NANCY LOCKHART BOLTED AWAKE. From Joe’s room, a tiny voice screamed. “Noooo! Daddee!”. As she ran down the hall, she heard his sobs in between more screams.
“Wake up, Joe,” she murmured into his ear, as she wrapped her arms around his shivering body. The sandy hair on the back of his head was wet in her hands. His pajamas were soaking hers.
Joe opened his eyes, recognized his mother, and buried his face in her chest.
After a minute or two, his shaking stopped. He backed up and looked into her eyes.
“It was Daddy again.”
She hugged him, then held him away so they could talk.
“Want to tell me about it?”
“He was falling away, off a cliff. I think I pushed him.” He dove into her chest again. “I’m sorry, Mommy, I didn’t mean to.” He began to sob again.
She squeezed him, then shook him gently.
He leaned back, his tear-filled hazel eyes looking up at her. She thought. Oh, God, why did he have to have Jason’s hair and eyes? She forced herself to ignore the dagger in her own heart.
“Do you remember where Daddy was when he died?”
“Yes. Can you tell a nightmare from the real world?”
He stared at her, thinking hard for a moment.
“I think so.”
“Good. This was a nightmare, a bad dream. It can’t hurt you, and it isn’t true. You did not push your Daddy, did you?”
The pause made her uncomfortable, until he shook his head.
“I didn’t think so.” She kissed his head. “Let’s get you some dry pajamas.” She pulled back the blankets, and pointed to the dresser. He got out and chose a fresh set. His hair was already almost dry.
When he had put on his pajamas, he sat on the edge of the bed. She sat next to him.
“It felt so real. Why?”
“It’s part of what we go through when someone we love leaves us. You love your Daddy, don’t you?”
He nodded solemnly. “Do you have nightmares, too?”
“Yes, dear. So far, I have woken up before you did, or you would have heard me screaming, too.”
He looked at her for a while, then his expression turned serious.
“Do you dream of pushing Daddy off a cliff?”
Nancy suppressed the memory of cocktail parties where adults joked about doing just that to their spouses. Had Joe been eavesdropping?
“No, dear, but I do imagine other terrible things happening. Over and over. Then I wake up crying or sweaty, just like you.”
He put his arms around her. My God, he can reach around me already!
“Can I come if I hear you having a nightmare?”
She thought a while.
“Yes, dear. That would be helpful, I think. Just touch me and call my name. If I’m moving around, stand back. I might hit you before I wake up. Can you do that?”
He nodded again. “I can do that.”
“Good. We’ll see each other through this, okay?”
“Okay.” He pulled up and kissed her on the cheek. Then he swung into bed and let her tuck him in.
“You can go to sleep, Mommy. I’m okay now.”
Triage in the emergency room. Nancy struggled to quickly assess one broken body after another and point as the ambulances lined up outside the automatic doors. Their sirens winding down added to the general din of relatives beginning to gather outside the ER. She pointed in one of three directions, so that the orderlies could wheel the wounded or the dead to the appropriate level of care.
What am I doing here? I’m a clinical researcher, not an ER surgeon! Jason was the surgeon. She hadn’t wielded a scalpel since World War II.
The next gurney rolled up. She looked down into the bleeding face of her husband, lover and tennis partner.
“Jason!” The gurney vanished, and the next one rolled up. Jason’s face looked up at her again.
“Mommy! Wake up!”
She felt a small hand take the scalpel from her hand, and hold it. The room whirled around her, went black, then resolved into a dark bedroom.
Her eyes followed the hand holding hers. The little head was even with hers.
She swung out and sat on the edge of the bed, putting out her arms. He jumped in her lap, knocking the breath out of her before she wrapped her arms around him and held on tight.
“Yes, dear.” She held him quietly, while her heart settled down.
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
She almost laughed at his serious expression.
“Why not? You told me yours. Remember what triage is?”
“Daddy said it was sorting the wounded so he could patch up the worst cases first. He did that in the war.”
“Very good, Joe! I dreamed I was in the emergency room at Saint Mary’s doing triage after some terrible event downtown. The ambulances were lining up bringing the wounded to us. But each person on the gurney was your father, one after another.”
“That sounds terrible. What did you do?”
“I screamed at the second one. Then your hand reached in and pulled me out of the nightmare.” She hugged him. “Thank you, Joe.”
“You’re welcome, Mommy. Anytime.”
“That sounds so grown up. These dreams should slow down after a while. I sure hope so.”
“We’re up now. Want some hot chocolate?”
Joe’s little face broke into a big smile.
© 2021, JT Hine