We had thought the worst was behind us, that he’d grown out of them, away from them, whatever antidote there is to be had, if any, but they’ve been back of late.
They reach out to tackle him from out of nowhere; it will be 2 am, maybe 3, and a cry will tear across my consciousness, and I’ll stumble into his room, or more often, Charlie will, who’s more stoic in the face of this particular brand of fatigue and heartbreak.
Because he’ll hardly know us. He’ll press his little back against the wall behind his bed, cowering, PJ-clad knees drawn protectively to his chest. He’ll crouch there, as if we cannot see him. He stares at us through the darkness, wide-eyed and sobbing, imploring for his mom and dad. It’s more than enough to undo you, at 3 am or any hour.
We talk him down. We take him to the bathroom, turn on a tap, press a damp washcloth to his face. Sometimes it wakes him. Sometimes not.
When it’s my turn to tuck him back into bed, still mostly asleep, his every inhale is still laboring under a shuddering hitch, and the tears are still wet on his cheeks. I’ll whisper happy thoughts into the soft bell of his lobe, things I hope he can latch onto, that will gain a foothold in his mind. His favorite trains. Ice cream. A basketball at the tips of his fingers. His head will turn into my words, eyes closed, face nestling into his pillow, like an infant turning toward the breast, eager to receive, and this blind imploring is more painful to watch than the piercing cry was to hear.
Your lips to God’s ear.
I have dreams, too. The good kind. The bad kind. The literal kind. The reoccurring kind. The elusive, figurative kind.
I am a writer. I haven’t touched upon this part of my life here much, but those of you who are also writers will understand this: some days, it feels as though I absorb every emotive around me, misery and happiness alike, like some sort of non-discriminatory sponge, and I quickly reach capacity and overfill. It has nowhere to go, all this passion that is not my own. I grab conflict, terror, and love with both fists; other people‘s problems and triumphs are hitching rides on my shoulders, and sometimes, it all becomes a bit much. Sometimes I think it wears my mind down, stripping me of my defenses--all the sweet nothings I could whisper into my own ear null and void--and at night, I dream.
And as we always feel the compulsion to tell each other our dreams, I will tell you one of mine. Not long ago, I dreamt of the heroine of the novel I‘m writing. Well, rewriting, to be more precise. Some days, living and breathing.
It was like dreaming for the first time in a foreign language you’ve been studying intensely for months. Vindicating. Familiar but surreal.
In the dream, I walked out into my living room and saw her, lying on my couch, asleep. Even partially obscured, her head turned toward the cushions, a blanket draped across her torso, I knew instantly who she was. She turned at my presence, then lifted her head.
She looked at me.
“Hi,” she said, so softly I could barely hear her. Her eyes were solemn. She watched me, waiting.
“Hi,” I breathed.
I was in awe. In awe of her, this person who doesn’t exist except within me, yet is so unlike me, writing her is akin to wandering the home of a stranger. In awe of myself, for this act of creation. It was the most beautiful, hopeful, despairing dream I’ve ever had.
I woke myself up, crying.
I know some people read books to decipher their dreams, or keep paper and pen at their bedside so they can write them down upon waking, before that fleeting demarcation between sleep and consciousness becomes too pronounced, etched too darkly to read the underlying subtext of their nighttime secrets. Charlie seems to have an easier time remembering his dreams, a fact which is doubly impressive because they‘re usually deeply complicated and involved. I often accuse him of making them up, they‘re so detailed. Not that I’m complaining: they read like movie scripts, and can be quite entertaining over coffee.
His dreams are very clear-cut. There’s a protagonist and an antagonist. There’s a problem at-hand and a solution to be found. A beginning, middle, and conclusion. This shouldn’t surprise me. He’s this way in his waking hours as well. I only wish I were so self-assured, so dependable in a lay-your-head-on-my-shoulder type of way. I envy him his subconscious, never throwing surprise punches while he sleeps.
As for Toby and me, anything goes. Tonight, I'm hopeful that our slumber will remain uneventful. It's a calm Saturday night here; the tree is twinkling, dinner is baking, the boys are all playing quietly. Later, when he lays his head down, and I snuggle beside him, I’ll suggest he think of Christmas lights, strung without end, glowing steadily through the darkness and the snow…and I think I‘ll do the same.