In the night, I wake up.
I’m alone. The bed seems huge. I think, ‘Matt must’ve left for work already’. Or, ‘It must be snowing, or else the sun would’ve risen by now’. I roll over and look for my bunny, and find my bear. Brownie. I stopped sleeping with Brownie because of the hole in his neck, and the stuffing that had started to leak between blankets. This Brownie doesn’t have a hole in his neck. He doesn’t have a hole anywhere. In fact, there’s barely a worn spot on this bear…where am I? When am I?
I lean as forward as I can without actually moving my chest upward. I see the fishbowl globe, and the curtains blowing in the fan. The bed isn’t so much big, as I am small.
I’m in a nightmare. I know this. I struggle, willing myself to move, knowing that my body is mine to control. I am powerless to break from beneath the blanket. I try to call out, but my jaw is locked. My body feels paralyzed. I cannot move. I hear him cough.
‘This is a dream. You are not a child, you are an adult. This is just a nightmare.’ I coach myself. ‘You will wake up. This is not going to harm you. It’s only a nightmare.’ The light changes in the hall. I see a shadow cross from under the door, casting a thick black line down the center of a yellow streak. Like a sharpie has blacked out what someone else thought to highlight. ‘You are safe in your home. This is only a nightmare.’
A cold gust blows in from my right. That doesn’t make sense…
The door opens, and the light from the hall spills over, dampening the first few feet of darkness with sticky, yellow, foreboding. I am grateful now for the layers of fabric between my body and the surface of pain. I hold Brownie’s ear tight to my body.
A thin pillar of ice cools the sweat from my cheek. I want to turn towards it, seeking further darkness. Seeking refuge from the light. I want to turn my head. I will the muscles in my neck to twist. I pray that the cells in my body bring oxygen to fuel motion. My head is stone. The ice melts away.
I hear his boots. The light has shifted. His murky figures wades through the puddles of illumination. On the wall, I see his shadow ripple over the frames. I think of swiping my arm through a swimming pool, the way the water builds and overflows just above my body. The light crests over his path, making way, and gathering behind. It gives me comfort that the light might also be too afraid to move. At least I’m not alone. I wonder how much of me is light.
My barriers are broken by a penetrating chill. I welcome the grounding sensation, and reach out with all my might. ‘Here is my path to consciousness’, I think, ‘if only I can reach reality’. I hear a woman’s voice. I feel a small hand rest against me. Against my cheek; she’s cupping my cheek with her hand. I shiver, and can feel my skin crawling. I see the outline of a big bed…but I own a big bed…where am I?
I turn, and there she is: the woman I love.
“You’re ok, sweetie. I’m here. You’re safe.” She wipes tears off my face that I can’t feel. Her hands are damp from wiping sweat from my body for however long this ordeal took. She has a job, a real job, and serious things that will demand her time in the morning. Maybe in less than an hour. What time is it? She’s still talking, I think. I’m dizzy, and the air feels heavy on my shoulders.
I scoop her into my arms. I’m still shaking. The whole of her fits from my shins to my chin, and is like a body-sized compress. I hold her tight as she nuzzles into me, arms weaved around my waist, head resting on my breasts. Now is when I cry. She holds me, and lets me hold her. It only takes me a few minutes before I have to move, because breathing has become impossible. I blow my nose and sigh. She rubs my back, tracing outlines of reality in my skin. I can feel her. I can feel here. I am here, now. I am safe.
Back in bed, I try to breathe evenly, hoping she will fall asleep quickly. I wake her like this too often. ‘It’s less than it was for many people’, I remind myself, ‘and she’s strong’. She gives a heavy sigh and shifts unconsciously. I pull her in closer, inhaling her hair. I smell the safety of my moment. I feel it in my arms, against my chest. I count each breath, trusting that they are taking place more than feeling my organs process the oxygen. I see the numbness floating up, like bubbles in champagne. It will leave my body with my breath, and I will feel reality. I can move my toes, and soon my feet can arch and bend. I crack my ankles. She shifts her weight and murmurs something soothing to me. I can’t stop my smile.
I ground back to my body. Slowly. The sun is starting to glare through my blinds. Her alarms will go off soon. She’ll go back to life, back to the battle she fights daily. She soldiers through the days, and acts as nursemaid through the nights with me. I kiss the top of her head. I rub circles into the tense spots on her lower back. I wonder whom it is that atheists “thank” for the good people in their lives. The people themselves, I suppose. I start to plan my opening statement for this benediction, and I drift off to sleep.