Max has nightmares. It seems like the night terrors should be enough, but once every few weeks or so he stumbles into my room, weeping. The dreams are always similar. He’ll crawl under the covers and bury his face in the space between my cheek and my shoulder, trying to hide from the pictures in his head.
“We were walking on the beach,” he’ll moan, “and a wave came and swept Raphi away and we couldn’t find him.” His tears run down my neck, leaving wet circles on my pillow.
“Tre and I were playing and we came inside and Appa said ‘someone died today’ and we said ‘who?’ and he said ‘your mom’ and we all cried.”
I rub his back and whisper words of comfort in his hair. They roll right off his grief as he spills out the story that accosted him in his sleep.
“We went to the movies, and we went to get popcorn and I was looking at something on the counter and when I looked up you were gone.”
“I’ll never leave you,” I promise, again. “I’m right here.” My words feel like a weak response to his torrent of grief. It’s all I have to give him, so I repeat it every time he comes back to weep next to me.
It doesn’t take a terribly sophisticated analysis to tease out the meaning of his dreams. They are always about losing someone, about being left. Over and over again in his sleep he relives his loss. He takes the event of his dad disappearing and plays it out in the life of someone else he loves, and cries all over again.
This is his wound, the thing he lives with that he will never get over. People leave.
Oh, but the other day I was standing in the family room with Clay. Max walked up and threw his arms around Clay’s leg and hugged it.
“I just love you, Clay,” he sighed. “I hope you marry my mama.” He turned to walk away, grinning widely, and then looked back at me. “I hope you marry Clay,” he said, just being sure he was making himself clear. Then he bounded away.
Max has lost much already in his life. But he’s been given much too. I’ve been there every night, there to listen to every bad dream. His Amma and Appa have never left his orbit. His brothers give him equal parts irritation and joy, always nearby to be a comfort and to touch his toys. He is well loved, and that is as inescapable a fact as the one that haunts him on the bad nights.
I wish I could take away his hurt. But I’m so grateful that if he has to live with the loss, he has an answering dose of hope.