The sound from around the corner was quick, almost like it was just my brain playing a trick on me. This house is approaching 30 years old, so the odd creaks and moans are something you expect. I looked over at my late night companion and we started talking as if nothing happened.
“So what do you want to do? The room is yours for as long as you want it, we can have some more of your things shipped so that you feel more comfortable.”
“Being here has its own set of problems. I can see things coming because here I’m in total control, no one can hurt me. At the same time, no one knows where to find me if they were to help. I may not have spoken with my family for a few days, but I know you have been keeping them informed as to how I’m doing. That’s a responsibility you shouldn’t feel the need to take on.”
The bandage on my ear sliding down slightly and I can see by the look on her face that she wants me to replace it before we continue. Any chances that something slows the healing, the restoration of my hearing, is of great concern. But then I start to hear that cracking sound again. This time it can’t just be the house, someone is listening from another room. I know if I slide around the other door to the kitchen I’ll see who it is before they can slink away.
Sitting in the floor, curled up with her eyes completely swollen from trying to hold back the tears, Susie is shaking so gently that I thought my eyes weren’t focusing. The movement of her hands so slightly I almost needed to hold my breath in order to see them quiver.
“Lary, do you think you need to leave? Are you going home or do you need to go back into the hospital? Please tell me, I’m old enough to try to help!” The words had started slowly but gained volume and speed by the time she finished. The shaking now the result of her frustration at trying to understand. And the best I can do is freeze where I am.
Her grandmother looks at me through the door and motions for me to sit down. I’ve know this woman so long that I recognize her expression. ‘Talk to her. Be careful, but talk to her.’ Her eyes saying more than her voice ever could.
This is a conversation I knew I would have, but always thought it would be on my terms. Who knew that Susie’s late night need for something to drink was going to blow the plan completely to hell! The best I could do was sit down next to her and let her lean into my shoulder. Her nose and hair look just like her aunt, making it so much harder to talk to her. That ghost the main reason why I can be here, knowing this family will protect me from everything, including myself. Right now it’s my turn to repay all of that by making this shared nightmare better for her.
“There’s going to come a time when I’ll need to go back to my own house. Last week it was easy to call someone to come fix those stairs without me needing to travel. But I can’t just let my family deal with things they really don’t need to. That whole being an adult means that I have to face the ugly stuff as much as the easy stuff. Ignoring it, hoping it just fixes itself, that doesn’t happen.”
“If you don’t want to leave, why don’t you just move back here? I can help, come over after school and summer is almost here. Gram says you left once and it was hard for people here. I don’t know what it’s like being you. You only tell me parts of stories, just like stories about my aunt. There’s more to things and you only want to shield me. You can’t. I’m here right now. Why can’t you let us help you?”
“Susie, when I was in college and just needed a family meal, this is where I would come. Your father and grandparents always made me feel like I was blood. We share something much deeper, something that grew out of pain and became what you see now. Your grandmother’s opinion is something I listen to and take very seriously. There’s a reason why after my daughter died your grandmother was one of the first people I talked to. We had done this before with your aunt, she knew me better than anyone in how I was going to deal with things.”
“Gram says you still have nightmares about her and your ex. That she’s heard you scream at night but doesn’t know what to do for you. She warned me before I came here. She talks about you every now and then, before I knew you. When you were a bunch of pictures in the drawer.”
“Kathy is important to me in a way that few people are. I know my just being here brings back some memories that hurt her. Some of the medical things going on with me, you see the fear on her face.”
“Please tell me what’s going on, the truth!”
This is where I just don’t know what to say. It’s not like when I was a her age, my grandmother being sick and having to walk to the library to understand what the pancreas does. Anything I say, well her phone can tell if I’m lying or not. Instant access has its drawbacks.
“Susie, I stayed because I couldn’t travel. My ear might have started bleeding and it could have been slow to get me to the hospital. But now I’m staying because I’m afraid to go home. You know that feeling you get when you’re home alone and you get frightened for even a second. I feel that too often sitting on my couch. The memories come flooding back and I don’t know what to do. Add in that I really don’t know on any given day if a doctor is going to give me bad news and you lose the ability to go right or left. Standing still sometimes is the only choice.”
“Well, I don’t want you to go. Can’t you forgive yourself?”
“No I can’t. I don’t know how to!” Now I’m shaking and she’s having to hold my hand to stop the shaking. I didn’t want this and now it’s here. A different panic, but one just as powerful. Another life dragged into this mess and me not having any way to shield a teenager from it. This isn’t just a nightmare I can wake up from, and it’s not the kind of thing that a few pills will help let me sleep through. This life right now is a nightmare, one that is reaching further and further. Stupid visions of tentacles whipping around grabbing hold of anyone who walks into my path.
Is it time to wake up? Or did I ever get to sleep in the first place?
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Nightmares.”