When you’re a child, nightmares are the stuff of, well, nightmares. Night terrors are even worse. I well remember waking myself up screaming at a very young age, thankfully not remembering the dream or terror itself, just the screaming. That’s enough to terrify a small child. Hell, it’s enough to terrify an adult.
I can’t say for sure how old I was when I first began having nightmares, but I think it was somewhere around three or four years of age. I have full-fledged memories of things that happened during my third year of life, not just things I was told about. I know this, because upon repeating the memory, I knew things that others would not have told in a story. Such as, there being an eagle emblem on the front of the beach house we visited that belonged to friends of the family when I was barely three, the sound of lobsters being dropped in a pot of boiling water, and a necklace that my grandmother wore a lot when I was little, but lost before I was four.
The house I grew up in was three stories. My bedroom was on the main floor, my brother’s room was on the top floor, and my parent’s had the entire basement as a master suite. I believe the style is called “contemporary”, it was fairly narrow (not as narrow as a Charleston Style home), with floor to ceiling windows in the living room.
I assume that my parents could not hear me scream from their bedroom. I say this only because, knowing how my Dad was, I’m sure he would have come running. He was overly protective and paranoid in general. If he was going through a particularly bad patch, he would get up multiple times a night to check on my brother and me.
One night, I had fallen out of bed and hit my eyebrow area on the nightstand. Apparently, I just rolled under the bed and went back to sleep. This happened to be a night my Dad came to make sure we were still in our beds. The story I heard many times later, was that my Dad was absolutely frantic, thinking someone had come into the house and kidnapped me. There was a bed skirt on my bed, and for some reason, he didn’t think to look underneath right away. After calling the police, and searching the rest of the house and the grounds, he finally thought to look under the bed. There I was, face covered in blood, sleeping the sleep of the dead, as children do.
I have no idea what went through his broken mind at that point, but apparently, I wouldn’t wake up. My mother had already called 911 again to instruct them not to come, as I was safely found. My Dad was furious. I wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t wake up, and I was bleeding!
Stitches were required and I still have a scar on that eyebrow, and the offending nightstand. But I digress, as writers do.
When I would wake up from a particularly nasty nightmare, even if I couldn’t remember it, I did not want to be alone. I would sneak down to my parent’s bedroom and sleep on the floor. I did not want nor expect anyone to wake up and console me, I simply wanted to be in the same room with other people.
My mother would get so angry when she’d wake up and find me curled up next to her side of the bed. I always made sure I wasn’t in the way. Quite honestly, I would have slept under the bed had it been high enough off the floor, but it wasn’t. I remember my Dad telling her to relax, it wasn’t like I came in there nightly. It truly wasn’t often, though I can’t give you a number of nights per month.
I was forbidden, by my Mother, to come into their room at night. I was supposed to be a “big girl”, I could handle whatever it was, alone. A nightlight was installed in my room, case closed. But not for me, as the nightmares didn’t care if there was light or darkness, they came for me regardless and demanded that I flee my bedroom.
Determined to stop me from sneaking into their room, my mother began to put sheets of newspaper on the floor next to the bed. She knew I would step on them, making noise, which would wake her up. Then back to bed with my little ass.
My work-around for this was to eventually give up and start sneaking into my brother’s room, upstairs. I got in trouble for that as well, but she couldn’t monitor it, unless she caught me sleeping there in the morning. Around the age of four or five, I trained myself to wake up at a certain time, lest I get caught sleeping somewhere other than my bed. The nightmares were bad, the punishments received for being caught out of bed were worse. And likely contributed to future nightmares.
Now I’m in my 40’s and I still have night terrors, albeit for different reasons. Oddly, waking up next to the nightstand that caused my Dad so much terror of his own for a short while, gives me a little comfort. It reminds me that no matter how fucked up my Mother treated me, my Dad always cared.
After a lifetime of insomnia and night terrors, I view sleep differently than most people. I take it when I can get it. I nap during the day, like it’s my job. I don’t take it for granted. If I have to take a pill to get it, so be it.
Because peaceful, uninterrupted sleep is something that’s hard to come by and precious to obtain.