that she couldn’t leave the bag at the store for security reasons and that she couldn’t give out information regarding my boyfriend’s whereabouts. That evening I received an email that read:
“Hey GirlyGirl J! - GUESS WHAT?! I tried being the bigger person today, by returning your stuff to your boyfriend at work. The cashier didn’t even know who he was!!!!! and didn’t allow me to leave the bag!!!! DOES HE EVEN WORK THERE? DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO YOU ARE SLEEPING WITH? I pray that you will learn how to take care of yourself. Grow up and God Bless. – Marianne”
Months passed by, and after a few more bizarre emails and a very uncomfortable grocery store run-in, Marianne and I went our separate ways.
Today, I live in a different state and work in the agricultural field. I haven’t nannied since, and I don’t plan to anytime soon. Though years have gone by now, I still worry about the little girl I left in Turner, and wonder if I did the right thing.
Occasionally, during a bought of insomnia, I will scan Marianne’s public Facebook page, allowing myself to feel relief when I see a new photograph of Taylor looking beautiful and healthy.
*Names and Locations Have Been Changed