You don’t sleep well.
Ever since you were little—ever since your first night terror—you lost your ability to pass out cold. Your mom had always said, before, you were a deep sleeper.
You don’t quite realize what a gift shut-eye is until it’s lost.
Clinically speaking, night terrors are akin to sleepwalking—parasomnia. Awake, you see what does not exist.
Your vision, which implicitly you have trusted, fools you.
Clinically speaking, night terrors shouldn’t be cause for concern. Children usually outgrow them by teen years.
Imagine waking up, at age eight and eleven and sixteen, to catch sight of something moving through your bedroom. You close your eyes. You know what you are seeing is wrong.
Yet there it remains.
It has the profile of a man, and it is crouched by your closet door.
Your breathing picks up pace as you blink repeatedly - this isn’t real, this isn’t real, you chant dully—waiting for his image to disappear.
As you watch, he steps closer. He’s at the foot of your bed.
You scream, half-hysterical. The rate of your heart has reached a fever pitch and it is at that quintessential moment the door opens—lights enchant, you are calmed by a familial embrace, a gentle reassurance.
“You had a night terror.”
Afterwards you lie awake, scared to close your eyes.
Initially, your parents are concerned by these attacks. Rushing to your side at the first sound. As time passes, they become impatient. Finally—exhausted, irritated—inclined to ignore.
One week, when you are nine, you have a night terror every single night.
“You have to make them stop,” your parents demand. “It’s too much.”
You try to stay awake. Eyelids split at the seams, peering at your ceiling. A futile practice.
Eventually, the only person who checks on you is your brother, shaking your shoulder until your illusion breaks.
Your teen nights will be spent at home, concerned about shaming yourself at a sleepover. Anticipation of college elicits equally sharp fears—what if you disturb someone so wholly they never sleep with you again?
At fourteen, you’ve never shared a bed with anyone but your sister, but the possibility still agitates.
A bundle of evenings will go awry, despite your best efforts.
One night, you leave a hotel room because you don’t know recognize the person sleeping beside you. Another time you alert your fellow group of sleeping girls that the basement is about to explode. You terrify a new friend by screaming at the bugs crawling across her mattress.
Every time, your fears prove illusory. The lights come on—and not an ant to be found.
Friends are, in turn, amused, sympathetic, annoyed. Largely, the condition produces no ill will.
He is new and he is yours.
The first evening you take him to your childhood bed, you have a night terror. You cry out. Stark, high-pitched shrieking, the harpy in plain sight.
Frantic. Nauseated. Alarmed. Eventually, you calm down.
He doesn’t embrace you. Why hasn’t he rushed to soothe me?
When your focus clarifies, you realize his reaction to your screaming was instant.
His long frame is contorted: knees tucked, spine contracted, head hidden. His eyes are open, his body frozen. Triggered to paralysis.
How could you?
He does not respond to your gentle attempts to rouse him. He is shaking, slightly. You wait, fingertips to mouth. Eventually, his spine unfurls.
You hold him and apologize until he sleeps; until you hear his even breathing, his sweet sounds.
He explains why the next morning. His instincts are more sharply defined than yours. His terrors were real.
You love him in a way that hurts you.
The next time, you don’t scream. You clamp your mouth closed and wait—until your heart stops pounding and the room returns to normal. He breathes evenly beside you.
This doesn’t mean you sleep well. Or that they stop. They are virtually omni-present, an unpleasant reminder of what could happen. A clinical tug from childhood that tells you that you are not in control.
The other evening it happened; you woke, confused. You saw several people in the dark that were not.
Before you could register reality, he sensed your unhappiness and kissed you, half-asleep himself.
You became still at the strangeness. To be kissed by the unknown.
You watched as his back expanded and contracted with his soft sleep sounds.
It seems that even when, or perhaps especially when, your self-control ceases, concern for another can still the unconscious mind.
Lily Sloss is a writer. She is fueled by a corporate and creative life split between midtown and bedstuy, and enjoying her time immensely.. Follow her on Twitter | @lil_Sloss