Drenched in sweat, she clutched desperately at the sheets as she writhed in her agony. He could do nothing but stand and watch. He knew from experience not to wake her; she would only lash out, her fight or flight instinct not taking time to discover whether it was him or the demons that haunted her nightmares. When she finally came out of it, she would see the damage to his face and arms, and she would curse herself and her condition relentlessly. At one point, when she had scratched his face deeply enough to leave a permanent scar, she had sunk into a depression that lasted several months. The joy and light which usually filled her waking hours had faded to mirror the darkness of her dreamings. And so, he sat, helpless to end her suffering. He wanted nothing more than to take these terrors from her.
She refused to describe what she saw in her visions. He knew only that it was paralyzing. On more than one occasion, she had alluded to creatures of a sinister nature. Her most cryptic comment came one morning at breakfast. She’d had no episodes for over two weeks, and he had off-handedly quipped that the worst might be behind them. A pallor swept her face as she told him how wrong he was, “When the time comes, you won’t be able to escape. You can’t stop them—no one can.” She left her bagel untouched and stormed out of the house. She hadn’t come home for six days.
These little disappearances had also plagued him. When she was confronted with something in her waking life that she didn’t want to face, she simply left—sometimes for days on end—without a word. She often didn’t pack a bag or take her purse. After several futile attempts to track her down, and one fiasco when he tried to follow her, he had decided to trust that she would be okay. She loved him, and she would always return home her usual happy self, seemingly oblivious to the evils of the world—and to how much she hurt him every time she left. He had no idea where she went or how she survived, but she always did. Another few days would pass without the terrifying visitations, and she would grow happier and more confident each day. And then, there would be another night of clenched sheets and muffled screams, another day or two of her absence, and the cycle would start again.
He ached to relieve her of this pain and sadness, yearned to find the answer to the simple question of what was happening, but he could find no answers. He’d researched schizophrenia, multiple personalities, sleepwalking and even Asperger’s Syndrome. None of them fit. When she’d found the folder on his desk, she’d simply shrugged, “So, you think I’m crazy, then?”
“No, honey, it’s not that, I just—” he stammered, unsure of how to proceed. “I just want to help you. I hate to see how you thrash about so madly when it’s on you. I don’t like what you become….”
“I don’t become anything. I am still me. This is just a part of who I am.” Her eyes pleaded with him to understand. “I know you want to help me, but you can’t. Besides, I’m learning how to deal with it. Did you know they came last night? The dreams?” Of course, he did, but he’d kept his mouth shut. “I dealt with them. I don’t think I even screamed this time!” He didn’t have the heart to tell her that she had screamed, more violently than usual.
And now he stood here again, watching her twist and contort. He stepped into the bathroom and filled a cup with water. He placed four ibuprofen next to it on her nightstand. He knew he couldn’t keep this up. He knew he had to have more answers. It was time to confront her.