I fell asleep monstrously sick last night.
…Just sick enough to trigger another one, even though it hasn’t been four days since the last time.
I’ve noticed that anytime I feel off, it happens. If the temperature suddenly rises in the night and I start to sweat in my sleep; if there was an argument the night before and we never quite set things perfectly straight. Once I had a really rigorous workout that left all of my core muscles so sore I couldn’t cough without wincing, and if I held my arms out in front of me, my fingertips would tremble. In the dream I was doubled over, sick to my stomach from all of the crying. I said something really melodramatic about being terrible for caring about my body at all when he couldn’t even have his. I felt bad for working out. I walked upstairs to get a drink of water when I came out of it wide awake and sweating, and every muscle in my body felt like it was working really hard to keep me up. That’s when I realized what it was that was making them happen.
In the light of day, nothing about the accident bothers me. It’s not even weird for us to laugh about it – the “knack,” we call it, that he has for evading death. It’s happened twice in less than two years. I joke that if he died tomorrow, I wouldn’t even be surprised. “Yeah, yeah… sad and all… but not surprised.” I still call him an ass when he’s being an ass. I still forget to kiss him goodbye sometimes if I’m busy, because I don’t feel like I have to question if he’ll ever be back. In fact, when words like neurosurgeon, or MRI, or motorcycle accident expose themselves within our day-to-day conversations with other people, it’s sometimes hard for me to even wrap the meanings of such wild, theatrical things around an image of my own husband. For the most part, it’s almost as if it happened to another family entirely - somebody else’s Spencer, and I’m just passing on what I heard had happened from them.
But then every few weeks, the dream that he is not alive anymore manifests itself -- heavy, and still, and quiet over my thoughts, as if it is something that just constantly exists in the back of my mind and is only revealing itself, instead of making an entrance. And for a few hours out of my existence, I taste the experience of bearing a life, empty of him, as if it’s exactly what I do every single day. It’s awful. It’s so awful. But it isn’t a nightmare. Nightmares are terrifying, and to be terrified, you have to have something bad to anticipate. In this dream, the worst is done. He is already gone; he has been for weeks upon weeks by now, and what I’m living out is just a very, very poisoned state of being. It isn’t like any dream of death I’ve ever had before. It isn’t typically a very dramatic scene that I walk into. And it isn’t dark and dismal to start. My kids are all surrounding me, and I’m almost never without a chaperone because both sides of the family are still flooding in to help with whatever they can. They’re always smiling. And I can smile around them too.
I don’t feel like I cry every day or anything. But I feel distinctly nasally, itchy-eyed, thirsty, heavy-headed… just, all the time – even when I’m otherwise feeling pretty even-keeled. It’s as if the aftereffects of crying are just a chronic condition I’ll live with for the rest of my life, even if I never actually cry at all.
I feel okay enough to get by now, okay enough to make light of all the ways that he wasn’t perfect when he was alive… I just feel knocked off balance, the way that you do when you’re sick, but you try to keep up with doing things the way you normally would, anyway.
I hear myself telling people every time that I barely have time to think about it, really, because I’m so caught up with tending to the all the normal things that haven’t stopped needing to be done just because he died. The baby stills throws most of her food to the floor every time she eats, and that needs to be cleaned up right away or she’ll get into it as soon as she gets down. Matthew still tries to wonder off in other directions at the store if I take my eyes off of him for even a second. He still puts up a fight when I call him back to my side. Still causes scenes just about everywhere we go. And Mary still comes home from school almost every day, so rambunctious and moody that it takes all of the patience I have just to put up with it, much less navigate my every choice of words around… especially with everything else I have going on. Then I sigh, the same way I do when I’m not dreaming, and I realize that I’m beginning to rant. In my dream, I can talk about it like it was just something that happened, just something that made everything harder. Of course it’s sad. But everyone already knows that -- they’re sad too, so I don’t talk about it all the time. I feel like I’m getting to a place where it’s good to just try to stay above it as often as I can, holding my face away from it, like a smell I’m trying to avoid, or like I’m up very, very high and trying my best not to look down, because looking at it won’t change the fact that it’s there, and it’s not like any of us could ever successfully ignore it.
The only emotional thing I tell them – and I tell them this just about every time I have the dream – is that I’ve forgotten how to play with the kids. I can laugh at stuff with them, and I can tickle them and kiss them and take them to places that are fun, but I haven’t figured out how to really enjoy them the way that I used to. Or how to be enjoyable to them. It’s like we’re detached. I still love them, but I can’t completely reach them anymore. I don’t even know if that makes any sense. I don’t think I’ve ever read that anywhere or seen it on a movie. And I’ve never lost anyone I was ever really close to, so I don’t know why that feeling is one I so strongly relate to the thought of losing Spencer. But for some reason, it’s what I feel every few weeks when that dream reoccurs.
And then I go back to being normal, making a joke, or telling them that we’re fine, (really believe it) and that it’s probably just a normal part of grieving.
Then after a while, somewhere in there, a little ways in, after everything else has been a steady rock-bottom ride, but something I could handle almost comfortably, I start to cry. And it doesn’t feel like it’s something I’ve been living with, it feels like it just, just happened. I’m choking for air. I double over. I lean into someone. I fall apart, completely, crying as if it’s the only way I can suck up any oxygen at all. Being loud. I cry so hard that everything in me feels ugly. I can’t believe it’s real. I can’t believe it’s real. I can’t believe it’s real.
And then I wake up. And he’s upstairs making breakfast. I can’t see him, but I can hear his boots on the floor. I can hear his eggs crackling over the bottom left burner of the stove, and the spatula scraping the pan. I can hear him clearing his throat. He sounds a little congested, like me. And just like that, life is back to normal.
None of it was real.