Nightcare After Christmas

I’ve never woken up from a dream like that before.

I thought the panic was only a thing of books, where Harry wakes up in a sweat, his hand clutching his burning scar, with Ron or Hermione standing over him saying “Oi, mate! It’s okay! You were yelling in your sleep again.”

But just as Mr. Potter did, I woke up immediately from the noise – someone was sobbing loudly in my bedroom. Someone was half-shouting “I don’t know! I don’t know, I don’t KNOW!”  My eyes flew open, terrified. A second ago I was stuck in a nightmare… and now I wasn’t alone in my room. I lay stiff, scared to move a muscle.

And then both fears—the fear of my dream and the fear of this intruder– collided  as reality slapped me. I started to cry harder.
Annika was dead.
But how could this be? I don’t know, I don’t know….

My crying slowed, but my worlds stayed glued together and my panic kept my heart pounding. I tried to touch logic, but it felt so far away. You’re alone. You’re the one crying. You’re the one screaming. Annika was alive.

She had to be. I reached under my bed for my phone and fumbled to dial her number.

In my dream I had been going through her locker. Someone had ordered me to look through it, to examine all her things because she didn’t need them anymore; they wanted her existence erased.

With a gun to my head, I was going through a metal cabinet, pulling out belongings one by one and laying them on the tile floor. I reached her phone. The man asked me what it was. I said her music. I remember staring at it, and then not believing why I was going through it. It couldn’t be that Annika, my Annika, had died. I would die, too. If Annika died, I was surely supposed to be dead, too. So I didn’t understand. I told him, truthfully, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” I didn’t know. Annika was dead. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t care to know anything. I gave up. Give her back. Erase me instead. 

“Hello?”

I was slapped back into reality again. Annika was fine. I knew she was fine. I knew she’d be fine.

“Annika I had a nightmare. You were dead, Anna. I had to see if–” my sobs stumbled back out again.  I sounded so dumb, and never cared less. I’m not even sure I was awake enough to be relieved she answered,  even this felt like a dream.

Her service was terrible. She was saying something back but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t care, I was too happy to know she was talking. The Santa Cruz darkness cloaking my room loosened in proportion to the amount of time I spent focusing on her fuzzy, sleepy sounds; it wasn’t that I was breathing better, just that I was suffocating less. I pressed my ear tighter to my phone and caught her last sentence, “I just knew I had to pick up.” I reflexively moved to look at my  screen: 3:48 am.

This all felt ridiculous. This all felt real. This all felt fake. This all felt like 3:48 am. I wanted to laugh, but felt tears squeeze out instead as I squeaked, “I’m okay, I’m glad you answered. Thanks for picking up, I really needed it, I know it’s silly. Good night, Anni. I love you, I love you.”

She gave me a sleepy goodbye and an I love you, too.

I hung up. I kept crying. I cried because I missed dad. I cried because I was tired. I cried because I was happy Annika was alive. I cried because I spent my days here doing such stupid things. I cried because I could hurt people. I cried because I had a bed, I was so so grateful for a bed. I cried because I’d die someday. I cried because I sort of looked forward to dying someday. I cried because we couldn’t all go at once.

I fell asleep.

I woke up and took a big sip of air.

…and slowly absorbed the fact that no one I loved died while I was asleep. Why did I not wake up everyday feeling so blessed? I wanted to call up everyone I loved and thank them for not leaving, not just yet.

I remembered what it was like to be really grateful, not Pretend Grateful. To say ‘thank you’ with your whole heart.

I think I listen to a lot of Pretend Grateful things on campus. Pretend acknowledgements. Faux priorities. Auto-pilot appreciation. And I—in turn—also became a little Pretend Grateful, too. I moved too quickly, I stood and lingered less.

Not today. Today my sisters were taking gulps of air, too. I have zero things to complain about.

So I lingered in one more long inhale– in the safety of Annika’s early early morning “I love you, too,”– then got up to make coffee. Dom would want coffee, too, she has lab at 9. Mental note to make extra, Katrina.  

And so I opened up my day, wondering if so many people love coffee because it unconsciously reminds us of when we were babies… in those first few seconds of realizing we were Really Awake, surrounded by people to love.

Maybe.

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