She sat, kicking her legs back and forth under the black lacquered table, chattering between bites of sticky rice and beef with broccoli. School. Octonauts. Her cat. Her hamster. Chatter and squeal and giggle. And we laughed with her, captivated by her imagination, marveling at the sheer number of topics she could explore in less than five minutes.
Then, she looked at me and she looked at my friend and she said, “Mama doesn’t eat very much anymore. And she stays up too late. I mean like after midnight so that’s not enough sleep. I know ‘cause I wake up when she brings me to bed and it was 1:08 one night, well, actually that’s morning. And then she drinks Mountain Dew, but that’s not healthy.”
I sat there, dumbfounded. Is my seven-year-old giving me an intervention?
I feebly protested. “Now, that’s not every night.”
But she dug in, gazing at me with her solemn Kevin-blue eyes. “Mama, this is for your health.”
My weak laugh felt uncomfortable; we changed the subject and soon we were hearing all about her Christmas list.
The thing is, she’s right. I don’t eat much anymore. I do stay up entirely too late, and then quaff Mountain Dew and hot tea the next day, guzzling caffeine, trying to combat the fatigue.
But what she doesn’t know is that I crave sleep. And I know I need to sleep, so I sink into bed, into the Kevin-shaped hollow, the closest I can get now to feeling him hug me good-night. But sometimes, lying there, the only thought running through my head is a line from Hamlet: “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub…”
Perchance to dream. That’s why I can’t sleep. If I sleep, I might dream. And when I dream, sometimes Kevin is in my dreams and his cheeky grin makes me laugh and I can feel his goatee tickle my ear as he leans in to whisper, “Baby Doll, I love you.” But some traitorous part of my brain knows that’s not right, knows he’s not here, and instead of granting me a moment with him, it niggles that thought into my dream until I bolt upright in bed, sobbing, the rhythm of my heart pounding He’s gone, He’s gone into the shadowy room.
And that’s the rub. I want to see him, to dream of him, I want to sleep…but I don’t want him to disappear when I wake up. Alone.
He came the other night, after she chided me, after I read and watched TV and did laundry and listened to the clock chime eleven, twelve, one… He waited, then slipped into my sleep and I told him, “You should never have left me,” and he nodded, “I know.”
And then it’s black, but now light and I hear giggling and I’m awake and she’s there, Kevin-blue eyes sparkling with mischief. She’s slept solid the night and wants me to get up. It’s early so I groan, but throw back the covers and she throws her arms around me and chortles, “Good morning, Mama!”
And she’s here, my little Bear – which means he’s still here and he didn’t leave me, not ever, not completely – and I hug her tightly to me because having her is having him. He’s in my dreams, but he’s still here, too, still so much a part of my life. Bittersweet.
So I do. I need to sleep. More. Better. Kevin wouldn’t want me to be so sad and wander in the dark. He would want me to get some rest, stay healthy…just like our daughter admonished. My little mini-Kev.
He would want me to wake up and live each day; to be alert and alive and ready to laugh at every bit of joy our daughter – our own little dream come true – will throw at me all day long.
We climb and climb and at the top we fly
Let the world go on below us, we are lost in time
And I don’t know really what it means
All I know is that you love me, in my dreams
(REO Speedwagon, “In My Dreams”)