Nighttime is by far the worst. That’s when they come and lie down beside you, bringing cold and discomfort. They take you to a place between conscious thought and dreams, slowly wrapping around you tighter and tighter, squeezing all the joy from life. Loneliness, regret, and fear are their trifecta partners.
Nightmares are what I write of, and I just had the granddaddy of them all. Again, I find myself fully awake while the rest of the house is still asleep.
Some say nightmares are simply dreams that somehow go awry. Others believe they have no true meaning, just our minds arranging random events of the day — cataloging and filing memories away for retrieval at some future date.
While we all were living back on Flamingo Street, Dad said nightmares came from a guilty conscience or things left undone. Whatever the case, just before midnight, my nightmare came, robbing me of peace, and I find myself unable to go back to sleep once more.
The older I get, the less sleep I get. Aches and pains from an active life are abundant in an older body. When one of us kids got hurt back on Flamingo, our dad used to say, “Just walk it off. If the bone isn’t sticking out, you’re not hurt all that bad.”
Got news for you, Dad. I was really hurt. That twisted ankle I got fifty-some years ago keeps me awake most nights — along with a host of other childhood injuries. But not tonight.
The nightmare has pushed pain out of the way and taken center stage. I can down a Tylenol to ease the ankle pain. Unfortunately, there’s not a pill made to keep this reoccurring nightmare from eating away at my serenity.
As I check in on our two granddaughters sleeping, I pull covers up around their shoulders, kiss them on the cheek, and realize I will have to explain to them what happened. With the outside temperature dipping down into the 40s, the house tonight feels colder, and much darker, than normal.
Or perhaps it’s the aftereffects of the nightmare and my thinking about the many questions I will have to answer one day about their father and why he decided to leave this Earth way too soon. But, if I’m being honest, I really don’t know.
So I turn to comfort, turn on my computer, and start to write a story nobody really wants to read. To write about a nightmare, a family nightmare born from a young life ending one year ago at age thirty-three. It has changed everything in our lives, and the girls’ lives, forever.
The Wife hears that I’m awake again, comes into the room to sit and comfort me. Unfortunately, this is a pain she can’t take away. It’s a weight I’ll have to carry by myself.
Dad said that nightmares come from guilty conscience or things left undone. I say that they can come from questions left unanswered. Questions, someday years from now, that will be asked by two innocent little angels sleeping in the bedroom across the hallway.
I only hope by then, somehow, I will have answers for them. Still, there are things in this life that go unanswered. Maybe “why” is one of them.
And even if I can’t answer all their questions, The Wife and I will always be there for them, loving them no matter what comes their way. And perhaps, just perhaps, that will be enough.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]