He is suddenly before you. He starts to clap. Then bounce. Soon he is marching around the room. You attempt to breathe even as you feel your neck tighten and get tingly and hot. You flash back to the last time this happened, and the many other times that preceded it.
And then you wonder how long it’s going to last.
There are those nights, when he cannot sleep, and you are empathic, because that is something you know so well, as did your father before you.
You would stare at the ceiling for hours then, reading The Outsiders for the fiftieth time, or listening to cast album from The Wiz. Later you would jerk-off, and finally you just stay up with no pretense that you were even trying to fall asleep.
But, this isn’t about that, your gradual acceptance of it, not really, or exactly, no this is about those early days, when you were his age, the days you would wonder when, how, sleep would come.
What you wouldn’t do was move from your bed, wander around the house, or talk to your parents about what to do. What would they have possibly said? And who could say they would have even cared? It all seemed so impossible.
He’s different though, he does wander the house, talk to you, and ask for advice, advice he does not follow, won’t follow. He doesn’t want you to lie with him, nor when he grudgingly accedes to it, will he put head to pillow, which you know will make a difference if he would just do it. Of course he knows that too, doesn’t he, but he can’t accept it, won’t, and when the sleep still doesn’t come, he is enraged, full of outburst and noise, tortured, and performing, storming around the house, dancing, and yelling.
He is as external and you were not. You think this is good. None of what he’s feeling is bottled-up. This will serve him well later, but what about now? You don’t know what to do for him, and he wouldn’t listen anyway.
Not that this is entirely true you suppose.
What he needs to learn is how to recognize what’s coming, the inability to fall asleep, and the racing thoughts, and not be so upset about it, and then manage it.
You’ve tried to help with this, reading the books, talking to the therapists, and attempting to apply the endless advice everyone is so happy to provide.
None of it works though.
So instead there is battle, and there is rage, yours and his, and it is craziness, toe-to-toe, and you want to back out, make it stop, but you really don’t know how to do that. Staying calm helps, but no one ever told you how hard staying calm would be, so much harder than fury certainly.
And then there are those nights where all of it seems more, where he actually seems disturbed, not merely out of control, but damaged, warped somehow, and you think what if he is, what if this is something else, something more wrong, something broken?
But then somehow sleep comes, the next morning everything seems normal again, and there is relief.
You can’t ever quite let go of that fear though, and it lingers right there on the periphery of your consciousness during the waking hours. What if, what if something is wrong, and what will you and your wife do if there is? It’s selfish and terrible, focusing on your feelings of trauma, and not his, and so you push it away.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t wonder still as you think about him. Say it’s possible, or true, or whatever, might it be something you and he could write about some day. Because that’s what writers do, right, and then you think how terrible and selfish that is too, so you banish it as well, convincing yourself that you will never allow yourself to turn this into more fodder for your work, all the while conveniently seeking to avoid that here you are doing so anyway.
Ben Tanzer is the author of the books Lucky Man, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine, Repetition Patterns and 99 Problems. He also oversees day-to-day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life.