My Mother’s Nightmares


My father left the other day for a two week trip to Asia, not for business, but for fun with retired friends. He is the leader/tour guide, meticulously planning their itinerary from departure to return, in charge of booking all plane tickets and hotels and even drafting a list of must-eat restaurants in each destination: Taipei, Macau, Shanghai, and some province I’m not sure of.  

“Everyone loves traveling with your father,” my mother said to me when they pulled the suitcases out of the garage, “He knows so much about every place, they trust his tastes and they trust him.”

In regards to taste, I’m not sure I agree with my mother  (in Paris, my father’s “tastes” limited us to dining twice within four days at the same Chinese restaurant) – but trust is certainly an apt word to describe the overall security my father provides. His presence at home means my mother is that much more at ease, at peace, and when he is away, she, hardly a romantic, wishes to me that her were here.

My mother was looking forward to the trip as well, until Grandma fell ill and it made little sense for anyone in the family to go anywhere. Swiftly, my father cancelled their plans and even filed paperwork for a full refund, but within a few days my grandmother’s health stabilized somewhat and my mother urged my father to go on the trip without her.

“Our friends will have no fun at all if you don’t go with them.”

My father snorted and said, “Why would I go when Grandma is not doing well?”

And I thought it strange too. My mother is a strong woman, but my father’s presence makes her stronger. Wouldn’t it make sense to have that man around when Death was loitering around your mother’s weak heart? But my mother urged him to go. My father is not a traveler by nature, preferring to visit far flung places from the comfort of our living room couch, via television, but he had poured his heart into planning this itinerary and I could tell, though he would not admit it, that he had been looking forward to it. It was rare for him to want to leave our home, and my mother wanted him to travel lest too much time passed and he forget how wonderful it was altogether.

They discussed the possibilities and recognized that at this time, anything was possible – Grandma was fighting, improving; the trip was planned and mostly paid for. My mother could give up her spot – she was actually the only one not retired – and stay behind to teach her classes and look after Grandma. My father would go on the trip  (their friends cheered) and if anything should happen to Grandma, he would book the next flight home.

My father left and we waved him off, wishing him a good trip. As the garage door closed, my mother turned to me and said, “At least I have my daughter here to keep me company.”

I looked at her, “Are you afraid that Grandma might pass away when he is gone?”

My mother shook her head, “Not at all, not at the rate she is improving, but I just like having your father at home. He makes me feel safe.”

That first evening my father was away, my mother spent the night with Grandma in the hospital. Then she returned home bleary-eyed in the late morning and slept in her own bed. I sat in my bedroom reading when I heard a soft yelp coming from her room, followed by strange indistinct muttering.

Was she on the phone? I went to her bedroom but saw her sleeping and shrugged – perhaps I’d heard the neighbors talking through my window. But as I turned my mother spoke again, this time louder and more distinct:

“What do you think you’re doing? What is it that you want?”

I strode to her bedside and watched her expression. Her brow was furrowed and her lips were pursed in angry dialogue. She was visibly distraught and I wasn’t sure what to do. I stood and watched her until her expression turned from anger into sadness and to my absolute astonishment my mother’s lips began to quiver. She began to cry. What was she dreaming about at 11AM in the morning that could make her grieve so? I could not bear it and gently as I could, shook her awake.

“Mom, mom, it’s just a dream.”

Her eyes opened slowly, as though from a coma and it took a minute for her to register that the face peering down at her was not that of a villain but her daughter’s, familiar yet worried.

“What in the world were you dreaming about?” I asked, and much to my relief she smiled wanly and shook her head, “I don’t know. A nightmare. I was sad.”

I leaned down to hug her and told her not to try and retrieve the evil thought. Her eyes closed again and I returned to my room, my ears alert for the rest of the afternoon until she awoke.

The next evening I spent the night at the hospital and asked my mother if she would be alright.

“Of course,” she said, “I’ll sleep with the lights on.”

I held up my phone, “Call me if you’re afraid, even if it’s 4AM, I’ll probably still be awake anyway.”

She nodded and told me not to worry. “I’ll be fine,” she said, and I wondered if it was true. Perhaps she would sleep, but if she had nightmares, who would wake her up? I have written about this before, but that night on the long drive to the hospital, I worried about my mother; without my father, without me, without my brother, she could have nightmares ad infinitum. Even my father had his share of nightmares, from which my mother rescued him on occasion. It was a small but simple argument for the life-enhancing benefits of marriage.

But in the hospital my grandma slept and, I suppose, so did my mother. My phone never rang, and I imagine, the lights stayed on in the master bedroom.

The following evening I sat typing at my desk. It was eleven thirty when my mother came in.

“I’m going to bed,” she said, “Don’t sleep too late.”

“I won’t.” Clickety clack. I waited for her to close the door on her way out as she normally does, but I did not hear the click and looked up at her.

She seemed hesitant, but then said, “Will you leave your door open tonight?”

I nodded, of course I would. Who would wake her up if she had another nightmare? The door open – that was the least I could do.

She smiled thanks and went to bed. A half hour later, I too was in bed, staring into the dark. I heard a faint yelp and sat up with a start. Was she dreaming again? I couldn’t tell, but waited. And then again: a soft, high-pitched whine. I went to my mother’s bedside and by the dim light of the nightlight, peered at her face. Her expression was soft and relaxed, not contorted and distressed as it had been that morning she returned from the hospital. As I watched her face and still lips, the yelp came again, this time from behind me. So it was, this time, from my neighbor’s home – perhaps a young pup they had just brought home. But it didn’t matter: my mother was asleep, at peace, and I hoped, dreaming of traversing distant dream clouds on my father’s arm.

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