I would certainly never tell him about this while he is a child, and maybe I’ll never tell him, but the fact of the matter is that I have recurring nightmares about Monkey dying. And it’s just as awful as it sounds.
Sometimes I go for months and months without it happening. In the past I’ve even gone a year or more. But they always come back.
The only time I’ve ever dreamed about Chickadee dying was after our car accident, and they faded away after a few months. On the other hand, my nightmares about losing Monkey started when I was pregnant with him. That means I’m coming up on a dozen years of waking up in a panic, convinced my youngest has succumbed to dangers from which I failed to protect him.
Why it happens, why it’s just him… well, I have a few theories. Some are more “woo-woo” than others, and I don’t suppose it really matters. But last night was the worst yet.
When I was a child my recurring nightmare was always one in which something terrifying was happening and I was unable to scream. I would open my mouth and FEEL like I was yelling with all my might, but no sound came out. The most terrifying part was not actually the absence of sound, but that each and every one of those dreams centered around an internal debate about whether or not I SHOULD scream. And once I’d finally decided that yes, I should, I couldn’t. As I panicked and yelled without sound I would realize that it was a dream, and that I wasn’t waking up. It always seemed like forever until I wrenched myself awake.
Something about sort-of-knowing-it-was-a-dream-but-being-stuck always made it scarier, somehow.
The dreams of losing Monkey are never ones in which I know it’s a dream. It always seems terribly real until I jerk awake, at which point I slowly relax into “oh thank GOD it was just a dream” and eventually go back to sleep. And while I’ve been having this nightmare for years, it takes different forms each time, so it’s never “oh, right, I’m dreaming about a car accident but I’ve had this dream before,” either. Each time it feels real, each time it’s a kick to the gut, each time I’m both surprised and elated to wake up and realize it was a dream.
Last night, though, I knew it was a dream. Except that I didn’t. I would say, “This is a dream, I’ve had this nightmare before” and everyone looked at me with pity and concern. They would speak to Otto in hushed tones, and he would come sit with me and hold my hands. And as I looked around it slowly dawned on me that no, I wasn’t dreaming. My baby was gone; my daughter was now an only child; I had been holding it together because I knew it was a dream but really I was just delusional with grief.
“I thought it was the DREAM,” I cried. “I’ve had that dream for YEARS. THIS IS THE DREAM. He can’t be gone. It’s not real. Is it real?” And there was more murmuring and pitying looks and I crumpled to the ground, trying to explain to Otto that I had dreamed this for years, it couldn’t really be happening, and he wouldn’t look me in the eye.
Last night I caught Monkey in a very purposeful and elaborate lie, which is new territory for us with him. I handled it badly. Among the other useful things I said during the ensuing conversation was “Shame on you, Monkey.” And my words cracked his little heart, because he already WAS ashamed; I didn’t need to say it, and doing so made everything worse. In the nightmare, time wasn’t warped as it so often is in dreamworld; it wasn’t some random day and time, but the morning after our encounter, and he had died in the night and now I wailed that the last thing he’d remember me saying to him was “shame on you” and now he was gone and I could never, ever take it back.
When I finally rose to consciousness and realized it was just a dream, I had that lingering unease that couldn’t be shaken off. I lay awake for the next several hours, silently reminding myself that Monkey was okay.
This morning with him was uneventful—he was not only very much alive, but apparently unscarred by my careless comment the previous evening—and by the time he left for school I felt almost normal.
Coincidentally (or not), I had an email from a dear friend about our current schooling conundrum, reiterating that we will figure it out and everything will be okay.
I worry about both of my kids, of course. And they both have their challenges. It’s logical to assume that whatever mental calisthenics my unconscious brain enjoys, it is because Chickadee is more like me (and therefore, I feel like I “get” her) and Monkey is less like me (and therefore more angst-provoking as I never know if I’m getting it “right”) that I tend to catastrophize when it comes to him. I know this.
Still, I’m looking forward to the day when I realize it’s been years since I’d dreamed he was taken from me.