License – Chapter 52
LICENSE IN A NIGHTMARE
They had surfaced. And he couldn’t get them to go back down.
He’d wake in the middle of the night wet with sweat even though the room was cool; his heart wild in his chest, his stomach knotted in terror.
His dreams always started out normally abnormal; He was playing chess but all of his pieces were pawns. They crawled across the board towards their opponent, the mission lost before it had barely begun; He was standing by water with a long rope, trying to tie a knot. The square knot mantra repeated itself over and over in his head. Right over left and under. Left over right and under; A jigsaw puzzle was scattered all over a green carpeted floor. The top of the box showed the pieces would fit together into an image of the dashboard of a car. He was sprawled on the green carpet, searching and searching for the fourth corner piece.
But, differently as all the dreams began, they all ended the same; With the glowering face of the ugly man; With a belt being pulled through the loops on a pair of jeans; With the sound of a ‘snap’ and fear so strong he couldn’t breathe; With screams and tears and pain.
The rest of the night he’d pace the floor or lay there sleepless, tossing and turning, his mind racing past the memories he thought he had left behind him long ago. Wondering why they were here, after all this time, trying to force themselves upon him again and why he couldn’t find the heavy stones he needed to sink them back down into oblivion.
The daylight hours he spent trying to follow his normal routine. But his eyes felt too hot, too moist and too wide. And he couldn’t seem to concentrate.
It had been like this every night for over a week. He was exhausted and desperate but he was afraid now to even try to sleep.
He had always been able to handle any problems that came his way. He was independent. He was his own man. But that wasn’t working for him now.
Mike knew he needed help. And if he didn’t get it, he honestly thought he might die.
If Dixie had to describe Mike’s personality in one word, the word she would select was ‘confident’. Mike was his own man. He knew who he was, why he was, where he was and how he was.
But that word would not describe him lately. He seemed insecure and unsure of himself, impatient and unfocused. Something was wrong.
She had her suspicions. It might have something to do with the abused early childhood he had revealed to her. She tried to draw him out, let him know she was there for him but he would barely admit to there being a problem and he certainly didn’t want to discuss it. All he would say was that he was having trouble sleeping.
She would venture to say that he wasn’t sleeping at all! His eyes were blood shot and dopey looking but at the same time wide open and big as quarters from all the coffee he was suddenly guzzling every day. She was getting increasing worried about him.
Now it was Friday. Mike had spent most of the day out of the office, making the rounds, drumming up advertising commitments from clients. She always met him at his house after work on Fridays. They usually went out to eat or to a movie. Sometimes they just stayed home and worked on the hardwood floor installation. But she had different plans tonight.
She was going to make him tell her what was wrong. She was going to be the angel that it had become so obvious he desperately needed.
She tapped on the door to announce her arrival and then let herself in with the key. Mike usually arrived just a few minutes before her. She would find him, still wearing his dress shirt and tie, sorting through his mail or grabbing a cold drink out of the fridge – his face happy and bright at the sight of her.
But today she was surprised to see him wearing cargo shorts and a plain white t-shirt. He must have gotten home early! He was sitting at the kitchen table, looking at a photo album. There was no happy look on his face. He didn’t even look up.
She walked over to him, put her arms around him in a big hug and kissed his cheek. It was wet.
“Mike? Are you alright?” She didn’t know why she even asked him that. She already knew he wasn’t.
He ignored the question. “Did I ever show you this album, Dixie?” he asked instead, his voice jittery and hoarse, “This is me when I was ten with my parents at Brocade Amusement Park. And this is me shooting some hoops in the driveway with my best friend, Mark. Here’s my Mom and Dad in front of our house when all the rose bushes were in bloom. They were beautiful, those roses, but my mother was always disappointed. They didn’t have any smell.”
He kept flipping the pages of the album absently, quiet for a moment. The pages were shaking as he turned them.
“I don’t have any pictures of my real mother or the piece of scum she lived with. And I don’t care either. But they’ve been trying to force me into thinking about them all week. Giving me nightmares. I’ve tried so hard to ignore them! I can’t sleep. I’m so tired I can’t think. I just can’t do it anymore!
“I stopped at Psychology Associates this morning to get them to renew the ad they’ve been running. I told the guy that you were doing a piece on nightmares and I was helping you with the research and would he mind if I asked him a few hypothetical questions. I think he knew I was lying. About the hypothetical part anyway. He knew I was asking for myself. Anybody can see I’m a total freaking mess.
“You know what he said?” Mike was straining to keep his voice calm. Dixie sensed what he really wanted to do was scream the words. “He said if nightmares are caused by a past trauma, the trauma has to be acknowledged and relived. Relive it instead of trying to hide from it. Make myself remember all the horrible details! I don’t know if I can do it, Dixie! I don’t want to do it!”
Mike’s t-shirt was moving in and out, in and out with the beating of his heart. His eyes wavered – desolate, frantic and lost.
Dixie put her hand gently on Mike’s shoulder. “Come on, Mike. Let’s go sit on the couch. It’s more comfortable than this hard kitchen chair.” She kept her voice soft and even, a soothing counterpoint to Mike’s despair.
She took him by the hand, led him over to the couch and made him sit down. She sat down next to him and held both of his hands in hers.
“Maybe you can tell me about it, Mike. I’ll sit right here. Right next to you. You can relive it with me.”
He hesitated, searching her face with his desperate eyes. And then he did tell her. In graphic detail. Dixie had to force herself to stay composed, not to weep, not to plead with him to stop.
Until he was five and a half, he had lived with his birth mother and some man that wasn’t his real father. At least he didn’t think it was his real father. Mike was supposed to call him Ray. To himself Mike called him ‘the ugly man’.
There were a few good days that he could remember in those five years, days when some kind of love for his little boy self seemed to exist. They would smile at him or surprise him with a new toy or take him out for an ice cream sundae. They would say ‘Ooops!’ with a little chuckle when his spaghetti slid off his fork and landed on the floor instead of in his mouth and simply wipe it up for him, instead of screeching ‘Watch what you’re doing you little jerk!’ and whacking him so hard he fell right out of his chair.
But he had a hard time trusting those scattered good days. And if there were too many good days in a row, and he had started to trust, that made the bad times and the pain that followed so much more unbearably worse.
They never spanked him or scolded him for his ‘wrongdoings’. They beat him. And there were so many beatings.
He had been beaten for not finishing his pancakes and for spilling his milk. He had been beaten for getting cookie crumbs on the couch, for coming in from the backyard with mud on his sneakers and for turning on the TV too loud. He was beaten for laughing because his mother had lipstick on her teeth, for crying when the ugly man ripped all the pages out of his coloring book, and for wetting the bed, even though they had locked him in his bedroom and wouldn’t let him out. And sometimes he got a beating for nothing, just because he was there.
His mother would haul-off and slap him across the face, leaving hand shaped welts, hot and red on his tender cheeks. Or yank his pants down around his ankles and beat his little butt with a wooden spoon, till those cheeks were hot and red too.
But the ugly man always used his belt. He’d grab Mike by the arm, practically ripping his shoulder right out of its socket. He’d roar about the mess Mike had made or the trouble Mike had caused or the order Mike hadn’t obeyed, while he pulled the belt through the loops of his jeans. And Mike would be crying and shaking and begging and promising he’d be good. Next time he’d be good! But the ugly man didn’t care. Mike would hear the snap of that belt being pulled taut anyway. He’d hear it cut the air as it whizzed towards him. And the ugly man whipped that leather so hard across Mike’s back or on his bottom that he almost passed out. Over and over and over again.
And there were other things too. Once, the two of them burned him with cigarettes. They snatched him as he toddled by, the stinking things hanging out of their mouths, the ends glowing red as they sucked down the smoke. And then they took that hot glowing end and pressed it onto his arm. And they laughed when he screamed. ‘Look how cute, Ray! A perfectly round little red dot!’ he remembered his mother saying. They held him down and did it again and again; just to watch those perfectly round red circles burn onto his white skin.
“How could they do those things to me, Dixie? I was just a little boy. And I tried so hard to be good. I really did! I tried so hard! But nothing was good. Not to them. My stomach was always in a knot. I was always afraid. Afraid that the next thing I did…. There would be that belt….. Fear and pain. That’s all I had. That’s what life was. And all I wanted was for them to love me.”
Mike leaned his head forward and closed his eyes, taking in deep breaths that came out shuddering and shallow. His hands had been shaking the whole time he talked. Now they were still.
“Oh, Mike, I am so sorry,” Dixie said softly, determined to keep her voice steady and her own hands from shaking, “You were good. You know you were. They were the bad ones. They didn’t even know what good was. Or what love was either. They were monsters, not people. With no eyes and no hearts. And you were a wonder that they didn’t deserve.
“But you were saved! I wish I could have met them, George and Mary Chatelain, your Mom and Dad. They must have been the most marvelous people. They saved you and loved you. And me and everyone else in your life now, we are all blessed, because we get to have you and know you and love you with all our hearts.”
Dixie stood up and reached for Mike’s hand. This time she led him into the bedroom. She pulled his shirt over his head, undid his shorts and tucked him into the bed. She kissed his eyelids closed and then climbed in behind him, pulling the soft plush blanket tight around them and encircling him with her arms.
And finally, Mike slept. He slept straight through till morning, untroubled, his face smooth and at peace. The battle was over. The better man had won.
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