my tattoo, he asked me, Mama, are those nightmares on your back?
I thought I'd read him the book a thousand times or more. I know we both know it by heart. I realized that I mostly just recite it to him from memory.
I do that a lot, with books from my childhood. I tell them to him, whispered in the dark, just before sleep. The Story About Ping. Grandfather Twilight. Let's Be Enemies. Goodnight Moon. The Runaway Bunny. A House Is A House For Me. The words are familiar, the stories he knows.
But he may not recognize the pictures.
So we read it.
We looked carefully at every single page.
And that was good.
(And he likes my tattoo now. Loves it, even.)
And I'm trying hard to recite fewer books from memory, in the dark, and read more, and be sure to show him the illustrations, in the light.
Most of the time, almost all of the time, I dream of frustratingly ordinary things. My dreaming life is just a replay of the stultifying minutiae of my waking life. Grinding coffee. Clipping my toenails. My dreams stick so closely to Real Life that the only signal I ever get that I'm dreaming is when my alarm goes off in the middle of getting Gabriel's shoes on, and I have to wake up and do it again.
I've had nightmares for as long as I've had dreams.
Horrible nightmares, full of death and pain and anxiety and ominous dread.
The good thing about my nightmares is their recurring nature. I can catch the first threads, the first signs that I'm walking away from boring details, and I can usually catch myself and wake up before I drown, or suffocate, or have all of my teeth spill out of my mouth in an endless tumble of bloody pearls clattering onto a concrete floor. Usually, I can stop myself before I wake up in tears, with my heart racing, unable to fall asleep again.
When I was pregnant, my nightmares turned to my unborn baby, and I was caught off guard. I saw every one through to the end. I would see myself putting him in the washing machine, or forgetting him at the hospital, or running him over with my car and crushing him, bucket seat and all.
After Gabriel was born, these nightmares got pushed aside, and it was with absolute relief that I found myself back in my old suffocating, drowning, brakes-go-out-and-I-drive-off-a-cliff dreams. I could go back to waking myself up before they really got started, and Gabriel, my heart, was blessedly absent.
Gabriel has reentered my dreamworld - and not because I'm making his lunch (although I am, and then waking up to make his lunch).
Recently, I'm not sure exactly when (although this summer I'm certain), Gabriel started joining me as I careened off a cliff into the ocean, trying helplessly to turn the wheel of my car. The final moment of my dream shifted. I'm no longer staring into the depths of nameless dread, struggling in vain to turn back to the moment before I stumble into the sea. Now I'm staring desperately into Gabriel's wide questioning eyes, and the dread is very specific, palpable as I pull him down with me.
I'm sorry, I try to tell him.
I love you.
These dreams are much, much worse.
Last week, I started reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I couldn't put it down.
This book is many things.
Uplifting it is not.
If one is prone to nightmares.
If one is a single parent.
If one's only child is a wide-eyed, questioning, sweet boy.
Then one might have new kinds of nightmares is all.