When Dreams {{NIGHTMARES}} Become Reality

Monday night I couldn't sleep.
Not really.

Every time I closed my eyes, images would begin swirling and as they collided with my exhaustion, reality would drift far enough away for dreams to begin, but not so far that I didn't know I was dreaming. 

I was standing in line at Starbucks when he walked in and called my name. 

How are you? 
You look great!
It's been so long...

My eyes fluttered open, I kicked off the covers and got up to get a glass of water. Settling back into bed, scenes of downtown Tempe began to fill my mind. 

It was a Friday night and we'd just finished dinner at Oregano's. The sounds of people laughing and talking loudly mingled with the smells of food and cigarette smoke that surrounded us. It was exactly like every other night we'd spent walking down Mill Avenue. The only difference was that when we crossed the street, he didn't make it. Once I stepped up onto the curb and turned around, I saw him lying in the street.

I jerked awake that time and had to take several deep breaths to calm myself. My husband was sleeping soundly next to me and I wished I was too. As I rearranged my pillow, I concentrated on matching my breathing to his, focusing on all things calm.

There he was again. Standing there in a black t-shirt and jeans, along with his regular black Vans and sunglasses tucked into the front of his shirt, the weight of them pulling the neckline down far enough to see the top of a slightly raised pink line down the middle of his chest. I knew it was nearly 6 inches long but that's only because I'd seen it in its entirety.

Hey you!
Are you going to come to the hospital?
The doctors are saying this may be the last surgery I'll ever need. 
I'll be fixed!
Please wait there with my mom...

This time when I opened my eyes I had to talk myself into believing that the conversation I'd just had with him wasn't real. We'd always hoped one day the doctors would indeed tell him that he only needed one more operation and then his heart would be better but after 9 years of knowing him, I knew it was a long shot.

This was getting old. I had work in 3 hours and I hadn't managed a stretch of sleep longer than 20 minutes. Sighing in utter frustration I lay my head back down again.

I was holding his mom's hand while we sat in the freezing cold waiting room. The sterile smell of hospitals had always turned my stomach but combined with my apprehension and terror, the nausea was threatening to overtake me. We'd been waiting only 2 hours. Even still, those 2 hours had felt like 20 and when I looked up and saw the doctor walking towards us, mask pulled down around his neck, scrub cap in hand, and blood on his coat, I knew instantly that something had gone terribly wrong.

He's gone.
We tried everything.
Sometimes this happens.
I'm so sorry for your loss.

My eyes flew open and as I realized that my face was indeed wet with real tears, I could still hear his mom screaming.

This can't be happening!
Not my baby!
Please, God, no!

Seriously?! Why did I keep seeing him? I hadn't talked to him in 6 weeks and yet every time I attempted to get the sleep I so badly needed, there he was.

Somehow, an hour later when my alarm went off, I dragged myself out of bed and got ready for work. The morning was a rough one. Trying to convince a very cranky and sick 3 year old boy to do the most simple and ordinary tasks was grating on my nerves. My leg got cut by some glass and I got yelled and cursed at by a 70 year old Vietnamese woman. I had forgotten my breakfast at home and hadn't had time for my morning coffee. When my phone buzzed and I saw that I had a new message, I escaped to the bathroom to catch my breath and read the message.

When I saw the sender's name, my stomach dropped.

I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut, forcing my insides into my throat.

It was from her.
His mom.

As my eyes flew over the words shining bright on my phone screen, I suddenly felt as if I was being choked. I couldn't breathe. My head was spinning.

He's gone.
I found him this morning.
I looked but I couldn't find a note.
I wish I could say it was an accident.
It wasn't his heart.
The police are still here.
Had he contacted you?
He still talked about you all the time.
I thought maybe you would know...
He loved you.
I'm so sorry.
Where are you?
Can you come?

This could not be happening.
This was not real.
It just could not be.

I jumped as I heard the irregular rhythm of a 3 year old fist knocking on the bathroom door...

The rest of the morning was a blur. Upon arriving back at our apartment after getting L on the bus for school, it all threatened to crash down on me. I couldn't think about anything but the one thing I knew I shouldn't do. It was an incredible struggle. I forced myself to change and work out. The entire time I focused like I've never focused before. It felt impossible to keep going but as I did, the sweat and shortness of breath pushed down the choking sensation from my throat. Afterwards, I showered and got dressed. I had to meet my husband on campus at the Detachment and take photos of him and the other members of next years Wing Staff. I was angry. So very, very angry. The reasons I gave were irrational but I didn't care. I could not talk about it. I would not talk about it. 2 hours later I was back at home and in my room.

You will not cry.
This isn't happening.
Just keep standing and folding laundry.
You will not cry.
This isn't happening.
Just keep standing and folding laundry.

I kept repeating those words to myself. The next 2 hours were filled with the mundane tasks of folding, hanging up, and putting away 6 loads of laundry I had been avoiding. I did cry but just a little. Never longer than a minute or 2 and then I'd wipe my face, shake my head, and proceed with what I was doing.

5:30 PM found me on my bed, hugging a pillow, sobbing uncontrollably. The door opened and I heard my husband's footsteps as he walked around the bed. The mattress shifted as he sat down.

What's going on?
Please tell me what's wrong?
Rachelle you HAVE to talk to me.
I'm going to get some tissue and then you have 2 minutes to tell me.
Please talk to me.
What happened?

I didn't want to say it. I didn't think I could even manage saying the words. After fighting it some more, I gave in.

He's dead. He killed himself this morning.

I told him all about it. I sobbed.

Another good soul has left this Earth and in doing so, he left from my life. No longer do I have the option of checking up on him. There is no possibility of me running into him ever again. I won't ever have a chance to see him smile again or to tell him how proud I am of his sobriety.

Its completely nonsensical. How is it possible that someone with such a pure heart no longer exists? A heart that had made it through TEN open heart surgeries... How can it be that someone who had been sober and clean for 3 years, who felt like they finally had it figured out, and had a new lease on life, no longer have any life at all?

There are no words to accurately describe what this feels like. I have an actual physical stabbing pain in my heart. It's been 53 hours since I got the news that he was gone and I still can't believe it.

Well, that's not true. The tears and the pain and the sleepless nights are proof that a part of me knows and believes. I just wish I didn't. I wish I didn't have to.

I don't want to grasp the reality that the one good person from my past is gone.

I don't want to understand that the one person from my past that never made me hate myself more than I already did is gone.

I don't want to know that the person who managed to crack my stone-hard exterior after my best friend killed himself is gone.

I don't want to believe that one of the best people and men I have ever known is gone.

Above all else, I don't want to wrap my head around the fact that he's gone because that would mean I'd have to accept and understand that he was hurting so badly and was so blinded by despair and hopelessness and pain, that he felt his only choice was to slip a rope around his neck and before stepping off of the chair he'd planted his feet on, drag a razor blade across his wrists.

Really, truly knowing that would make me hurt more than I can comprehend. 

It would mean I failed.

It would mean I failed someone I had once loved and was still very near and dear to my heart.

It would mean that someone I thought had risen from the blackest and deepest depths of depression and found happiness, wouldn't have and that would mean that the hope his story and life had given me, wasn't ever real to begin with.


Ruth said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am sorry for pain and for your loss. And I am grateful to you. By sharing your experience, you have given me freedom and words for emotions I could not express.

I haven't slept well in two weeks. I feel numb; I feel a mixture of pain, sorrow, guilt, confusion, fear, denial, and a hundred other emotions so fused together that I do no know them separately. Two weeks ago today, my girlfriend's son pulled a trigger and ended his life. I barely knew him. He isn't mine to mourn. We usually saw each other in passing, when I picked my son up from playdates with his little brother.

Two weeks and one day ago, his mom - my friend - called him out of his room when I came to pick up the younger boys. We talked for half an hour about some shows we like. I could tell he was reluctant to talk with me...some old lady who was picking up his brother's friend. I asked if he liked to read and after a pause, he asked me why; he was afraid I would tell him to read something. I laughed and said I hoped he would suggest something for me. He listed books, and we talked about each of them. Turns out we read the same things. I loved every moment talking with him, but I felt like he was putting up with me. So, I thanked him and took the younger boys home to set him free.

That evening as two eight-year-old boys charged around our house, I ran my fingers through our guest's hair and told him, "Your brother is so cool." Twenty-four hours later, his brother was gone.

I barely knew him, but I miss him. He wasn't mine, but he left a hole that I can feel. I can't think. I can't focus. I force myself to talk with my children, to interact at all. I worry that I said something wrong in those 30 minutes, or that I didn't say something right. I failed to help someone who needed me. I cry and I kick myself, because his family must be feeling this so much more than me.

Part of me trembles, aches and remembers what it was like to lock myself in a downstairs bathroom holding my way out of life. And I feel it all again and I ache for him and I wish I could have done something...

Part of me is grateful for friends and family who loved me when I didn't love myself. For people who kept me going, who kept me alive. Then I kick myself again: does my gratitude for them make me condemn his family somehow? Even if it doesn't, would hearing my thoughts make them doubt themselves? And I ache for them, because even without my voice they are already aching and worrying and suffering...

Most of me is wandering in the darkness. Most of me curled up in mind, sitting in old, familiar thoughts, looking for my reasons to hope.

Lindsey Layton said...

I know that saying I am so so sorry won't even begin to touch your heartache. You're in my thoughts. It sounds like you two were immeasurably lucky to know each other.