“I’m sorry I woke you.”
“It happens.” His voice is so quiet, I doubt if I even hear the words.
“I didn’t mean to wake you, but my arm was asleep and I couldn’t roll over without lifting myself up.”
“I often have dreams with people I’ve never met, but somehow I know exactly who they are.” Now he sounds more awake. But his delayed response to my earlier question – that’s classic Daniel.
I reach for him. His arms are safely secured against his chest, so unable to reach either hand, I tuck two fingertips into the waist band of his pajamas, just far enough to tell he is going commando, as usual.
And that’s when he moves, just barely, but closer.
“It felt so real.” This wasn’t even the first time I’d dreamt about Jason this month. Sometimes I can go months without a thought, but this month, this was the second time, and only a couple weeks of March have passed. My words hang above our bed, dissipating into the muted shapes of our most intimate room: it felt so real.
I lie quietly focusing on the sounds of his breathing allowing each soft breath to cancel the painful images I just encountered. I am unsuccessful.
Jason pulled me out of my desk chair, grabbing me by the wrist. Even in my sleep I tried to think rationally. ‘Turn your wrist towards his thumb to escape his grip,’ but he tossed my arm the way a lion tamer wields his whip, and suddenly my ability to move my arm ceased.
As a child, I remember trying to escape molten lava, as if volcano eruptions were a common occurrence facing five-year-olds, and my legs became immovable, and my voice failed me. I couldn’t gather the attention of those likewise fleeing the cataclysmic disaster. Of course, as a child, I could fly in my dreams. What I wouldn’t give to still be able to extend my arms, take three running steps, and lift myself into flight, to escape the terror now facing me, and even to overcome my inability to speak when circumstances demand it.
“This is real.” Daniel’s voice breaks the silence of the room and my mental recreation. He moves his arm around to his back and grabs my hands from the edge of his pants. He pulls it back towards his chest so that I can do nothing more that wrap my arm around his body and curl up against his back.
The irony isn’t lost that Jason and Daniel both pull on my arm, but one did it as a form of abuse and the other does it as a form of affection. He doesn’t know what happened in my dream, what I just envisioned, but he knows what it feels like to be reminded of our harrowing pasts and how to rely on one another to halt their unconscious advance.
We’ve worked on this together in and out of therapy. This is the way we have built our lives together: talking about our memories and our terrors. Yes, we also discuss our goals and plans together, but despite our forward progress, we both continue to fight the worst memories – a collection of evils that never leave us for good, just long enough to assure us that there is life after hell.
I whisper into his ear. “Erase it.”
Pressing tight against his half-naked, cozy warm body is enough to wipe away the images I don’t want in exchange for the man I do want. I squeeze the soft sock on my foot between his calves and add the word that I know will wake him up. “Please.”
Despite what I suspect is a loaded influence of the sandman, Daniel finally awakes enough to make love to me and chase out the final fearful images for good, or at least long enough to allow me to fall back asleep. The blood returns to more than just my fingertips.
These moments in the darkest corners of night, disrupted by the past, whether his or mine, resolve into passing nightmares wiped away by his tender embrace and his sensual movements against and within me. Whether the subtle tug of a waistband or his sliding himself inside me, our nightly gestures of affection ground us in the reality of the present, even if I know it is coming to a chasm forced upon us.
Wyoming winters are harsh. The wind never stops its assault, much like our past in that way. Road conditions during any week may prevent movement into town, or even perhaps not much beyond the proximity of Sheridan. And even though March offers more of the look and feel of winter than the promise of spring, which may be making an appearance in other parts of the country, including those emotionally cold communities from my former life, I know the rebirth of the seasons is pending despite the present howl of tonight’s gusts.
Along with the hint of warmth returning, and by ‘warmth,’ I mean a bit of thaw, a commitment Daniel made last autumn approaches faster than the melting winter. He will be supporting a business project that presents a shocking reality for him, but a contribution for his employer that will grow both their partnership and his position. I worry the opportunity for the firm might throw Daniel back a decade in his personal growth. Waterfield, Pruitt, Herston, Gransberry, Newbold, and McClure secured a DOD contract for a variety of designs. Beyond that, I know practically no details about the government work.
One of the early projects in this initial three-year agreement requires his engagement abroad. He refuses to discuss the particulars, which is true to the man I love. When he first shared the news of a pending business trip abroad, I suspect from this particular government entity, he is not going to the French Mediterranean or a Tahitian paradise.
I realize and acknowledge his pending departure for this project is from where the latest round of nightmares originates. Initially, this project didn’t resurrect them, but it did lead to more conversations between the two of us about his military life and past memories resurfacing. Also, it’s not just me facing fresh nightmares. He’s awoken abruptly, with more frequency, as his departure nears.
As for his travel itinerary, I connect the rest of the dots without his assistance. A defense contract, a mysterious two-week business trip, the discussions of military training more than a decade in his past, and bouts of insomnia when I would try to assuage his mind all guide me to the conclusion that his business trip weighs more on his mind than on mine. The fact that his pending departure brings fearful images of Jason into my subconscious as I accept the nearing reality of his absence means we are both backing into familiar, albeit uncomfortable, and even difficult, emotional corners.
I don’t get into the particulars of my visions any more than he does his own nightmares. We both keep the specific images to ourselves, even though I wish he would share his, because we know what lingers in each other’s dark corners. But better still, we know how to keep each other from retreating into them. Therapy, honesty, and vulnerability guide us in our relationship and in our healing from our prior lives. I may still have frightening images of Jason when I sleep, but I know the images Daniel sees when his mind journeys backwards must be exponentially more terrifying. Still he awoke from a good sleep to soothe me. Together we triumph over our fears, even without sharing the vivid details. I am beyond grateful for this life.
He falls back asleep first and before he retreats into complete slumber, a tremor shakes his body, and he gasps aloud, then begins the combination of breathing and snoring that assures me all is right in our universe, even if my dreams run counter to his response.
By the time I fall asleep, only a few hours remain before my alarm will wake us and another day begins as if the night was not disrupted by the ugliest images of my past. Falling back asleep, the dream does not reappear, but when I wake up, those visions remain no matter how diligently we work together to overcome them. I suspect the same is true for the images he sees in his sleep.
NEXT: No Secrets Here – Part 3