THREE FACES OF HELL

I knew that he loved the sun, and even with his eyes closed his face seemed to enjoy the spray of sun that filtered thru the blinds of his room.  If his hospital bed were closer to the window he would have seen the sun picking at the chop of the inner harbor.  I looked for signs of recognition; but saw none.

We have been together for going on fifteen years.  When he first mentioned that sleep is his enemy I just passed it off as an exaggeration.  Sadly, there was more truth than fiction to his assertion.  I was there during those many nights.  I know. I was there when his face would contort and shout “No!  No, please no!” in a nightmare that had captured him.  His body would jerk, again “No, no!”

I would wake him slowly, “It’s alright”, I would say… “You’re safe, you’re here. There is no reason to be afraid.  I am here.”

It would be easy to imagine a two headed saliva dripping monster as the source for his out cry.  But that’s not the way it was. 

“No, where is it, where is it!”… he shouted.

We would talk in the morning… and over green tea he would weave the story.

“This has happened to me before. It’s a re-occurring theme. It’s an academic nightmare.  I haven’t been in a classroom for forty years.  And I’m late for class.  I’m not even sure where the classroom is, not even sure what building to go to. I start to feel panic, the rise of nausea rising in my gut.  There is more.  I have skipped class all semester, done none of the reading… I can’t even remember the gender of the instructor. I’m thinking, ‘well, I have age on my side, I am older than any of the other students by miles, and I just know more.  I will get by.’  But no, I can’t bluff not picking up a book for the entire semester. Who am I kidding?  The anxiety builds without let up.  I take my seat in the class.”

“That’s it? That’s the ending?” I ask. He would explain to me that it wasn’t so much a story with a beginning, middle and an end… rather it was just a scene.  And although it didn’t sound like much, the worry terrified him.

Then there was a night that his cry-out brought me from a sound sleep.  I quickly turned on the light and he was sitting upright, and kept repeating “He was there, he was there… I know he was there!”

His story couldn’t wait for the morning.

“I walked up the stairs to my childhood home.  It was a center hall colonial.  There were four bedrooms around the center hall on the second floor. My bedroom was the first off the stairs on the right and my parents’ bedroom was diagonally across on the left.  I opened the door to my room, and there was my Dad sleeping in the bed closest to the door. I jumped back.  Startled by the surprise.  The room felt like a sauna.  I felt every ounce of strength drain from me.  It’s the way that you would feel if you had been racked for a week with fever… I was weak all over and tried to stand.  I slumped to the hall floor just outside the door, unable to move.  My Dad was there, and I was unable to move.”

I knew that his Dad had passed years, and years ago.  And if there had been conflict in their relationship I can’t say.  But his expression spoke volumes, unnerved in disappointment, tears trickled down his cheeks, worry and anxiety in his eyes as he slowly shook his head from side to side.

The mind is an incredible thing.  Hear a loud sound when sleeping.  A peal of thunder?  A car door slamming?  And your mind will instantly create a dream around it.

One night I kept reading my book after he had turned off the light on his nightstand.  It wasn’t long when he drifted into sleep.  Before turning off my light, the car alarm next door was set off; I glanced to my left, his face seized up and he shouted as loud as I ever heard “NO!”  He awoke with a start, as if forcing the vision to stop.  He took a few deep breaths, looked at me and I said, “I have just seen the face of Hell.”

He went on to say, “Everyone thinks its horned devils with pitchforks.  Actually, it’s far more mundane… and far worse.”

And now I sit in his hospital room.  I watch him breathe.  I hold his hand.  I pray.  I pray not to see a face gripped in fear. I pray his last vision is of a warm beach, a soft curve of sand sloping to a gleaming blue sea… hearing the voices of those he loves carried in the breeze.

— From the Pen of Hester Bloom

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