It’s mid-afternoon and I lay in my room with the lights low, reading a Tom Clancy novel. Well researched, but still cheap fare. I’m reminded of Stephen King by the language, male fantasy projection, and current event name-dropping. After a few pages my daughter, sleeping beside me, starts to stir.
She is four, and still wants to sleep near a protector. I’m happy to oblige her to give myself a job that’s appreciated. I would be fooling no one by saying that was my only reason. I want to hear her breathe and feel the occasional foot in my back or arm in my head that is just a quick check to make sure I’m there, and to feel her settle back to sleep, content that her daddy is still near. Content that I am still near. I like to pretend that she’s more at ease with me than with her other protectors, but I have no way of knowing if that’s true.
She wakes and smiles at me. She reaches for my head and pulls it with two hands towards her own head and kisses my cheek. “Daddy?”
“Let’s make wings and fly away.”
I’m once again stunned by the imagery produced by my four year old. She startled me before one day when we were watching a particularly beautiful sunset. “That’s medicine for the sky,” she said. I could only nod in agreement.
As a child I didn’t feel safe. There was no lap I could sit in and be at ease. The world was scary and changed constantly. I survived emotionally not by latching onto a parental figure, but by becoming a dispassionate observer, learning my world’s rules so that it wouldn’t eat me. I learned and didn’t get eaten, and the loss of a perfect childhood was balanced by a good set of survival skills. It wasn’t until later in life that I understood that real damage had been done.
My daughter feels safe with me. I can see it in her. I’ve even asked her about it, which I thought might spoil the magic of it, but it didn’t. I grew up knowing the world isn’t a safe place, and yet I am thought of as safety. The dichotomy of that eats at me. My girl will sleep beside me, her face full of tranquility, which causes me to remember the numb indifference my face once held. She doesn’t know that the reminder of what was missing in my life sometimes gives me nightmares. If I was crass enough to explain that to her, though, she would understand that her needing me to be strong makes me strong enough to face them.
Now it’s nighttime, and a few minutes after a bedtime story she settles down and eventually her breathing changes, telling me that she is close to sleep, although still inching my way in the bed for warmth and security. I feel myself falling asleep as I remember the fun we had that day, shopping for winter clothes, watching old reruns of the six million dollar man, and helping Mr. Potatohead save Veggie Valley.
I smile inwardly as I approach sleep, and then the nightmare comes. The father is angry, shouting and gesturing to the child, who cowers away from him. I feel the fear and the anger and want to strike at something to make it stop. It occurs to me as I edge towards consciousness that I’m not sure if I am the father or the child. I’m in my bed again and can’t see her in the darkness, so I reach out to my daughter. She’s still there beside me. Her shoulder is warm and her breathing is smooth and regular. That is all the inspiration I need to find my own sleep again.
Now the nightmare is gone. I am near my daughter and she is near me. In our dream each of us feels our protector is near. The sun is setting and the clouds are beautiful, and we are almost finished with our work. When our wings are finished, we fly away. Together.
She is my sunset, and the medicine for my sky.