It’s every night. Around 3:00 am. I wake from a fitful short sleep in a cold sweat, strands of my hair plastered to my cheeks. My heart hammers against my chest walls as if trying to escape, but the walls tighten in response, restricting, constricting, until I can’t breathe and I sit up, gasping for air, screaming uncontrollably but silently inside my head. Panic attacks in the dead of night, without fail, not from any recurring dream but from my own reality.
I throw off the covers to let the ceiling fan dry the sweat from my body, but it doesn’t dry the dampness on the sheets or in my hair. I shiver. I lay back down on my side and curl up, my knees close to my chest, and I wrap my arms around them, holding myself. I labor to control my breathing. My body is limp from exhaustion but my senses are heightened and I am able to smell dread. The decay of burnt dreams and a charred future. The smoke from the flame extinguished at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I am able to taste the bitterness of anger. And fear. And loss after loss after loss. Tears pool on my lashes and spill down the sides of my cheeks, re-wetting the already dampened pillowcase.
I reach out beside me. The bed is empty and cold as it has been for well over two years. I whisper my dogs’ names. I need to feel the heat of breath, a beating heart. Life. Both jump up, one on either side of me.
I listen to the noise coming from the kitchen where the overnight nurse stays awake to care for my son. I listen to the darkness. I listen to the memories of happiness, years ago. I listen to the dogs breathing and try to match my breath to theirs.
I slowly calm, but sleep never returns. My mind will not quiet. I know no peace. Tomorrow will bring the same as yesterday, as today. The weight on my shoulders is crushing me as much in the darkness as it does in the light.