Fear has a way of finding you when you least expect it. Sneaking into your bedroom at night, closing its hands around your throat, whittling its way into your mind while you sleep. Some nights fear is gentle in its assault, easing its way into pleasant dreams. Other nights it rushes in, shaking you awake in a cold sweat.
And it takes hours to wipe it all away.
I wake in a panic, familiar images of sterile gowns, blinking red lights, and IV stands still swirling in front of my eyes. I feel tears sliding down my cheeks, into my hair, wetting the pillow case. All I know for sure is that it is night time. The moon shines through my window, not enough to illuminate the room, just enough to give me a vague idea of the time. My breathing sounds haggard. Loud. Labored. I’m disoriented. Unsure of my surroundings. Unsure if I’m alone.
I reach out in the dark, fingers sliding over soft sheets. Searching for warmth. My hand stops on fur, a sleeping cat curled up close. I pause for a moment, seeking comfort by sliding my hand slowly over kitty’s head, back, leg. And then continue my search through the dark for who I’m really reaching for.
My heart rate stalls, then slows as I close my fingers around his wrist. Warm. Present. Alive. I curl into him, concentrate on my breathing. In. Out. Into the dark, I sigh and whisper, “He’s fine. He’s fine. He’s fine,” until my panic subsides.
It takes me about an hour to find my calm so I can sleep again. And he sleeps through it, not knowing the nightmare that interrupts my slumber.
I wake a few hours later, still curled into him, still gripping his wrist. The sun had begun its climb into the sky. Dawn chases the rest of the nightmare from the room, like dusting the dregs from the corners.
I release my husband’s wrist, study the way his eyelashes curl on his cheek–his cheek that is pink with life–and smile. I roll over, facing the window. My last thought before I slip back into a dreamless sleep: it’s cloudy. I wonder if it will rain today.