You know you care about someone when you have nightmares about having to say goodbye. I've had quite a few of these. Not frequently, but it is something of a recurring theme. And they're all so different, but I always end up with the same feelings: in the dream, I don't know what to do. When I wake up, I want to keep him near me.
Sometime back in January:
Matt and I just moved in together with Taylor as a third roommate and Liz as, basically, a fourth.
In the first few weeks, I was getting used to a lot of things - such as when he gently wakes me up in the morning to say he's leaving for work.
One night, I dreamt he did just that, and I thought it was real. Everything was the same: we were engaged, we were planning and saving for our wedding, and we were in love. Normal. He woke me up and I was only half-awake (or I thought I was) when I watched him go.
And I thought it was real when I received a call later on in the day from someone who told me that there had been an accident. And he wasn't coming back. I remember wondering whether or not I was in the right condition to drive, but I had to get out of the office. It was terrible.
No, it doesn't end there.
I continued to dream for years. It wasn't exactly a day-to-day experience, but it wasn't a montage either. I know it took me a long time before his Mom or I could throw away, sell, or donate his things. I kept one of his leather jackets. Eventually, I met someone new and lived another relationship. I was still a little broken for a while, but we eventually married. I don't remember what he looked like or anything about him anymore, but I had strong feelings for him.
We moved away and we had a family. The kids grew up, went to college, graduated, started their own families, and suddenly I was an old woman. My husband was asleep in bed beside me, and I lay awake at night thinking about my life. All my neighbors, my friends and relatives, and those who had gone before me:
There was one point in my life in which I loved another man, when I was young. And I thought it was so daring of that younger self to have been engaged and had a plan all laid out at 22. Of course things don't go as planned. ...but it was so foreign to me now, the idea of "another man." He was so tall... I remembered that I kept his leather jacket, but where was it now? Probably got rid of it a long time ago. I knew I loved him, and a lot. But I couldn't feel it anymore. I could hardly remember his face, and I thought it was so sad that I couldn't remember. The worst part is that while I wanted to be mad at myself for forgetting what I knew was once important, I just...couldn't feel much of anything about a distant memory.
When I actually woke up, the sky was brighter, the birds were singing, and I was in my 20s again. It was Saturday morning at 8 o'clock. Matt left for work hours ago, and I was alone in the apartment. But I wanted to keep him near me. I could hardly stand seeing all of his things "again." Like his pillow, his Calvin and Hobbes book that I gave him as a present, or his shoes in the corner of the room. I just dreamt until I was 80 years old, and then I woke up surrounded by everything.
Thankfully, I don't remember any of what the nightmare looked like. But I still know what that obligatory guilt feels like. And I am still scared that this will happen.
And then there's last night's nightmare:
Back to the zombie apocalypse world. Present day. I was in the apartment and Matt was taking a nap because of a bad headache.
Skip forward a few days.
Matt was still at home, and hadn't been to work since the headache started. His temperature was rising and he was easily irritated. But every now and then, I would see him quiet down and focus on me. We all knew what was coming. Like so many of my zombie dreams, it starts with a fever.
"You can't stay here," he told me a few times, as I sat by the bed and gave him some medicine. I thought I could help. And even if I wasn't able to, I couldn't bring myself to abandon him while I knew he was still Matt. ...yet I didn't feel safe anymore. Almost everything I did (or didn't do) made him angry. I didn't know what would set him off anymore; and the next time it happened, he might not calm down. .... So Taylor and I came up with a plan to escape when the time came.
A day or two afterwards, Matt was up and about. He seemed to gain back some of his strength....
but he was still stumbling around. His eyes looked like they were burning, and his gums were bleeding a little, lining his teeth with red.
In a loud voice, he called for me.
For some reason, I didn't run at that. Instead, I jumped up from the couch and went towards the kitchen, and almost bumped into him. And he watched me....
Very irritably he said, "Get out." I didn't know how to respond.
But then, in a softer tone that sounded more like the man I knew, "You can't stay here. You know that. It's time to go. Please, just go."
"I can't --"
"............ . ... . . . . Then come here."
And so I moved in closer.
Taylor, who was also sitting on the couch, stayed somewhere behind me. I could sense him moving across the room to the front door, but I was frozen. "Steph," his calm voice broke through and faded somewhere back there. It was the same kind of intonation I'd heard again and again in the past. "Steph, have you seen my keys?" "Steph? Do you want anything while I'm in the kitchen?" Now it was, "Steph....We gotta go."
Who knew that being so close to Matt and looking into his eyes could be so frightening? He's so tall....
And then he inched forward.....and I stood unflinching.
Taylor said again, with a strong hint of urgency, "Steph--"
Matt kissed me. Very lightly, but it was there. When I opened my eyes, he was still leaning in, staring at me.
"I love you," I said.
He didn't respond. Instead, there was a pained look in his eyes. I barely had time to blink before it was gone and pain turned to fury. There it was. He was gone. And it was here.
Taylor, ready to sprint, finally managed to get a reaction out of me. "STEPH, RUN." At that, I moved away, reluctantly turned my back on what once was Matt, and ran out the door.... to be greeted by my neighbor from upstairs (vacant at the time in real life).
"Hey guys, what's all the fuss?" she asked as she came bounding down the steps. She was cheerful and friendly, and walked right past me to see Matt.
I didn't stop her. I didn't have time. ... And I needed it badly.
So a decision was made before I could process anything or consult my sense of morals.
I jumped over the handrail and raced down to the door, almost broke it as I passed through, and flew down the remaining steps to the street, where a car was waiting for me, full of people. One of them was Taylor.
That was our plan.
As I made for the car, I heard Matt call out my name as he had earlier in the day. Only this time, it was hardly a word. But I knew that's what he, it, was trying to say. And it resonated through the house, out the windows and doors, and reached me with chills. I was only three steps away from the car, but I was frozen again with fright. It might have helped a little that a bloodied Matt came crashing through the door and into the wooden railing, because I jumped up and started moving again. But I lingered long enough to see him stumble across the porch and bound down the steps. Everyone in the car was screaming at me to move. I was screaming at me to move. He was fast.
The rest of the dream went by as quickly as it would in real life. I ran, reached the car just in time to force the door closed on an innocent man who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The driver hit the accelerator just as Matt slammed his hands on the trunk. The man was taken down, but that wasn't enough to stop the savage. All he remembered was me. And so, rather than stop for a meal, he got up again and continued to run after the car. We were down the street and about to turn the corner. That was the last thing I saw.