Austin needs me.
That’s why I’m here.
We are all here.
So hot. Always hot at the zoo.
Where did they go? Oh, there, next hill.
I wish they’d wait.
Can’t walk so fast.
Legs won’t move.
“Wait for me! Bryan! Laurie! Wait for me!”
They won’t look back.
Can’t they hear me?
Who are those people?
They are laughing and talking about me.
Don’t see me.
I shouldn’t have stopped. They didn’t stop.
Can’t keep up.
“Please, wait for me!”
Feet like lead. Can’t move.
“I’ll lose you and I won’t know where I am.”
Can’t hear me.
I can’t make my voice loud enough.
All the music, everybody laughing.
Can’t see them anymore.
Can’t run anymore.
Where are they?
Where am I?
What is this place?
Never been here before.
Why am I here, behind the exhibits?
Animals hiding here.
Is anybody watching the animals?
Does anyone know I’m here?
Is anybody here?
Oh, no, there he is again.
The bear heard me.
Terrible noise, mouth wide open.
Bears smell like rotten garbage.
Bears smell fear.
He’ll smell me.
He’s coming nearer, faster, closer.
“Help me Will, help!”
Where is Will?
He doesn’t care.
He’s leaving me alone.
“Please Bear! Don’t take my baby. Let go!”
Blood. Blood everywhere.
Hold his head. Can’t hold his head.
Not strong enough.
Focus my energy to scream.
“Oh God, help me!”
“Gloria!” Will shouted. “Wake up, Gloria. It’s a dream. You are having a bad dream.”
“Will?” She opened her eyes. He could hear her fear and desperation. She released his beard from her frantic grasp, then pummeled his chest, weeping harder now.
“You wouldn’t help me!” she sobbed. “You would not help me. You didn’t see him—he was bleeding! It’s just like when…”
She cried again, “Oh God, HELP ME!”
“Sh, shh.” He wrapped his arms around her and her flailing fists. “You’re all right now. It wasn’t real.
You’re safe here. You’re in your own room.”
When she stopped trying to hit him, he reached back and turned on his bedside lamp. “Look. You’re in your own bed. I’m here. Even Laura is here,” he said as their daughter opened the door and stuck her head in.
“Did I hear Mom crying?”
She ran to Gloria’s side of the bed and sat down, holding her mother’s hand in her own. “I could hear you calling, Mama. What’s the matter? Are you in pain?”
“It was real. Bryan is gone. I’m so tired. I couldn’t keep up. You left me alone.” Gloria looked from one to the other, shaking her head.
“No,” he heard her whisper; “not them. Not my family.”
She was shaking. “I love you all so much,” she said in a small far-away voice.
As she appeared to emerge from her nightmare, he could see her draw back, away from him, inside herself. Calmly, “I’m sorry. You go back to bed now, honey. I’m sorry I woke you.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I know you are all right”
“Go, Laura, you need your sleep. Go back to bed. I’m all right. I need to rest and until we talk in the morning and I’ll make it be all right. You, too, Will. I’ll go to the den until I feel sleepy again.” She sat up and reached for her robe.
“No, you stay here, Gloria. Don’t you think you’ll be able to fall back to sleep now that you know it was all just a dream?”
Will watched as his wife nodded, put her feet back under the sheet, and curled herself around her pillow. She was weeping, but not in terror anymore. Her tears flowed silently, as from a bottomless well of sorrow.
He touched her arm, but she didn’t respond. Waves of helpless despair washed over him when he realized she felt alone, in a deep place he couldn’t reach.
He stood up uncertainly, running his hand over his head and turned away. Laura followed him out of the room and downstairs to the den.
“You can’t just leave her like that! What in the world is the matter with you?” Laura whispered harshly, her face inches from her father’s, “Mom is so miserable. She needs you to hold her and comfort her and take care of her, and LOVE her!”
“I DO love her, but nothing I say or do makes any difference. She’s sure I’m going to leave her someday, just like her father, and that makes her so angry. But I’m not going anywhere.” Will’s voice broke. “And she won’t understand. I’m made different. She refuses to believe I love her because I don’t show it the way she wants me to. I don’t need to talk everything to death, and I don’t need all that ‘meaningful touch’ business.”
“Oooh, yes you do! You’re too stubborn to admit it. And even if you don’t need holding, she does. So you stand there, stiff as a post and wonder why she feels alone.” Laura groaned.
“Okay, fine, Dad. You’re a man and I guess we can’t do anything about that right now.” Her eyes roamed the room until she saw his desk. “You and Mom both say God can fix everything. Well, there’s your Bible. You sit down there and read it and pray until God tells you how to fix this. I’m going to be with my mother.”
He watched her leave, wondering briefly if he should have said something to her about being more respectful.
That was completely unlike Laura, he thought. Gloria says I’m acting out of character, too. Nobody in this house is acting normal. What’s happening to our family?
He sank to his knees, then face down on the carpet, his head on folded hands. “I don’t know what to do, Lord. Help me.”
Laura tiptoed back into the bedroom and noted that Gloria had stopped crying, but she still wasn’t sleeping. She kicked off her slippers and slipped into bed, snuggling up to her mother’s back and wrapping her arms around her. Gloria took Laura’s hand and brought it to her lips.
“Being a woman is lonely sometimes, isn’t it Mom?” Laura asked, her voice just above a whisper. “Are you okay now?”
“Hmmm? I don’t know. I’m so sick of myself I don’t know if I can bear it.” When Laura began to protest
Gloria shushed her. “I’m sorry, baby. I have been so unspeakably wrong.”
“What are you talking about? You had a bad dream. A nightmare. I know how upsetting they can be.”
“I saw myself in that dream,”
“But it was a dream! It wasn’t real!”
“God spoke to me through the dream.”
“Mom, please, you’re scaring me.”
“I scare myself. Listen to me: I’m 58 years old and the dream—well, I’ve had this dream before. It was about a bear, isn’t that strange? I was all by myself and terribly afraid. And angry, too, about being left alone. And Bryan,” she choked back a sob, “Bryan was in danger, and I blamed your dad.”
“That doesn’t make sense. A bear didn’t grab Bryan. He had cancer.” Laura was becoming more confused. “And why would you blame Daddy, of all people?”
“Because I’m afraid. And angry. That’s what the dream showed me. I’m angry that Bryan died, and I don’t know where to go with my anger. I’ve been a Christian too long to dare to blame God about Bryan, so I blame Will. And that’s not all.”
Gloria rolled over and held her daughter, cradling her head on her arm, like holding a child on her lap. “There’s this fear. I’m so terribly afraid of being alone and, well…abandoned. I feel helpless, especially about Austin, and I hate feeling helpless. I really hate it.” She shuddered. “I don’t have it all sorted out myself, but I think it has to do with some bad memories. I’ll tell you more sometime. In daylight, I hope. I’ll work on all of that later.”
She thought for a moment. “One of the first things I have to do is tell your dad I’m sorry about being so self-focused that I didn’t understand why he was upset.”
“He’s been a bit of an old stick himself.”
“Oh, I know. But he isn’t, not really. Besides he was right. He wouldn’t have lost it if he had come in and found me flat on my face, the way I really feel, crying out to God because I’m so worried about Austin and about you, and all of us.”
“About me? Why would you worry about me?”
Gloria brushed her hand over her daughter’s cheek. “Even though at one level, after praying, I have a measure of wonderful peace about Austin, part of me is still terribly afraid, and I know all of our lives will be changed forever no matter what happens.” She swallowed a sob.
“I know what it is for a mother to lose a child. I don’t think I can bear for you to have to go through that, Laura. You know yourself how you hurt for your children. That never ends, honey, no matter how old they are.”
Laura murmured to concede the point, but she still was puzzled. “But you’ve been strong for all of us, encouraging us to pray, telling how God moves in the lives of His people and ‘works all things for good.’ Remember? So why would Dad have to find you in a heap to think you were acting appropriately?”
“You didn’t see me.” Gloria felt herself blush as she pictured herself as she must have appeared to Will. “Talk about being in denial! I was sitting there like Lady Lotsabucks, sipping tea from one of Grandma’s bone china cups. I probably had my pinkie curled. Honestly, sometimes I’m absolutely delusional.”
“But Daddy way over reacted.”
“He did, didn’t he? He hasn’t slept since Friday, you know, and besides, men are different than women. We like it that way, right? But the thing is, men—dads especially, and your father is a good dad—see a problem and they have to fix it. That’s just the way they are.”
“Now this thing with Austin, Will doesn’t know how to fix it, and it makes him miserable, so he distances himself from it by doing his ‘old stick’ routine. He doesn’t mean to be unpleasant. He’s terribly upset, is all.”
She laughed ruefully. “He feels helpless and so he withdraws. I feel helpless so I’m angry and and pretentious and self-pitying. We’re a mess, aren’t we?”
“Well, he—men, I mean—could understand that we women need to talk and hug and stuff, and be miserable together.” Laura wasn’t quite ready to let her dad off the hook.
“I know. I wish they would. But God didn’t appoint me—or you—to teach them.” Gloria paused, wondering if she should ask. “Can you tell me, honey, how is it that you are so calm about Austin? You seem—“
“Peaceful,” Laura supplied. “I don’t know why. Ever since I overheard you and Suellen praying this morning—yes, I was eavesdropping but I didn’t think you would mind—anyway, after you prayed for Austin I felt, I don’t know, like I wasn’t as worried anymore, and I wanted David to feel that way, too, so we, uh, I mean, he did. He doesn’t. Feel worried, I mean.”
“You prayed together? That’s wonderful!”
“It wasn’t so hard. We were both a little nervous, though.” Laura’s voice trembled. “We love our kids so much, Mom. We’d do anything for them.” After a long, thoughtful silence, she asked, “Would you think I was crazy if I brought the girls in bed with us? Looking at them, touching them—it seems to warm me, to take away that awful cold, sick feeling about Austin being gone.”
“Do you know, we used to do that with you and Bryan! We would be talking about how happy we were together, and then we’d want to have you close. You never even woke up.”
“Actually, I don’t know about Bryan, but I do know one of us was only pretending to be asleep. Okay, don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back.”
Ariel’s tiny rosebud mouth made a couple of little sucking motions, but Allison barely stirred as Laura brought them, one at a time, and laid them in bed with Gloria before crawling in beside them. In the pale glow of the nightlight, the two women gazed at the sleeping babies between them.
Dawn had begun sending timid invitations to the new day by the time they fell into a light sleep. Only Gloria noticed when Will crawled in behind her and wrapped her in his arms, burying his face in her neck.
“I’m so sorry, my love. I will never again leave you alone in a strange place. Please forgive me.”
“Shhh. There’s nothing to forgive. I need you to forgive me. You are a wonderful man and I trust you with my heart and my life. You are God’s gift to me, and you’re here right now; that’s all that matters.”
Another shadow appeared in the doorway.
“Is this a private party, or can anybody come?” David squeezed himself in the remaining few inches of the king-size bed, sandwiching his wife between him and his daughters.
Delighted giggles signaled the end of a long, busy night.
“EVERYBODY in Nana’s bed! We’re having a sleep-over,” Allison crowed. “Come here by me, Austin!”
And in the ensuing cold silence, those precious moments of tranquillity shattered into shards sharp enough to pierce every person in the room.