It’s nighttime again.
Sitting in the silence of this room, my heart feels heavy. I don’t know if it’s because of the research and phone call I had today regarding a potential book topic or if it’s just that I’m exhausted or if it’s that I’m, okay, afraid of the late nighttime hours. Maybe this boulder is sitting on my heart because I’m alone and just a little weary of pretending to be strong. The word doubt comes from the 13th century, old-French word “dote” which means to “dread, fear” something. During the daytime, we are so busy. Even when we stay at home, we’re lost in games that require active participation and lots of imagination. We made a carriage using an old box, one of our beloved rocking horses and some rope. We transform our living room into a circus. We play Lava. Between games and driving and more routine things like feeding them, daytime doesn’t allow much room for doubt. It’s easy to see what needs to be done; if a child is happy, it’s easy to tell that. If she is not, then it becomes a world-class priority; there is no rest until it’s corrected. So, while I don’t mean to imply I’m completely exempt from feelings of self-consciousness during the day, I don’t struggle nearly as much with fear or doubt when it is light out. With darkness, though, the air tends to get trapped a bit more in my lungs; my muscles tighten and I become what normally would never describe me: a fighter.
I fight sleep like it’s the plague. I write, I read, I sit on the porch, I watch shows like I Survived… and, when worse comes to worse, I play games on my phone. Sometimes, the bathroom light stays on. Until last year, that was a shameful secret of mine; something destined to make me cry if I contemplated it too long. But it helps. It’s funny; they say children are the ones who fight bedtime. They say children are the ones who invent reasons to keep getting up. Mine never have. I, on the other hand, can come up with a gazillion reasons to get up out of a bed. I’m hot; I’m cold; I’m thirsty; I have to go to the bathroom; I can’t sleep. Ever since I was a child, ceilings have been a focal point. Do you know that not all ceilings are alike? In my room now, the ceiling looks like a bunch of cracks at first glance. But when you stop and focus on one “crack”, you see that, actually, they all look more like veins (I’m in the doctor’s office way too much) or, tree branches. I’ve been staring at my ceiling tonight a lot. In fact, I was in the bed doing just that when I got too restless, when the oxygen levels fell a little further than I could tolerate. Then I got up to write this post. There’s always something else to do. It doesn’t matter what it is because whatever it is beats sleep. Whatever it is beats lying alone in a darkened room feeling like a failure. Whatever it is beats lying alone in a darkened room feeling scared of things that are over and done with. Whatever it is beats lying in a darkened room feeling scared of things that might still be to come. Whatever it is beats lying alone in a darkened room, tossing and turning, feeling like a “waste of space” (thank you, Taya).
Sometimes we’re all children. Or, maybe that’s not so. Maybe that’s just a nice way of making myself feel a little bit normal when, in truth, it’s just me that struggles against feeling like I’m seven years old again. Maybe it’s just me that lies alone in the dark feeling like an inept, clumsy teenager who just wants peace and quiet. I spent my entire childhood praying for silence, did you know that? I did. I spent my entire childhood praying for quiet. And yet, now that I’m here in this big room alone with nothing but the white noise of a fan, I can’t sleep. I can’t close my eyes or stop worrying about whether those lines on my ceiling are cracks, veins or tree branches because of the nightmares.
In the scariest one I have, I am running from a man. I am in what feels like a very long corridor. Doors line either side of the walls; I know that only one leads to safety. I’m not looking for an exit, strangely, but more like a closet in which to effectively hide. He is chasing me and getting closer and closer by the minute. I can hear his footsteps behind me. So I reach out and grab the doorknobo of the first door. But when I jerk it open, hoping for safety, a terrifying scene from my past is taking place. I cry out, slamming memory’s door shut. I run to the next door, jerk it open. A different scene, salt in a different wound. By the fourth door, I am more cautious. A sense of panic is filling the atmosphere, though. I only have a minute or two left before he’ll catch up to me. If he catches me… Finally, I reach the last door. I pull it open. There he stands, smiling at me. The sound of my scream pierces the air. I always wake up at this point. I don’t really scream out but tears are inevitably running down my face. Basically, this dream is a nightmare within multiple nightmares. Fear overload. I toss and turn, pray, get up, lay back down, stare at the veins/branches/cracks. Sometimes, in order to go back to sleep, I hug Lambie close, burying my face into his shaggy softness.
It’s not that I think or fear that any of that will happen to me again. I don’t—not really. Instead, it’s more that I fear that the feelings of intense self-doubt are steeped in reality. People could tell me positive things about myself from dawn to dusk but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe them; it was just that I thought they were giving premature praise. If they only knew I did X, they wouldn’t have such kind thoughts about me. If they only knew X, they wouldn’t think I was such a good girl. I downplayed compliments, essentially wrote them off, because I knew that the person saying it didn’t know my history; they didn’t know that I’d been used. If only they knew the real me, they would know that those compliments weren’t deserved. I know in my head that everyone suffers feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I know in my head that everyone has something they fear. I fear nighttime and dreams. I’d rather not close my eyes. I’d rather not see what comes next.
It’s nighttime again…
I’m at the post again; writing instead of sleeping. Drowning the fear that the only thing I’m good at is caring for children and writing by refusing to turn the switch off in my brain. I’m struggling to make coherent sentences; my head keeps falling back to rest against the recliner. But before I get in that bed, I have to make sure I’m too exhausted to dream. Sometimes I get so weary of safeguarding the optimism. Sometimes I get so weary of protecting the smile. Sometimes I get so worn out. It’s not that I’m sad because I’m not. I’m just…. weary.
When one of the doors open in the dream, I’m standing in a locked room that is bare. There are no decorations, no furniture except for one wooden chair. I am holding a little boy. A liquid substance is filling the room. It’s not water, but it’s white like water. Whatever it is, it is deadly. The little boy doesn’t cry but he holds on to me for dear life. I start panicking because the water-like substance is rising. I stand on top of the chair. I know it is a futile move but it is the only option I have. I look toward the door. A man stands on the other side. He is capable of opening the door, of rescuing us. But he doesn’t. The water continues to rise. It’s up to my neck and then we go under. Somehow, the little boy slips out of my arms. Before I drown, though, the water recedes. I stand up, search frantically for the little boy. I do not find him. As I start crying, I realize he must be dead. I stand in the room, crying, while the “water” recedes. I wait, determined to find the boy’s body, certain I will when the substance drains. But then the room is dry again and the boy’s body is not in the room. Chills descend over me in tidal waves. I look toward the door and know it is unlocked now. I can leave. But the boy is dead. Not only dead but vanished. No remnant of the child’s sweetness and innocence remains. This is a recurring nightmare I have and, while it is not necessarily the scariest, it is by far the more upsetting. I dread this nightmare with every fiber of my being because what it really tells me is that I had the ability to save that little girl me—and I didn’t. So now she’s dead, gone, lost forever. Complex emotions like shame and guilt wash over me. If I were asked to say what I am guilty of, I don’t even know what to answer. I can’t point to any one act. Actually, I’m guilty of not acting—and that makes me just as guilty.
Tears bubble to the edges of my eyes.
But, before they fall, I look up at the ceiling again. Cracks, veins, branches.
It dawns on me that cracks add character, veins represent life and branches are lifelines.
Writing a story with a character to whom nothing happened—no obstacle of any kind– is inconceivable. I wouldn’t have a story and, even if I did, I wouldn’t have a character to whom readers could connect because we all have “a story.” We all have cracks. We all have something we can point to in our lives that caused us great pain, that shifted our view of the world or our purpose in it. You can fall into a crack—but you can also fill a crack. Inside our veins runs life-giving blood. To function as a human being, blood is required. And how many trees have you climbed? I didn’t climb many as a child—but I’ve climbed a lot with Breathe and Alight. Have you ever sat underneath a huge, ancient shady tree and done nothing but feel the breeze blowing against your face? I have. I’ve picked apples from trees. Trees represent stability to me, structure and peace. Their leaves help provide fresh air. The world would not be the same without trees. After I think of all this, I realize that every, single thing the lines on my ceiling remind me of hints at life. Seeing a crack in the ceiling used to make me sad. I used to stare at them and create stories in which I was magically much smaller and could fit in a small crack. It would be the perfect hiding spot. As an adult, I was once asked if I were broken. The question cut me like a knife. It wounded me so deeply because part of me thought the answer was yes and, as Taya says, “if something is broken, it is useless… it is trash.”
The nightmares make me feel broken.
But maybe I’m not.
Maybe I’ve just a complex life that’s given me a unique perspective. Maybe darkness comes so that we’re able to see the stars and maybe we’re able to see the stars to remind us to dream. Nighttime is when fireflies illuminate backyards and campfires with roasted marsh mellows happen. Nighttime is I’m able to write. Maybe the scars in my life aren’t meant to alienate me but to draw me closer to others. The nightmares are a reminder of where I’ve been. I don’t like the reminders and I try to run from them; I think of the counselor who told me the one time I saw her that it was possible to go 24 hours without hurting from the past. I wonder if she realized 24 hours included midnight and 1 a.m…. Nightmares are a reminder of all I lost—-physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes there’s still a little more than I’d like to admit to deal with—past and present. But nightmares end. I don’t have to see what happens when the man captures me in the one dream. And, although my heart beats in a painful rhythm afterward, I do wake up from the nightmare in which I lose Kid. And it’s only a couple hours; sunrise will soon break over the horizon. The bright reach of the sun’s rays will turn the pitch black sky into a veritable work of art. Children will rise and I’ll give and receive hugs. We’ll dance, we’ll laugh and we’ll embrace every moment the day brings. And I’ll engrave each new, sun-kissed memory we make into a piece of my heart. And when the darkness comes, I’ll use the time to wish upon a star.