I lay beside her in bed, feeling empty and alone. The rhythmic wood of her breathing, completely out of sync with mine. We’d known each other for years, yet she felt like a stranger to me now. So distant and cold. The only relief I felt was in the fact that I had not woken her when I had so rudely stirred. The causation of my restless slumber? A nightmare. A festering sliver of experience.
I quietly removed myself from bed and tiptoed down the stairs toward the kitchen. I knew where I was going; first, to the cupboard—grab the short glass. Then, over to the freezer to remove a spherical rock of ice to compliment said glass. After that, I would pour a beautiful tawny liquid atop of the ice, listening to the snap and crack within the glass. I would fill it near to brim and then take up residency on the couch by the fire place. With whiskey in hand, I attempt to settle my rattled core. Drink myself to sanity.
Nightmares are not unusual for me. They started while I was still in the army, shortly before I got out. And as a paramedic, there are many things seen and done that keep sleep away… or when it does come, poison it. And it was poisoned… horribly so.
Earlier in the day I had been working. I was dispatched to assist police with a man they had found behind the wheel of his car. When they arrived on scene, the man, who appeared to be sleeping had managed to somehow shift into gear and slowly collide with a cement barricade. This caused his engine to rev angrily, causing attention to passersby. The police tried to wake the man, pondering on if he was drunk. He wasn’t. The man was dead. Just like that… got into his car, and died. But not before starting his engine, and stepping on the gas.
When Jeanie and I arrived, there was a rabble of police standing idle by a red SUV. Their faces were equally as perplexed as they were sullen. They knew he was dead, but they needed us to confirm it. This is a less than stellar part of the job… confirming the recently departed. Our job is to try and save people—knowing that you are walking in to merely act as confirmation of death feels like automatic defeat. I find it deflating.
I got out of the ambulance and donned a pair of blue tint latex gloves. I was attending, so it was my job to go and touch the stiff. I walked with acquiescing gait towards an opened driver-side door. The first thing to catch my eye was a pale hand slackly dangling from the inside. From feet away, I could tell that this was not the skin of the living. I felt a displeasing mood invade my demeanor. I was angry, grumpy that my day was about to start by touching a dead man. I hadn’t even had coffee yet.
“Hey… shit… dude’s definitely dead. No idea how? Figured you guys might…?” The casual nature of the policeman’s remark made me believe that this was not his first dead body, either. By this point in my career, I’d lost count. Is that terrible of me?
“Well… not sure I’ll be able to tell you what it was—unless it’s obvious… but I can tell you from here… this guy is gone.”
“Yeah… he’s got those blue lips…”
The lipstick stain of the reaper. A fatal kiss.
I stood beside the opening to the SUV. The figure inside was slumping towards the centre of the vehicle. His eyes were partially open—I always hated when the dead left their eyes open—no matter where you walk or move to, it’s as though they follow you… even when you close yours.
I reached in and placed two fingers on the man’s neck. I felt the pads of my gloved fingers push atop of muscle and sinew, hoping for a pushback… but there was nothing. The lifeless driver… that’s who he was now.
The rest of the day went by unremarkably. We did a couple of runs to the homeless shelter downtown and had a lengthy offload delay at one of the hospitals, but when all was said and done, we had managed to get back to station and go home on time. Any medic can tell you; that’s a win.
On my way home, I called to see if Miranda needed anything from the store. We had planned to watch a movie together, so I figured I’d see if she’d like a snack-run. I also used this opportunity to detour to the liquor store and procure a big brown bottle of whiskey. Some of my more favorite nights were the ones where I had a cold glass in hand and a sleeping girlfriend’s head rested atop of my lap, with a quiet movie trundling on in the background. It gave me the opportunity to get a dense buzz going before attempting sleep. When sufficiently numb, I would gently wake Miranda and we would go to bed.
That’s what happened. We even kissed and fucked before closing our eyes. No longer was it making love. Too much shared hate for that. Regardless, I should have been sleeping like a baby. Instead, the insidious wiring of my tortured mind began to misfire. Images and sounds began to crawl into my sleeping space, replaying all manner of grotesque and horrid. It even showed me the lifeless driver, pale and still. I outstretched my hand to check for a pulse, that’s when he grabbed me. His clutch was vice-like and mean. He refused any wiggle from me. The harder I tried, the more breath I lost. I began to suffocate. Without saying a word, he told me I was going to die. In the final moments of life, I shot forth from bed, gasping into the air and frantically scanning my surroundings. The nightmare was over. I was alive, he was not… still.
I spent a few moments collecting myself in the dark. I could hear Miranda softly breathing through lazy lips of slumber. I almost wanted to wake her. Even though she hated me, I still loved the idea of who she could be… who she once was. She was the beauty to my torment. The antidote to my poison. But not any more… so I just left her alone.
That’s how I ended up on the couch by the fireplace, whiskey in hand. I don’t know why I dreamt that the lifeless driver grabbed me. It’s not as though that was ever a fear or thought of mine. I suppose it could just be from a confused catalogue of trauma that rests in the tenebrous attic of my medic’s mind. I have been grabbed on the job. I have been shoved, kicked, spit on, bitten and even poked with a knife. It hit my ballistic vest… but still. It’s not supposed to be part of the job… but it is.
I would drain and refill three glasses before going back to bed. By that time, the night was beginning to give-way to day. Miranda never moved an inch.
That all happened almost eight-years-ago. And right now, as I type this… it happened again. This time, when I woke, there was no loathsome woman beside me. Just the empty space where I keep my longing rested next to me at night, and a teddy bear. Nightmare Ted… he’s there to help bring me back to the present when I wake from these things. Don’t worry… we don’t fuck or make love, either.
More than eight-years later, and I am still being grabbed by ghosts.
No more whiskey, though. Not anymore. Just these words followed by a long lonesome night. I hope one day the dead can rest… so that I too may sleep.