Early to Bed

2LWA Flash Lit Challenge #4, October 2021

Photo credit Bronwyn Emery

Night after night, the walls billowed in and out like an accordion, bringing waves of panic. 

She was five. She couldn’t communicate it; she didn’t have the words. No one understood what the problem was. Every night there were tears and big gulping breaths, and fear of going to bed.  The adults, dumbfounded, tried to reason with her. They told her it was alright. She cried harder. No, no, no … don’t leave! But they did. They clicked on the night light and left the bedroom door ajar. Exhausted, her little body finally slept, only to wake up sobbing in the middle of the night with all the grown ups gathered around her. She didn’t know why she was crying or why going to bed was so scary.

She was twenty-five. She kept herself busy — too busy. During the day, she didn’t think about the panic.  She still didn’t have the words to explain it. She stayed up too late at night, putting off going to bed as long as she could. She drank wine so that when her head hit the pillow she would pass out and not feel the old familiar wave of terror that threatened to crash over her for reasons that were still unclear. The walls had stopped billowing in and out, but now the waves were internal. When they showed up, her whole body pulsed and her heart raced. She kept the night light on. She was old enough to have strategies now: Stay distracted. Self-medicate with alcohol and caffeine. Keep moving as fast as she could.

She was forty-five. She was tired. The nameless fear that pursued her when darkness fell was relentless. She knew she needed to find the words to articulate it and usher it out of her body. Insomnia had been part her identity for years. Avoiding sleep until it was impossible to keep her eyes open was the only way to steer clear of the crushing distress that visited her on more nights than not. It grew louder, more persistent, as if it were saying, “Look at me! I am still here. The only way out is through me.”

Slowly, piece by piece, she put it together like a puzzle. They had left him. She was three years old and they left her father and his dysfunction. Nobody talked about it. Nobody acknowledged it. Nobody told her why. They just escaped.

“She’s three,” they thought.

“She won’t remember,” they said.

“She’ll be fine,” they agreed.

But her body grieved the loss of him, and it screamed to be heard and comforted.

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