Occasionally I have nightmares where Bird or the Engineer or some other loved one is hurt, or even killed, and I can’t get there. I am on the other side of the country in these dreams, or even in another nation entirely, and all I can do is cling to my phone and rush around demanding that someone, anyone, help me get there. Even if I can’t actually do anything, even if the person is comatose in this nightmare and probably won’t make it, just being physically near them somehow makes me better able to handle the situation. But, since this is a nightmare, I never quite reach them. I just struggle against unreasonable transportation until I wake up. Then I lie back, heart racing, and remind myself that it’s not real.
Until it happened when I was awake.
About six weeks ago, I got a phone call from an unfamiliar number. The person on the other end seemed to know a bit about me, introducing himself as a friend of the Engineer, who was down in California for the weekend. We exchanged brief pleasantries, then:
“He’s okay, but he was in a car accident.”
Only a few words made it through after that. Everyone’s fine… hospital now… let you know more… he’s talking… asking about you…
“Did you call his mom yet?” I managed to ask. No, he hadn’t, she was his next call. (Actually, as it would turn out, he wouldn’t be able to get through and I would have to call her and tell her the news myself – a call I never want to make again!)
I hung up and walked into the living room, where Bird – at least in this nightmare-come-true she was safe – jumped up from the couch at the look on my face. When I told her what had happened, I think I just kind of dissolved. “Do we need to get you to LA?” she asked, hugging me. “I will get you on a plane, I will buy you a ticket myself. I don’t have any money, but I will get you on a plane.”
I knew, logically, that that wasn’t feasible. There was no reason for me to go down and sit around with a bunch of strangers waiting to hear more. It would make much more sense for his mom to go, if anyone needed to. He might still be home in a few days – hadn’t his friend said he was talking? Talking was good, I thought. So I walked around the house and refused to put my phone down for a moment, just in case.
Even after I talked to the Engineer himself later that day, and again that evening, I still felt on edge. The worst had happened, I thought, and yet it hadn’t. He was (mostly) fine, no broken bones, no internal bleeding, no measurable concussion – none of the horrors from my nightmares, besides the accident itself, had come true. So I was left waiting for the Real Worst Thing to descend. His head injury would take away his feelings for me, I thought, or some overlooked complication would leave him clinging to life a few days later. Somehow I couldn’t let myself believe that the nightmare had come, had passed, and hadn’t manifested my worst imaginings. I couldn’t believe life was letting me off so easy.
Now, I don’t mean to downplay this. The accident did take its toll on the passengers in both cars; the Engineer took a few weeks to recover fully. But he was home the next day, walking and talking, acting normal, if a bit tired. And in the days afterward, everyone involved kept saying how fortunate they had been to escape with comparatively minor injuries between them. A slightly different angle, a few feet farther, a little faster – it all could have been so, so much worse.
As it was, life went on. Stiffly, perhaps, and with a slight twinge occasionally, and maybe a few more naps, but it went on.
I still fear harm coming to people I love. I still hate that helpless, hand-wringing feeling I get when all I can do is carry a cell phone from room to room, waiting for news. I still plan out what I would do in some broadly hypothetical worst-case scenario. But I’ve come to realize – slowly, painfully – that the worst-case scenario isn’t the only scenario possible. It’s as if God was saying, “You see? It happened. One of your greatest fears happened, and you came through it. That can happen too – it doesn’t have to turn out for the worst.” I don’t believe God sends bad things our way, but I do believe He uses them to shape us a little more into the person He wants us to be. In this case, I think He was helping me to be less fearful, more hopeful. Somewhere down the road, one of my nightmares will probably come true, in partial or full form, again. And it will be scary and awful and I will wish it hadn’t happened.
But unlike my dreams, unlike wrenching myself desperately into consciousness, that situation will have a resolution – and it might even be, with His help, for the better.
A career in the Marine Corps and advancing age have brought me into contact with my worst fears more than I would like. As my demographic cohort ages the opportunity for those phone calls or emails, to arrive increases and arrive they have. My best friend in the world is in hospice 6 weeks after diagnosis and it has been a terrific blow to my sense of rightness and permanence. But these are not blows and disasters aimed directly at us for misdeeds and malfeasance but part of the human condition.
While you would hope that these fears would ease as you got older and wiser, they don’t. When you have kids they get lots worse (nice to know, eh?).
And i cannot imagine a blow to the head so serious that it would cause the Engineer to change how he feels for you. Every picture of the two of you reflects his realization of how lucky he is that you would choose him.
I love this blog Grace – you have a very rare ability to make what you write come alive.