The Feet Down Below

In every nightmare that I remember as a kid, either I or someone that I loved died. It was either a car accident, or drowning, or burning in a house fire, or a plane crash. And each one felt so real. I would awaken shaking, heart pounding, sometimes in tears. I would tighten my eyelids over and over until they hurt as if they could wipe memory away. After the first nightmares, I climbed in the bed with my parents. Shortly after that, I would go get them and they would lay in my bed until I fell asleep. As I got a little older, after a nightmare I would climb in the bed with my younger brother. Eventually I dealt with it on my own, I think.

As I’ve gotten older the few nightmares that I have still feel as real, but I can reason with myself immediately after I wake up. “That was a dream. Everything is okay.” I’ve heard that you can tell if something is a dream by looking down. If you can see your feet, it’s not a dream. But I never think to look down until I die. And then I might not have feet anyway, so I basically died because I got sawed in half.

I remember Addyson’s first nightmare. She was only two. What is it about fear that it can invade the most innocent of us? Tiffanni and I weren’t fearful people. We didn’t speak about death or loss or abandonment. We didn’t allow the kids to watch frightfest. One night, from her bedroom I heard a horrific scream. I bounced out of the bed to meet her halfway to my room. “What’s wrong?” She just cried into my shoulder. How would a two-year-old know how to discern a dream anyway? Dave Pelzer said, “Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.” (From a book Addyson and Carsyn have read A Child Called It)

And that’s what nightmares are: the darkness of the soul embodied. Those things that we most fear- whether we are conscious of those fears or not. They come from a place inside that humans were never intended to have. We aren’t built for them. It’s like trying to sail across the ocean on a unicycle- it wasn’t built for that. Nightmares cause us to sink into the despair of that which misuses the imagination.

My family hasn’t slept well in a few months. Huntington’s has decided to invade the innocent. Sometime before Thanksgiving, Tiffanni woke up with a nightmare. “There is a swarm of bees in the corner of the bedroom. They’re going to sting us.” After an hour, I talked her down from her excitement and we went back to sleep. The next morning, I asked her if she remembered her dream. “That wasn’t a dream. There were bees in the room. Still are.” How could a child know how to discern a dream anyway?

Over the last several months I’ve stayed up through dozens of nights with Tiff trying to reason with her through all sorts of terrible scenarios. “There are ants in our bed.” “Someone is in the room with a knife to kill me.” “Your parents are singing Happy Birthday to me and I need to go get my birthday present.” “The kids are suffocating my grandmother.” “Someone is trying to kidnap the kids.” And dozens more. As if reality wasn’t hard enough, now she must deal with torturous thoughts from her imagination. Hell knows no limits.

Huntington’s is a trap. It tricks you in your body, manipulates your mind, deceives your emotions, and haunts your dreams. It raids every area of existence and then bombards those places outside of life. There is no sacred boundary. It answers to no one. It submits to nothing. Hell is its domain and it spreads its reach everywhere that it wants. Some days there are no bright spots, only spots. To pretend otherwise is to trivialize pain.

Nightmares exist. Especially when they leave the mish-mash of broken memories that encroach upon sleep and spring into life. I keep slowly blinking my eyelids and closing them as tightly as I can. Waiting for color to return. And to my horror, every time that I look down, I see my feet.