Posted: Feb 10 2005, 10:08 AM
The sheets were tangled around me like a vice and no matter how hard I tried; I could not escape from their clutch. I finally sat straight up and flung my arm out, sending the bedside lamp to the floor. My breath was ragged, gasping. I tried to use the calming technique I had learned in therapy the day before. Deep breathâ€”holdâ€”releaseâ€¦deep breathâ€”holdâ€”releaseâ€¦After several minutes of this, my breathing finally returned to normal. It was then that I noticed that something was terribly wrong. I was in my bed that was true. However, the familiar feel of the chenille blanket brought little comfort as I gazed in horror around me for I was no longer in my bedroom. Next to me was the bedside table and on the ground where I had knocked it, the lamp emitted a soft glow, but that was the extent of the familiarity. It was my nightmare personified. I was in a dark place outside. I could feel the wind blowing through my hair. In the distance I could see that house. Could it be? Yes, it was the very same house I had been forbidden to enter as a child. I rubbed my eyes with my fists as a child would, although I had just celebrated my 40th birthday and the fears of childhood should have long since left me. When I put my hands down, it was still there. I closed my eyes and resumed the deep breathing techniques my therapist had ingrained in me. â€œThese nightmares that haunt you,â€ he had said condescendingly, â€œare the manifestations of someâ€¦inadequacies that you have about yourself. Now, when you are having a nightmare, try these techniques. I am confident they will help you.â€ I dared to open one eye and peek, but the house was still there. Oh yes, this is helping me very well. I tried to laugh it off, but the house was not going away. I pulled my blanket up to my chest, hugging it tightly as I studied this house of terror. It was the drabbest olive green, with hideous lime green shutters that hung listlessly from their hinges. The paint was peeling in several places and the air of neglect about the place was palpable. The grass and weeds overtook most of the lawn, the wide front porch littered with debris. The owners of the house had vacated three years prior and for some reason the house would not sell. I remembered that the neighborhood children would dare each other to see who would get the closest before running away scared to death. I had been braver than most. The admonitions of my parents and those of my friends rang in my ears, "Don't go in that house!" they would say...or "It's a dangerous place, been deserted for years. It should be demolished!" Sometimes they would mutter, â€œHorrible what happened in that house.â€ The kids in the neighborhood would speculate what that horrible thing was, but we never knew for sure. One day a boy that I adored had said to me, â€œI bet you arenâ€™t afraid to go inside that house, are you?â€ I looked at him with childlike wonder and whispered, â€œNo, Iâ€™m not afraid.â€ Then I had bravely walked up the three steps onto the porch, grasped the door knob and entered without looking back.
I shivered, recalling that day. Nothing untoward had happened at all. I had entered the house, walked around the ground floor quickly and then left. When I emerged from the house the cheers of my playmates were so gratifying that I felt tears well up in my eyes. That was all. So why now, all these years later, was I having these nightmares? I sighed and tried another technique my therapist had taught me. I recalled his words clearly. â€œConfront your fears head on. The next time you have that nightmareâ€¦â€ At this point I had interrupted and said, â€œYou mean like tonight? I have the same nightmare every night!â€ He had nodded impatiently, â€œYesâ€¦yes, tonight then. Confront your fears. Get out of the bed and go back into that house. Discover what is in there that haunts you.â€ I cringed and huddled further under the blankets. I didnâ€™t want to go back in that house. I felt my stomach tighten and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Why did I feel this way? If nothing had happened that day, what was keeping me from leaving the bed?
Enough! I had to do this for my sanity. I could not face one more night of this nightmare. I threw back the blankets and rose from the bed. Picking up the chenille blanket, I wrapped it around my shoulders and then slipped my feet into my slippers. I turned towards the house, squared my shoulders and put one foot in front of the other until I was standing at the bottom of the front porch steps. Taking a deep breath, I put one foot on the bottom step and committed myself to going up the rest of the way. Now I was on the porch and I turned, looking back to my comfortable, safe bed. â€œYou can do this.â€ I told myself. â€œBe brave; be strongâ€¦confront your fears.â€ When I had finally made up my mind to go inside, I prayed that I would not suddenly awake and lose this opportunity. I didnâ€™t think I would have the will to try this again. Resolutely grasping the door knob as I had done all those years ago I entered.
The room was just as I remembered. It was completely empty save a cobweb here and there. There was trash on the floor. A forgotten bag of chips, a stray newspaper clipping, mice droppings, leftover bubble wrap. So far so good, I thought. Then I shut the front door and everything changed. Suddenly the room was filled with furniture and light and it was clean! In the sitting room on the right, there was a small couch, a bookcase, a small piano and a matching bench. On the left was a cozy den, filled with big comfy chairs and throw pillows. A couch was arranged strategically by the large fireplace on the opposite wall. This room called to me and I walked in, gazing around in awe. How could this be a nightmare? It was lovely! Everything in the room was arranged just so and the warm and inviting atmosphere was overwhelming. I felt tears well into my eyes. This looked just likeâ€¦suddenly a gust of wind blew through the room and the stray newspaper clipping was caught up in a whirlwind. It landed on the nearest chair and with great trepidation I leaned over to pick it up. â€œLocal Family Disappears without a Traceâ€ read the headline. Reading further, I let the tears fall unchecked down my cheeks. â€œPolice are investigating the mysterious disappearance of a local couple, Todd and Barbara Montgomery. The coupleâ€™s 5 year old daughter was found neglected and living alone in the house, surviving on chips and soda for the better part of a month. The young girl, whose name is being withheld, is being sent to the hospital where she will be evaluated.â€ I sucked in my breath hard, trying to stem the sobs. â€œItâ€™s truly a miracle that this young girl survived as long as she did,â€ commented the investigator. â€œShe is one brave little girl.â€
I stood in the middle of the room, memories flooding through my mind one after the other. I put my hands over my ears, but I could not block themâ€¦the screaming, the hunger, the neglect, the loneliness. I remembered. I remembered everything. Now it was time to let it go. I took a good, hard look around the room. The false light and warmth of the place hid the true nightmares that had happened here, but that was all over now. Clutching the chenille blanket around me, I left the house and the nightmares along with it.
The next morning I called my therapist. â€œI no longer need your services, but thank you for all your help.â€
â€œIndeed? Did you confront your fears as I instructed?â€
I held the newspaper clipping from the past in my palm and stared at it for a very long time. â€œYou might say that they confronted me.â€