To Sleep and To Dream
I have worked in Muggle and Magical hospitals, and seen people harmed for no reason except that they were powerless to defend themselves. I have barely survived an attack by Voldemort. I have seen my husband's corpse sprawled on the pavement. I have stood on the grounds of my old school and fought with everything I have to stay alive and save the lives of others. I have used all my medical and magical skills in failed attempts to save people who had fought no less hard. I have seen the bodies of children who died defending their school and their future, when all they should have had to worry about was getting their homework done.
I have learned two incontrovertible lessons:
- That the strength of the human spirit is amazing; people can find themselves thrust into the most horrible circumstances and come through with the lesser parts of themselves burned away—emerging stronger and better than when they began.
- I am not one of those people.
I have been told that there are times when I have a combat veteran's 'thousand-yard stare.' It's not surprising: I am a combat veteran of two wizarding wars, and I've earned every inch of those one thousand yards. To say that I am haunted would not be far from the mark, not in the sense that there are ghosts around me where ever I go…well there are, but they belong to the school. My own ghosts, regrets and failures—like those of most people—live in my head. It makes travel so much easier, and doesn't require magic or extra suitcases. I 'travel light' since nearly all of my personal baggage is mental and emotional.
Real happiness is a rare and treasured moment. For the most part I am content with not being depressed. It has taken me many years to get here, and it is always a tenuous state. Anniversaries are the worst, but I surprise myself sometimes with the things that put me back into nightmares. I rarely sleep well, I am happy when I can end a night having not slept badly.
From time to time as I drift off, I have a moment between wakefulness and sleep when I am completely aware of both. The day's concerns begin to get tangled in strange places and join with other ideas which appear from unexplored worlds. In the last moment before its surrender, my conscious mind drags its fingers across my brain, and, just as the hand trails away, the brain acknowledges the change:
"Ah, things are getting strange here, we're going to sleep now." And the fingers lift away with a last flick of greeting to the arriving dreams.
Conversely, while lying in warmth and quiet as I began to rise from sleep, but while still under its surface, on occasion there is that moment when memory holds out just a little longer before giving way to reality.
Sometimes, especially after I have slept deeply (and even after all these years), I find myself turning toward Malcolm. I can feel him beside me in bed, hear his breath gently flowing in and out. I hesitate, trying to decide whether or not to move. Usually, consciousness shoves its fingers back into my brain:
"You know there's nobody there. There's no body here, he's buried far away." Sleep drains away, leaving me adrift in the emptiness of the bed.
Worse are the times when I continue reaching out slowly to slide my arm over and around him. My whole being waiting for the moment when I feel the warmth of his body, then the hair on his rising and falling chest like a cushion under my hand, until it rests against his skin and I feel the strong pump of his heart. My arm falls through the memory of him with a thud that jerks me up through the depths and makes me gasp with the suddenness of my grief.
These are difficult in varying degrees.
The worst of all is when I am fully asleep and dreaming, and I am back to the night we were attacked. I wake-up screaming.
"Which one is this?" Asks Malcolm.
We are sitting in the living room of our house. It is night and there is a fire on the hearth and a couple of table lamps casting the perfect glow on the room. There is a steady rain outside that beats against the windows.
"Well, you're still alive, we're inside, and it's raining—so it isn't the screaming one."
"That's good." He smiles.
"So far." I look at him, the brown curls nearly to his shoulders, steel-blue eyes impossibly warm. "Oh, you are so young—barely older than my seventh years."
He laughs. "But we were, what, 24? And I still am." We are seated in two arm chairs in front of the fire. They are turned at an a forty-five degree angle to each other. Malcolm looks around curiously. "Why aren't we together on the sofa? These chairs were never like this."
"This is no Mirror of Erised, and it's not a memory, so I can make the rules."
Malcolm smiles again and brushes the a curl back from his forehead. I look away at the too familiar gesture.
"You miss that, very much."
"You know I do, but I can't help myself, it's as much you as your smile. You know how much I miss that."
"But curled-up on the sofa, the way we really would be, is too close to bear—the Dream of Erised?"
"After a fashion. I once told somebody that I knew exactly what I would see if I did look in the Mirror."
"We would be standing with our arms around each other and two or three kids with us."
"Bearable as an abstract notion, but not in your dreams."
"I have gone from 'If I don't wake screaming it's a good night,' to 'If I don't wake screaming it was a good dream.' I consider this progress."
"And it's been a while since you woke screaming. A few months now."
"Only a matter of time until something sets off the next one. I do appreciate the gaps between."
"So we will maintain a Minimum Safe Distance for the duration?"
"Yes. Where did that come from?"
"Minimum Safe Distance? Must be some Department of Health directive you read once. It has the odor of bureaucratic-speak."
"Yes, that seems likely."
"I am sorry, you know, about the waking thing—and dying. Especially about that."
"Yes, I knew you would be. This is my head, after all."
He frowns at me for the first time. "Can't you just go with this? Let yourself talk to me and not analyze where in your brain some synapse is firing to make it happen. You punish yourself all the time here, why not let yourself get some comfort as well?"
"At the very least, stop punishing yourself over the things you couldn't control. You can't really believe that if you hadn't stopped for a 'cuppa' that evening you could have saved me."
"I don't know that I couldn't have done."
"And you don't know if he might have killed us both. Or worse. We could have ended up like Frank and Alice."
"Yes, infinitely worse."
"You were more than a little relieved that I was dead when you saw them." I couldn't look at him. It was true. I was being discharged as they were being admitted to St. Mungo's. I had heard their story, and at least for that evening I thought he had been lucky after all. "Jordie, it's only human. You didn't want to see me like that any more than you wanted to exist like that."
"I still hated myself, even when I was relieved—because I was relieved." The fire cracks and a log slips slightly. "And, yes, I still think you were luckier than Frank and Alice, but there have been many times I haven't been sure I was."
"Look at all you have done in the years sense. All those you stopped from doing harm when you were an Auror, the kids you've taught, are teaching... We can't know what might have happened that night, only what did. I died. You lived. You've done your best ever since. I don't ask any more of you and neither does anyone else."
"So am I forgiving myself or pretending you are?"
"Yes. And that's a good an answer as you can get this side of the grave."
"Another topic we couldn't agree on..."
"And so we will drop it, for now."
"For now, at least."
"But that's not the real problem either, and it took me a long time to realize that."
"What is it then?"
"I'm still married to you."
"But that's not what we promised. I died, we are 'parted' and you are free to love someone else." He is upset now and the pain is evident in his face. "I would never have asked anything different, or wanted you to have anything less than another love, a family."
"Yes, you died, so now you don't get a vote." He starts to protest..."I know, you didn't want to die, but you did. You died and left me. You stopped having the right to an opinion, and certainly can't do anything to change what I feel. This is the part that you can't control. In the real world everybody doesn't get to be happy—no matter how much they may be entitled to it. I had a lot more happiness than a lot of people get, then it ran out much faster than we could have guessed. Now I get through the day doing my best and try to get through the nights without screaming."
Malcolm makes a move to rise from his chair and come to me.
"NO. I am still in control, and that will end in worse than tears." He sits back down and waits for me to continue. "Let's just blame my parents—because let's face it, they really didn't love me. The closest thing to love I grew-up with was the devotion of enslaved elves. Maybe the elves did love me, maybe I was old enough before I realized my parents didn't—at least it was enough to get me through the first half of my childhood without becoming a sociopath."
"You managed to arrive at Hogwarts with the empathy to notice Richard was in trouble when no one else did, and the concern to stick with him and me to get us through the ride in the boats." Malcolm is leaning forward, but careful to keep his hands on the arms of the chair.
"Yes, I noticed, but you took action. That's why I fell in love with you, remember? But that was a very long time ago. I'm not that eleven year-old; I'm not the eighteen year-old that married you; I'm not the twenty-four year-old that buried you. I'm forty-three and have finally admitted to myself that I can have a wonderful relationship with new man as long as he never leaves the room, because after that I can't stop hating myself for cheating on my husband. I will always be married to you."
"So, that's why we're here." He sits back in the chair and looks at me with an expression sadder than any I ever saw on his face in life.
"It's probably the 'precipitating incident' but hardly the only reason. What I'm saying…what I'm admitting is that I don't have the tools to rebuild a full life. I had enough to put one together, with a lot of support and love—importantly, yours—but most of that got wrung out of me. This is what's left, and it's not enough for a whole human being."
"Nineteen years is a long time to take in figuring that out."
"Yes, but to be fair to me, there was a second war, I think that played a significant part."
"Little things like seeing Neville carrying that child's body from the grounds?"
"That was a particularly difficult "little thing" and the involvement of the Longbottoms was, especially, well, resonant. We seem always to be passing-by each other at significant moments."
"Asking Augusta to be your secret keeper was hardly coincidence." His expression has become gentler, more like Malcolm in life.
"True, but I would never have thought to ask her if Minerva hadn't suggested it."
We sit without speaking for what seems like several minutes. The fire is burning down to coals and the rain and wind outside have slackened considerably. Finally he breaks the silence.
"So is this the 'Closure' part?"
"You know I hate that word. There is no such thing in human lives. In reality the lid is always askew or the door ajar and the untidy bits keep tumbling out at odd moments." I let out a long breath. "Maybe this is the pivot point. I have now reached 'clarity' and the rest of my life can move in a realistic and positive direction."
"That certainly is from a book, and maybe the sarcasm isn't warranted. Maybe it will be marginally easier to get through the days, and the nights you wake screaming can be fewer and farther between." He gives me a smile that is much too real.
"Maybe, but that isn't helping."
"Just give yourself the moment, it will be OK." So I do. I look in Malcolm's beautiful blue eyes and the brown curl falling into the right one. It doesn't feel nearly as much like getting stabbed as I had anticipated.
"Not so horrible?"
"Maybe we can do this again sometime, just have a good talk and not end with tears?"
"Maybe. Not for a while, though, I need to see how this…"
"Resonates, when I'm awake. If Richard mentions that I have 'that look' again, it might not be such a good idea."
"Yes, I understand."
"It might not be as bad an idea as I thought it was. Maybe better than allowing the good memories only during the day, always having The Nightmare here."
He leans forward and takes the poker, stirs the embers a little. "Well, you know where to find me if it seems to be working." He glances at me and gives me another little smile. "Besides, that's your alarm."
Here I am: sitting up in my bed with the daylight in my window. I am neither screaming nor crying. A good dream was had by all.