Max has nightmares. I’ve mentioned this before. It is as much a fact of whom he is as his wavy brown hair or his irresistible laugh. His dreams are haunted by loss and loneliness. They are always the same story, played out in different places.
“We were walking along a cliff, and then a rock broke off and Raphael fell and I couldn’t catch him.”
“I was playing with Tre and Raphi and when we came inside you were gone, and we looked in the back yard, but the neighbor said you left and we sat down and we cried.”
It’s always the same, some story of a person being swept away. He appears in the middle of the night, crawls in bed next to me, dripping hot tears on my arm as he chokes out the memory of the dream.
Recently he climbed in bed with me, sobbing, in the pale light of early morning. Clay had already left for work, and after a moment of searching for him among the blankets, Max burrowed in next to me and told me his dream.
“We were swimming and there was a shark and it ate Tre.” He pushed his face against the fabric of my nightgown and leaked tears onto my shoulder. I smoothed his hair and whispered comfort as I always do, then I found myself saying something I’ve never said before.
“Honey, do you think you dream about people going away from you because your biological dad left?” This is new, this term “biological dad.” Now that Clay is called “Dad,” we needed a name for him. The other. The biological dad.
Max took a deep breath, then nodded.
“Maybe,” he said. “Yes.”
The room was still as it is when the silent truth has been spoken aloud. I didn’t know what to say.
“I’m sorry you’re sad.”
He nodded again.
“But you know what, Mom?” He tipped his head back to look at me. “I don’t think my real dad will leave me.”
Real dad. I smiled.
“Me either, baby.”
The other morning Max stomped into my room, scowling.
“What’s that face about, sweetie?” I mumbled, trying not to scowl at the early morning myself.
“I had the same stupid bad dream over and over and over again ALL NIGHT.”
“Oh, that’s annoying. What was it?”
“My sleeping bag was hanging on the wall? And whenever someone said ATTACK it flopped down on them and attacked them. Then we’d have to put it back on the wall…it was ANNOYING.”
Annoying, I’m sure, but…I caught my breath…no one was lost.