There’s the buzz of the fridge and then the wind is gusty outside our home and during the times it dies away I can hear cars in the distance and think of the people inside them; the families they might be driving towards or away from; the suburbs filled with thousands and thousands of people, sleeping or not and – in the insomnia-inspired thought-linking I’ve become used to – images continue to gather inside my head to contrast this tiny space I occupy against the billions and billions of others that become a tidal wave of meaninglessness and in that wonder and despair – and in the light of the past few hours – I think back to my own childhood night terrors, waking from a recurrent dream, crying uncontrollably for reasons I’m not even sure of and wandering around the house, hovering between sleep and wakefulness with a feeling of utter ruin and horror in my gut and although I’m somehow aware of my Mother being there, I don’t really see her or hear her until I wake fully, and as I leave my childhood and come back to my place on the mattress with Tyson my memories become fleeting images from a long time ago and I’m searching for one kind of image in particular but I can only remember my Mother getting me water, rubbing my back, talking to me, lifting me into bed; I have no memories at all of her losing her temper with me.
An hour ago at 1am, just as I was falling asleep next to the already slumbering Reservoir Mum, there came the familiar bang of Tyson’s body against the bedroom wall, followed by the rapid thudding of his feet towards the hall, but when I rolled over to catch him, to settle him between us, he changed his recent pattern of panicked flight and stood still, in limbo, crying at our door.
I hit the floor running with the intention of walking him into our room but he held his spot and wouldn’t be moved and when I whispered calmly that I’d lay with him in his own bed his crying grew a little louder and he started rubbing his runny nose and the pre-sleep hormones inside my head made the hallway darker and colder and my patience for him wafer thin.
Twenty minutes more of his sleep-terror madness and we were in and out of beds and getting nowhere and back in limbo in the hall and he refused to tell me what he needed, or to blow his nose, or to have something to eat, and countered every suggestion or offer of comfort with a desperate kind of defiance.
He was not really in control of himself, I could see that, but my whisperings began to rage from tenderness to frustration because RM was waking and Maki was stirring and I was gritting my teeth for my own slumber and suddenly I had him in my arms and was hurrying down the hallway, shushing him forcefully as I closed the door to isolate us in the living area.
I turned on the dullest light and sat him on the kitchen bench and through the shivering frustration and short-circuiting fatigue I was aware of the frantic school run only hours away and how Tyson’s school behaviour changes for the worst after a bad night’s sleep and there was all the things I had to do, and then I thought of that Occupational Therapy form for his next appointment with those questions I’ve answered again and again and Does your child have trouble sleeping? – yes, yes, yes; And For How Long? – forever, and suddenly I’d given in to anger and my palm struck down on the kitchen bench and I was face to face with Tyson, aggressive, and it was just after I said, ‘You have to stop crying. You’re going to wake everyone. You just have to stop. You have to stop!’’ that I saw the desperation in his eyes. The night terror had passed. He had woken up to see me like this.
I loved him as much as I hated myself and for a long time I hugged him as close as I could standing at the kitchen bench and told him, in warped despair, that I’d move a mattress to the lounge room so that we could sleep together.
We’re lying beside each other under a queen-sized doona, and my awareness shifts away from the world outside our home and there’s the buzzing of the fridge and when Tyson whispers, ‘Can you cuddle me Dad?’ I do.
My thoughts are still coming from a sleep deprived delirium – a kind of despair – but they’ve settled me enough that I can turn over and draw Tyson closer to whisper, ‘I love you mate, everything’s okay.’
I can smell his hair and feel him breathing and there are no schools and no forms and no billions and billions of others; just the two of us, and I’m tired; drifting; almost there, wondering what of the past few hours he’ll remember years from now and just as I’m hoping that falling asleep in my arms will be the memory that lingers the longest he raises his head to peer through the semi-dark.
When he smiles at me I smile back, because I’m the one who’s here for him right now and I’m giving it everything I’ve got.
When he lies back down I pull him closer and he reaches up to put his hand on my neck and sighs to signal he feels safe, because he’s the one who’s here for me.