I had my first nightmare when I was four. I had the chickenpox and dreamed that Raggedy Ann and Andy came over to play and knocked over the fishbowl.
I have a nightmare that someone is following me in a car as I’m walking on a bridge. I run, but can’t get away. I know that I am dreaming, but when I open my eyes, all I can see is the inside of my eye mask and the darkness returns me to the bridge. I discontinue the medication.
When I was seven, I watched Child’s Play with my mother and sisters. In this movie, a doll goes on a killing spree. For years I had to put my dolls out of sight before I could sleep. It’s possible that I never outgrew this fear at all, but outgrew playing with dolls.
Charlie visits with the soldier who replaced him in his unit after he was injured. The replacement soldier was himself injured within twelve hours, and Charlie goes to see him every day. I ask if he can leave the hospital. He’s allowed to leave, but he doesn’t want to. They tell us we’re safe now, but we’ve spent so much time being afraid we don’t believe them.
I have another nightmare. I am on post after a long day of work. Everywhere I go rapists lurk in the shadows. I outrun them. Finally, another woman offers me a ride, getting out of her car to flag me down. As I get in, someone grabs her. I don’t get out to help. I drive away in her car to save myself. I know that I am not strong enough to save her. When I wake, I am frozen in bed, my heart pounding, my throat dry. I wonder how people live like this.
At the art table, patients discuss their nightmares. Not the particulars of them but the fact of them, the ways they cope with them. Therapy dogs trained for nightmare interruption and the many sleep meds they’ve tried. When I went home for Christmas, my parents told me I scream in my sleep. Another responds, Yeah, my ex-boyfriend told me the same thing. The point of the medication they are on is that you don’t remember the nightmares.But how can the body not remember?
We are eating lunch in the hospital cafeteria. My dining companion is a Marine who works here. He has deployed four times and will be leaving again in a month, first to train new recruits in the desert in California and then to lead them into battle. He eats with his elbows on the table, broad shoulders hunched. He has a burst blood vessel in his left eye. It flashes as he surveys the room between bites. You know that feeling you get, when you wake up to a noise in the middle of the night and you feel like there’s someone in the house? I nod. That’s what it’s like down-range. The whole time.
[Refer: This essay put the editors in mind of Terese Svoboda's essay "Refugee Lessons."]
Seema Reza is a poet and essayist based outside of Washington, DC, where she coordinates and facilitates a unique hospital arts program that encourages the use of the arts as a tool for narration, self-care and socialization among a military population struggling with emotional and physical injuries. Her work has appeared on-line and in print in The Beltway Quarterly, HerKind, Pithead Chapel and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her website is www.seemareza.com.
Image by Linda Tanner