This morning. Not too early. Sun fully shining already through the dull pearl of our Venetian morning cloud cover. In fact, it's just about an hour or so before it's really time to get out of bed and get the morning routine started. My eight-year-old son climbs into bed next to me.
This is not a unique occurrence. Truman has found his way to snuggled under the sheets tightly compressed to his mommy's side often enough these past five or so years. It's a trait of his I cherish. For me, it's warm and sweet and precious. Though I know for him these wee morning hour cuddles happen out of necessity- out of urgency. Because to one degree or another, he's frightened when he stumbles down the hall and into our bed at night.
This morning was no exception. Only this time, instead of just tapping lightly on the bed, sliding under the covers that I groggily raise for him to roll into, and falling asleep immediately like a box of barbells on my arm-- Truman comes in whimpering. And shaking a bit. Standing by the side of the bed like he doesn't know what to do.
Ah. This one's not fueled by his mild sleepwalking or grey woolen fear of the dark. No- Truman has clearly had a bad dream.
He climbs in feverishly and I wrap myself around his body. Having just emerged myself from a fairly intense REM state, shaking off the silky threads of my subconscious travels, I sleepily stroke his hair and kiss the top of his head over and over to calm him down. I ask quietly, What's wrong, sweetie? He mumbles something about ...dream... in the high soprano of a young terrified boy. He says nothing more. I don't push. We fall into a nice drowsy half hour after that. He calms into measured breathing, so I know he has fallen back to sleep at least for these next 20 minutes or so.
My gaze finds the clock and I realize it is time to awaken. I whisper softly in his ear Time to get up Tru. Gotta get dressed for school. He tenses around my arm. No. OK- a few more minutes then, I say. Again, stroking his hair. I say- Why don't you tell me a little bit about your dream last night? I don't want to talk about it. He squeaks again. I know, honey, I say. But I think it's good to talk about these things sometimes. Then they don't stay trapped inside.
He finally acquiesces to a short series of phrases describing us- me and him- in a boat. With one other man driving at the helm. We're riding in the boat when suddenly- Truman falls out of the boat and into the water. I say- how scary- you fell out into the water? Bobbing there treading water? He says yes. I say- well, did I jump in and come get you like I would do? Did I yell at the driver to stop the boat? He says no. The boat kept going. You didn't come get me....
Oh my god, I'm thinking. This is one fucked up awful dream.
Now we know Truman has some anxiety. Lucky kid, he pulled that gene card straight out of my pool. And we've also noticed a tendency toward abandonment fears. Which don't seem to have sprung up from any actual instance in his real life-- this time around at least. He was never accidentally left at the park or in a grocery store cart-- not even for a minute. Truman has never been left anywhere at any time unattended. Unloved or abandoned. Never.
But he is wired for abandonment- he has always needed to be able to lay eyes on his parents or guardians while outside in the world --at any point in time when he is not safe at home in his house or neighborhood. He manages his fears very well at school. His friends think he's just the cool joker with the long blond hair goofing around in their midst. But we know the soft squishy inside he harbors.
So this dream - though terrifying- seemed about right. This seemed like a Truman Lieber nightmare in full glory. I suddenly am struck with a moment of inspiration. Perhaps bred from all my years of pouring through fiction and nonfiction paperbacks- four and five at a time. All my therapy and anxious struggles of my own. Nightmares. Certainty of abandonment. Shapeless murky memories of unwantedness....
I lean in again to Truman's ear, and whisper to my child, safely tucked among our toasty morning sheets and blankets- wrapped snug in his mother's arms with the faithful Beagle still snoring lightly at our feet- I whisper- Let's change the ending of that dream.
Let's you and me rewrite your dream. Ok? Because it wouldn't happen that way at all. Here's what would actually happen, my love:
Ok- so you're back on the boat, right? Can you imagine that? Do you see the water lapping in small waves up against the sides? Do you hear the gales of wind blowing all around? Do you see me and the man in the boat- standing up- looking toward the front- toward where we're headed? Yes, he whispers- breathless. I see it. Ok- good. So let yourself fall into the water again. Can you do that? Do you feel the water all around your body now? It's cold. It's dark and endless. You're moving your legs to keep from sinking down into it...yes? And you're yelling for me? Can you do that? Yes-- yes-- he says, a little more urgently. Great. Good. Now- Look. Look carefully at the boat. I'm turning around! Do you see me turning toward you? And I SEE you in the water. And now I'm yelling to the man to STOP THE BOAT! STOP! And he does. He stops the boat from moving forward. But more importantly, at the same time this is happening- I am JUMPING IN THE WATER. Do you see the big splash I just made? I just jumped in the water, and I'm swimming toward you. Fast. I'm saying "Hold on- I'm coming- I'll be right there Truman--" do you hear me? Yes, he says, Yes I hear you. Good- because now, I've got you. I'm holding onto you with one arm around your waist. And I'm swimming us back to the boat with the other. And I'm kicking with all my might, and you are too- we're both kicking and dragging ourselves back toward the boat which has stopped for us. It's waiting for us. Do you see that? Y--y-yes, I see the boat stopped, waiting for us. Good. Excellent. And now Truman, I'm pushing your body up and over the side of the boat. Pushing with all my might while I furiously kick my legs to stay afloat. Aaaaaaah---and THERE- you've just dropped back into the boat and you're lying on the floor heaving to catch your breath. And you're ok- you're safe. You're cold and dripping wet, but you're breathing. You're not in the water. You're not drowning anymore. You're alive and safe and back in the boat.
And then in the smallest and most heartbreaking of voices, my son says, But what about you, Mom?
So then I describe quickly in some detail about how I use the last of whatever strength I have left to pull myself up and over into the boat too, and how the man takes one hand off the tiller to help me, but it takes a little bit. He can't use both hands to help me or the boat will tip over. And about how now, I'm back in the boat, right next to Truman, also heaving on the floor for air - lungs working their very best to move the oxygen fast through the body. And I describe how we're ok after that. We're both ok. We both get our breath back evenly enough. We both lie right next to each other on the bottom of the boat for some time until it gets where it's going, and no one falls out again. And we're together. And we're safe.
I don't know how much immediate salve my rewrite brought to my son. I don't know how deeply the aloe of my story soothed the burn of that nightmare. I do know he was able finally to emerge from deep within the bed moments later to plod back into his room and pull on some clothing that I laid out for him to wear today. I knew he was going to be ok, when I brought out a pair of pants from his drawers and he stopped me. No, mom. That shirt's fine, but I'm gonna wear shorts today.
Whew. Ok. Another panic moment averted. The searing fear sprung from the deepest depth of the subconscious silenced for awhile.
The funny thing is- as I was rewriting Truman's dream for him this morning from the soft comfort of my warm, solid bed very much perched on dry land- each line of the story- each watery image- burrowed itself indelibly into my brainstem. It is now OUR dream- that one. OUR subconscious story. And I know for a most solid stone cold fact that it happened EXACTLY as we wrote it. And will keep happening that way over and over again. That is how that story goes.
He will always fall in the water. I will always see him. I will always jump in the water. I will always swim to him. The boat will always wait for us. We will swim back to the boat and heave ourselves back into it. And we will always be together- safe and alive. This moment is eternal.
This is the moment of mother and son, forever.
I don't know what happened to my son Truman before I got to him. I don't know where he's been and what pain he's suffered through. I do know that this time around, I get to be his mom. And that I will go to the ends of the earth for him, and pray that he truly understands that I will always be there for him. He will never be abandoned. Not this time around.
I will always jump in the water for him.
Happy early Mother's Day, my dears.