I’m writing because you’ve been asking me what happened. Right now, the only answer I can give you is that I tried to save you. When it started, you were so little. You had fallen fast asleep, but I woke up when it started. How could I not? That’s my job, my sole purpose: to feel, to respond. His hands, his breath. But I didn’t want you to wake up and feel it. You were so small. So I sent you far, far away.
The first few times, I sent you to deep outer space. In those dreams, you floated between planets, shape-shifted between stars. You could reach out and touch asteroids, gaze at your bare hands reaching out into the vast nothing around you. You felt safe and untouched, all of you, as you drifted into that soft, soft space.
After that first night, every time I heard the doorknob turn, I knew what was coming and tried to make you disappear. I couldn’t do it all at once, though. It hurts to disappear all at once. I had to do it slowly, a little at a time. Those were the tinglepricks you felt moving into your hands, coursing through your feet and your legs whenever you felt the extra weight in the bed. I gave you pins and needles, and then whoosh! Off you went.
Sometimes you would wake up and feel what was happening. But you were so little. You can’t imagine how little you were. It felt wrong to keep you awake, so I resummoned the tinglepricks and nudged you back into deep sleep.
Can’t you see? I just wanted to protect you. I had to save you.
After a few years, once you grew bored of the Milky Way and black holes and supernovas, I sent you into the desert, where you rolled down the dunes and flew red kites and gazed up at the tall, grinning camels. I also sent you to the sea and plopped you right in the breakers, where you scooped up clamshells and waved at seagulls soaring overhead. On the worst nights, I sent you far into the fields behind the house—your favorite place. There you picked buttercups and hummed to yourself and skipped rocks in the pond and fell asleep in the tall grass under the afternoon sun. It was always summer in those dreams. I wanted you to feel warm. Warm and far away from his hands, his breath.
The cost of sending you away was that you didn’t remember anything when you woke up. How could you? You weren’t there. I held onto everything, though.
You started to grow up. Training bras, school dances, crushes. Like your friends, you wanted to kiss and be kissed; you wanted someone to wrap their arms around you and pull you close. All I wanted to do was protect you, like I always had. To do this, I had to make you feel afraid. When your first boyfriend, the soccer player, tried to kiss you, I made your stomach tense. Whenever he placed his cold, trembling fingers on the soft skin of your belly, I made your hands and legs shiver and shake, shiver and shake.
You had no idea what to do with all you were feeling, so you just tried to stop it. You tried to get rid of me, tried to break me down. You peeled the skin around your nails until they bled. You tripped down the stairs, hoping to shatter your arms and snap your legs. Then, when you got a little older, you learned a new way to silence and exhaust me: you made me run. Every day, and sometimes twice a day. I ran and ran, on the treadmill and up hills and through the woods until my ankles bled, until my thighs throbbed with pain. Another three miles, you demanded. Run faster! Run harder, you piece of shit!
After all those miles, I got hard. I got lean. During those years you didn’t feed me very much either, even though you were very, very hungry. That’s when I couldn’t talk to you very much at all; for a long time, you felt farther away than ever.
I always looked forward to the end of each summer, though, because that’s when we went to the ocean. You always skipped through the sand toward the water, each step a prize. The sand sliding between your toes, rough and grainy against the soles of your feet. Ah! You were so ecstatic. Sometimes it was hard for you to strip down to your bathing suit—especially when he was there—but once you felt the sun on your back and shoulders, you knew it was right. So did I.
Those hours of swimming and diving in the waves were always worth those first frigid steps into the water. You wished I could tolerate the freezing whitecaps and just run on in—I did too—but I thought there was something important about us standing knee-deep in the breakers, gazing far out where the sea meets the sky, and learning to bear what was cold, what was uncomfortable.
These days, I feel older. I have shooting pains in some places, dull aches in others. I’ll admit—it takes a lot of my energy to keep all these old secrets, and as I age, I don’t always have the strength to hold them in. When I feel extra tired, like at the end of a long long day, I let some of the secrets slide over your way. That’s what those recent nightmares have been, all those times you wake up in the middle of the night. You are afraid that someone is in your bedroom. Someone with hands, with breath.
That’s because a long time ago, there was someone in your bedroom.
One day, when you’re ready, I’ll tell you the truth. I’ll tell you everything you need to know. I promise.