Despite everything that’s happened, I’m ok. Except on the days when I’m not. Yesterday was one of those days, because I woke up my kitchen at 3:30 am the night before with a knife in my hand.
I’m not sleeping. It’s been going on for a while. Reached a fever pitch around Christmas. I’m living on roughly 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Truth be told, I feel pretty amazing; it’s a bit of a high, really. I’ve got dark circles under my red eyes, and I look a little wan, though. My memory is muddled and dull, and my concentration is poor some days. The problem now is not so much insomnia as sleepwalking, which is how I ended up at the counter in the middle of the night making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This is the third time I’ve gotten up in the night and made a sandwich in the past ten days. I don’t know what else I’m doing when I walk, but I find uneaten sandwiches just sitting on the counter in the morning. I don’t know why I am doing something so weird. This was the first time I woke up mid-spread.
First, let me just say that PTSD is a bitch. I’m more and more convinced that, while you can glue your psyche back together, you don’t get the same shape you were before. You have some pieces missing, and a few of the seams never really mend. Some of the cracks just get a tenuous scab on them, at best, and sometimes I apparently pick them off in the night. Can’t leave well enough alone, really. While I feel whole and healed during the day most of the time, my nights are still spent processing. It’s a pretty decent improvement, though, and I don’t complain. Can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good now, can we?
And so, despite how well and happy I feel and appear to be doing in the cold light of day, my mind isn’t done with me. The walking and the dreams are its way of scratching at the walls and whispering, “hey. psst. we’re still in here. it’s all still in here…just waiting. waiting for its chance to spring through the door, teeth bared for your throat, the moment you crack it open a little to see what’s in here, we’re coming for you.” Joke’s on you, though, mind. I know what’s in there, and no fucking way in hell am I even putting my hand on the knob. I hear you knocking. I don’t fucking care. I’m not the least bit curious what you have in there with you. I’ve already seen it in all its glory and horror. It’s why I put it in there. I put it away. Life without possibility for parole. You can push the door open a little in the night and give me a terrible glimpse, if you want, but that’s all your getting before I slam it shut and hope I take a paw off in the process. Make sure you get a good wiff of the fresh air out here when you do it, because you’re going to need that to sustain you in the dark and the dank.
I have had three recurring dreams that pop up from time to time (albeit less and less) since everything happened with Dad. The first, is the constant reliving of his last day over and over again in excruciating and very realistic detail. It could be worse, since, in the end, he had a much better death than I ever expected for him and a much better death than most of us could hope for. He was at peace, out of pain, largely free of the machines, and surrounded by his family through every minute until the last. He passed over with our words of love in his ears. The second dream is the crashing airplane dream. That one doesn’t visit often anymore, but when it does, whoa nelly. The third one…well, I’m not ready to talk about that one yet. Not sure if I ever will be. I haven’t had it in at least six months, and just suffice it to say that it involves a cross-country road trip, a series of shitty motel rooms, and comatose, dying father who at times isn’t really alive anymore when he talks to me and asks me for things. It’s the one that wakes me up drenched and screaming.
When I woke up in the kitchen, I woke in the middle of the “last day” dream. One minute, I was in the hospital room, the next I was in my kitchen. That day was the longest day of my life. It went on for weeks and everything happened in slow motion link and interminable free fall into the inevitable. I remember every single fucking minute of it. Every conversation, every glance at the clock, who sat where when and who did what. It’s like my mind knew it was crucial to stay on the edge of its seat taking notes for each and every second of it. It absorbed it all with thirst and gusto. It was also a good day in that I was in control. I was able to make sure my father had a soft landing counting his breaths and steadily and methodically pumping him full of higher and higher doses of morphine thirty minutes at a time. Every horrible and mericful decision was mine, and I was calmer than I had been in months, because it was finally happening. Death and I were shaking hands, and I was just her instrument. I didn’t have to fight anymore. I had lost, and I knew it. There was peace in defeat. All I had to do was gut it out and hold up my end of the bargain, and we could all go home — including Dad. I didn’t have to keep him tied to the bed anymore. I was setting him free little by little every time I said “yes” to more narcotics on the hour and half hour. I was the boss. I could stay the course. I could do it. Even though it was Dad’s day of dying, the day swirled around me and no one could stop what I was doing, what was happening. I was the one making the calls. It was my reckoning, and I made damn sure that no one would have to answer for it but me.
Each time I have the dream, I go through the same motions and emotions. The day is the same. I do the same things. I make the same decisions, give the same ascents. Mom and brother are at my side and at Dad’s, supporting us both in their own gentle and careful ways. Mom is coping, surprised at her own mourning, but is mostly concerned about me. Brother is constantly next to me, never more than an arm’s reach away. As he had for months, he props me up with his astonishingly light touch of love and laughter and special ability to bring appropriately tender levity to every situation. I’m collapsing into a singularity at never stronger at the same time. I am iron and will and swirling wind and grief and pain and hate and love. Mostly love. I’m the boxer on the ropes in the tenth round begging my trainer to just cut me and send me back into the ring. No towels today. Dad is doing is part to put on his coat, tip his hat, and quietly walking out the door. Everything is very peaceful and bathed in light. Reliving it is not a bad thing. It always sends me reeling for a day or two, but it’s more of a disorienting shift in time than anything else. I can smell the scent of hospital soap and the latex-free gloves I wore constantly in my nose the rest of the day after I have one of these dreams. It stays with me for a while, and, for the most part, I’m kind of used to it.
This dream was different, though. I just suddenly came into being in my kitchen, knife in hand, standing over the sandwich, ready to slice it into triangles, with an epic and dizzying case of emotional whiplash and sharp, searing pain straight through my abdomen as though I had been stabbed with something large and on fire. I had suffered a literal punch to the gut. My heart was racing. I couldn’t breathe. Hot tears stung my face. I had materialized out of my bed consumed with the most intense feelings of rage and panic and grief possible rushing up at me all at once with blazing speed. It was then that I realized that the dream had been different — this time I hadn’t been me in the dream. This time I had experienced it as my brother. Like some bad sci-fi movie, we had swapped bodies for the day, and I was trapped in his skin with my eyes open and forced to watch. I went through the day from his point of view walking his walk and feeling his feelings. I won’t even go into what that was like and why. His relationship with our father was very much like mine and very different all at once. While I love my father desperately and miss him terribly, he was incredibly difficult for us both, and coming to terms was a challenge. It was not a challenge my brother had fully met before Dad’s death. His private thoughts and emotions are his own, and I cannot begin to speculate what they are in the light of day, much less if my dream interpretation was correct. Suffice it to say that it was an unpleasant experience I do not wish to have again, not only for the disorienting perspective and oh so fresh dose of horror that I had long since declawed and digested, but because in the dream I lacked the control to which I had become accustomed. I did not like my new role, and I have a new appreciation and empathy for the others in the room with me that day not only for how they felt, but for how they saw me and watched what I was doing. The outside looking in view of that was not pretty.
I do not know why my mind went there. I do not know how it did it. I stood there at the counter, staring at the knife, at the sandwich, at the back of my hands that I know as well as I have come to know the dream as it usually comes to me. I felt betrayed. I felt numb. I felt nauseous. I turned 180 degrees, leaned over the sink and threw up onto the dinner dishes soaking in it.
I don’t remember going back to bed, but I did manage to sleep somehow. I woke up a few hours later exhausted, haunted, cranky, and claustrophobic. The walls all felt too close and the ceiling too low. Profound grief, rage, and panic stayed with me. Adrenaline coursed through me even as I already felt tired from the crash of its after effects. I was dizzy and sad. I felt like I’d been in a fight all night. I didn’t want to do anything except roll over onto my side, pull of the covers, and stay in bed all day. Instead, I pulled myself together and into the shower, packed the dog into the car and hauled ass toward the black and white Rockies Mountains shrouded in steel grey clouds at 80 mph with the windows down in the cold and the pounding heart-like beat of Radiohead’s “Up on the Ladder” blasting on repeat on the car stereo. I couldn’t get away fast enough. It helped. It helped immensely.
I do not mind the dreams so much…when they are my dreams. I do not know what kind of trick it was pulling, but the beast I shut up in my mind got me good. It reminded me that I still have the wolf at the door. That I’m not — and possibly never will be — out of the woods. That’s ok. That’s the price I pay for it all. For living through it even when the worst has happened. I just wish I had some marks on the outside to remind me of the marks on the inside so I don’t get blindsided by it all. Mostly, though, I just hope it doesn’t happen again. Even more than that, I pray that it doesn’t happen again from the perspective of anyone else in that room that day. Living it through my brother’s point of view was a cake walk compared to what it would be like from my mother’s or (gulp) my father’s perspective. I’m not sure either of those wouldn’t crack me in half regardless of how strong and healed I am…or think I am.
In the meantime, I am going to rely on the sanity of daylight and take something to help me sleep at night. And the next time, I’m going to eat that fucking sandwich.