The Guardian

I sat on the edge of the firm leather couch, resting my elbows on my knees. I took a deep breath and felt the muscles in my neck tighten as I began.
“I’m sleeping in my bed when I hear a noise. I open my eyes just a bit and see my wife sleeping soundly next to me, the cat curled up between her legs. I close my eyes again, assuming it was my dumb neighbor. Not a minute later, I hear it again; this time it was louder. It’s almost like a tapping or banging noise. I sit straight up and turn behind me to look out of the window and that’ when I see him. An average-build man wearing a dark hoodie and baggy jeans. He had no face and is just….standing at the window. That’s when I usually wake up.” I leaned back, a bit relieved to get the dream I’d been mulling over for three weeks out of my head. Had it not been for my wife, I wouldn’t have met with a therapist at all.
“Well, that’s not uncommon.” Dr. Graham said. “Have you been stressed lately? Sometimes stress can manifest itself into nightmares.”
“I’m not going to lie, money has been tight. It’s a lot to deal with supporting my small family” I replied.
“You’re doing everything you can, James. You can’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself, you’re only human.”
“Doc, with all due respect, the pressure I put on myself is completely warranted. My wife hasn’t been able to work in years thanks to her back injury. “
“Have you given any thought to government assistance?”
“Nah, I’d rather not bother with it” I said, crossing my arms in front of me.
”James, there are certain things you need to put your pride aside for. In my professional opinion, this is one of those things. However, I can’t make that ultimate decision for you.” The doctor paused and scribbled something down into his notebook. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked at me through them.
“And what do you think these dreams mean?”
“In every dream I have of this man, I feel powerless. I feel like I can’t move and that I have no strength. It feels like even if something did happen my arms would be noodles and I might not even be able to stand on my own. Whether this man bursts through the front door, stands at the window, or he’s at the foot of our bed, I can’t protect my wife. That’s the fear that wakes me up.” These words seem to spit out of my mouth without me actually thinking about what I was saying. I looked up at Dr. Graham with a surprised look on my face.
He scribbled more down into his notebook, checked his wristwatch and sighed. “Well, I’m sorry James. It seems like we’ll have to explore that facet of your mind in our next session. My next appointment will be here in 10 minutes.”
I wanted to protest, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to keep talking about this. I could already feel a lump forming in my throat. I stood and shook the doctor’s hand.
I barely remember the drive home. I was in such shock that a stranger had somehow penetrated my brain. More-so that he could see what was actually happening in there.
When I got home, my wife greeted me at the door. The house smelled of brownies, the treat she always baked for me when I was having a rough day. Before I could get my shoes off, her arms were around my waist, squeezing tightly.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“To be honest, I don’t know” I replied. She looked up at me with the expression she sometimes has that makes me feel like a lost puppy. I know she doesn’t mean to be condescending when she looks at me that way, but when she does, it feels like I’m three inches tall.
My wife is the only one who has ever truly loved me. Jumping from foster home to foster home when I was younger turned me into a calloused jackass, but she saw right through that. I don’t know what I’d do without her and it seems like even with her I don’t know what to do.
Since her injury, times have been tough. We’ve managed to stick together through it all and I’m so grateful for that, I only wish I knew how to repay her.

***

Getting ready for bed typically causes my chest to tighten. Lying there in the silence and the dark leaves room for my mind to wander. I know what will eventually come and being restless all night makes me lose sleep which, in turn, gives me more bad dreams.
Tonight, however, I feel more nervous than ever. Since my appointment this morning, I’ve been thinking about what the therapist said. How he was able to see me for what I was and not the hardened angry guy all of my friends know. It amazes me that I’m that transparent. That someone other than my wife can see that part of me; it made me uncomfortable. All I keep thinking about is the fact that this faceless man is somehow the manifestation of my stress and feeling like I can’t keep my family afloat.
With some hesitation, I climb into bed, turn off the TV, and let the rhythmic sound of my wife turning the pages of her book lull me to sleep.
Before I know it, the knocking sound reverberates through my head and my eyes open wide. I don’t move, but the room feels off. It feels real. My wife is still awake, her knees curled to her chest and her eyes widened at the pages she’s holding inches from her face.
“Are you okay? You were shaking the whole bed” she says, breaking her concentration to turn and look at me.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Can you grab me some water?”
“Sure,” she says. She leans over to grab the cup on my side table, kissing me on the cheek as she does so.
I rest my head on my pillow, my eyes still wide open, my entire body awake and alert. I’ve left some kind of puddle on my pillow; whether it’s sweat or drool, I can’t tell. In the time it takes me to blink, the faceless man appears at the foot of our bed. I’m completely paralyzed.
My wife walks back into the room and stops short, staring at him. The sound the glass made shattering on the floor diverted the faceless man’s attention away from me and onto her.
I tried to move, but my elbows keep buckling and my legs go numb. The faceless man cocks his head to one side and strides over to my wife. It took every ounce of energy I had to sit up.
He wasn’t able to make it three steps before she grabbed a large shard of glass and forcefully stabbed it into his thigh. All I could do was watch, struggling to stay upright and keep my neck from bending. He doubled over in pain, silently screaming and writhing before her. His baggy blue jeans were weighed down with the ounces of blood he was losing each second. My wife kicked him over and he fell hard on the floor. I heard something snap and he stopped moving.
My wife ran over to the bed, blood spattered across her white nightgown. She took me in her arms and all at once, my strength came back. I held my head up, but I couldn’t hug her back.
I had never felt more useless, more powerless over anything before. My greatest nightmare had just been obliterated by the only person I cared enough to protect from it.
I laid back down as my wife changed into new pajamas. My eyes closed and I began to cry. This was one of the worst nightmares I’d ever had. The only hope I had to look forward to was waking up from this and trying to analyze it with my therapist next week.
Only I didn’t wake up.
As the sun shone on my face the next morning, I realized I had been awake all night. My pillow was sopping wet. My wife was sleeping soundly next to me in a dark oversized t-shirt, and there was a wide, dark blood stain on the floor beside our bed.


Last Week’s Story: Cold Hands, Warm Heart

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