Dan Finnen CC
My Mother, In Three Dreams
I am asleep, tucked in my bed in the corner of our dining room, just steps away from the bedroom where my parents sleep. In a modest house with eight children and limited space, the arrangement is a make-do that allows my mother and father to look after my three-year-old self while my older brothers and sisters sleep upstairs.
As the dream unfolds, a witch appears at my bedside with a flash of smoke and blaze of light. She is Endora, the red-haired, glamorously made up grandmother from the TV show Bewitched. She reaches into the folds of her long purple dress and I catch a glint of her magic wand.
I don’t know the witch’s exact intent, but her dry, cackling laugh presages evil. I run into my parents’ room, convinced that only they can save me from her evil spell. To my horror, their bed lies empty.
I dodge Endora’s wand and lead her on a chase into the kitchen, hoping to escape through the back door. Sadly, the witch catches me as I struggle to undo the hook and eye lock. She touches me with her wand, and I turn into a Raggedy Ann doll, mouth stitched shut, arms and legs flopped to the sides, devoid of animation.
The picture sears itself to my brain. I am too young for complex expression but I know instinctively that my home is an unsafe place and I am trapped there without a protector or even a voice.
Now eight-years-old, I have graduated from the dining room corner. The five oldest children have all left home, leaving me in a bedroom by myself.
I no longer dream of witches. My nightmares play out while I’m awake. My thirteen-year-old brother Bill regularly visits me from his room across the hall. At first, he forces me to undress, smirking at my naked body. Then he touches me. And finally, because there is no one for me to tell, he pins me on my back and rapes me. I spend days pounding on my stomach, praying that I am not pregnant.
My mother has no interest in what’s happening. Once, after leaving me alone in the house with Bill, she yells at me for disturbing our neighbor.
“They said you were screaming and crying for half an hour. You need to be quiet,” she said, never asking why I was upset in the first place.
I nod, knowing better than to protest. I have a mother who cares more about maintaining order than protecting her children. She is more likely to punish me for speaking up than to deal with the messiness of a pedophile in our midst. My father, who defers to her in all things parenting, is of no help to me either.
To comfort myself, I create an imaginary world with a new mother. With the face of a TV a star or favorite teacher, she sits with me through the night, promising to love and protect me. I spend most of my childhood falling asleep on a pillow made to resemble a lap, with a blanket pulled around my shoulders in an affectionate hug.
My mother has been dead six months. The letting go is treacherous.
Now twenty-seven, I have learned compassion for my mother, mostly because I have grown up to be so much like her. I have an over-homed need to silence and dominate those who cause me anxiety. And I am anxious a lot of the time.
Still, in my grief at my mother’s recent death, the young girl who spent her childhood running from monsters real and imagined lurks just beneath my strong exterior.
My adult self meets the younger me in a dream. As the story unfolds, the little girl crouches inside the concrete walls of our garage. Her hair is filthy and tangled. Her arms and legs are covered with scrapes. In the distance, unseen spirits let loose predatory howls, like a pack of demon coyotes closing in on the kill.
The adult me lays in my childhood bed, listening to the young girl’s plaintive cries. I am not sure how or even if I should help her, so I toss off the covers and walk into my parents’ bedroom, looking for my mother.
On my dad’s side of the bed a sheet covers a motionless human form. In real life he’s been dead four years. My mother, dead less than a year, lies next to him with sheets pulled down to her shoulders.
“Mom, something’s happening in the garage. I’m scared.”
“I’m tired. Let me sleep,” she answers.
I shake her a few times. Nothing. I walk to the back of the house and look across the property to our garage. I see blinding lights, hear angry shouts from the demon mob, and above all, more screams of terror from that little girl.
I nearly jump out of my skin as I turn to see mom standing in the doorway to the kitchen. She looks like her old self, before the cancer took over her body.
“Honey, I’m tired.”
I understand. She needs to be free of the little girl, of her own past sins. A lump fills my throat. I think I’m being brave. I look out the window again. “It’s OK mom. Go back to bed. I’ll handle this.”
“Ok, sweetheart. Good night.”
“Good night mom.”
When I turn, she is gone. I stand, staring out into the blackness for a few moments, then pause to lock the back door before I make my way upstairs, stopping in my parent’s bedroom where my mother is again lying with sheets pulled up to her shoulders. I find a blanket and cover her, head to toe. Then I make my way back upstairs, to my bed, where I fall asleep to the sound of a little girl’s unanswered cries. The sad truth is, neither my mother nor I are up to the task of saving her.
Anne Penniston Grunsted lives in San Diego with her wife, son, two dogs and two cats. When not needed for mama duty she writes about childhood trauma, raising a disabled son, and other topics as they come. Find more of her work at annepennistongrunsted.Wordpress.com.
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