I woke up this morning shaking from a nightmare. My jaw hurt from grinding my teeth. My palms were sore from clenching my fists.
I knew immediately that it had been a bad dream but it has been difficult to shake off. In it, I was in a hotel room in a foreign city with my eldest son and a man from my past. An abusive, disturbed man who remembering still makes my skin feels as if it is not my own. In the dream I was struggling to find all of my son’s and my clothing so that I could us sneak away. For some reason, my son and this man were going somewhere together and, again inexplicably, I thought this would help give me a chance to gather all of our things. But when the man returned my son was not with him. He said that my son had taken too long to get in the car so he had left my son on the street. During the rest of the nightmare I was screaming my son’s name out of the window and walking the streets searching for him, bellowing his name in hysteria. Finally, in despair, I went back to the hotel where I found my son had returned. He didn’t know I had been looking for him and he just wanted to tell me what a good time he had had meeting new people and seeing new things. It was a reenactment of a conversation I have had with him many times in real life but in the dream I could not stay calm as I hollered about not disappearing without telling me where he is going, not staying away for more than twenty minutes without calling, how frightened I had been, how dangerous the world is.
And then I woke up. Realizing my son was safely asleep upstairs and that this man from my past is long dead did not help me with the panic attack I suffered for several hours.
No consultation with Freud is necessary to understand why I had this nightmare and why I had it when I did. Tomorrow my first born, my baby, will turn fifteen.
My son is bright and engaging. He chats up anyone who stands still long enough. He wants to know what you are passionate about and he wants to tell you about his favorite architect, the local community feud about the election of township commissioners, the quality of programming on BBC (we live in the US). My son trusts people until they show they can not be trusted.
When I was fifteen, the long battle between my divorced parents over who wouldn’t have custody ended with both refusing to keep me. I was on my own, hiding from the social workers who would put me in foster care if they knew. From the age of fifteen, until my son was born sixteen years later, no family member gave me shelter. Most of the time no one in my family even knew where I was and, as far as I can tell, none of them cared. My children are the only blood relatives I have lived with since I was the age my baby boy will be tomorrow.
I don’t spend much time feeling sorry for myself or dwelling on my childhood. It was, I am, it is (thankfully) over. But it has been difficult comparing myself at fifteen to my son at fifteen. He is a curious and independent child (like I was). He can do his own laundry and cook himself most meals (as I could). But he has not seen pure evil. He has never had to worry about where he would sleep. He has never … many things no child should do or see or know.
Most days these differences between us make me feel relief. I have spared him these things. But on days like today, covered with the sense memory of dreams like last night’s, I fear for him. Who will he trust in his innocence? Have I, in keeping him safe, left him exposed?
Like many mammals, my son’s trips away from me are in larger and larger circles. He proudly reports the miles on his bike odometer and I pretend I can breath. Tomorrow he will be the age I was when I was utterly abandoned by the people who were supposed to keep me safe. We will have cake and go out to dinner. And I will continue to worry how safe he really is.