The light rippled and waved. It danced: Blue, then white, then blue again. The pattern, the movement: it felt warm. The source of the dance, a small fish tank placed on his nightstand by his parents three months ago to feed his attraction to sea creatures, meant far less to him than the mesmerizing glow it threw on his popcorn ceiling. The ceiling fan blew uneven and rhythmic kisses on his cheeks. He smelled coconuts and citrus in his hair and on his skin. It tingled. His bedroom was momentarily fully lit by the headlights of a passing car outside. The headlights washed over him like an ocean wave. It made him giggle. Woody and Buzz and Lightening McQueen and Charlie Brown watched over him with love and acceptance. Their eyes, so big and kind and loving, caressed him like a warm hug. His body was tired. He was fatigued. But, his mind was alive. The central air conditioner clicked on. The giant sucking “woosh” of the air intake sounded like a dragon: a great loving and scary dragon. There were four corners in his room. There were four walls surrounding him. There were four butterflies painted on his walls. The clock said three o’clock. The giggling stopped. “That’s just not right. Four. Four. It has to be four. It’s wrong. It’s all wrong.”
“DADDY!” he pierces the silence.
Greg inhaled deeply as if doused in ice-cold water. His happiness was lanced. Reality.
This was the fifth night in a row. They tried everything: massage, sensory diets, melatonin, Benadryl, essential oils. Nothing kept their son asleep.
Greg stumbled out of their bed, stubbing his toe on the dresser and ripping a curse from his chest. Jenna jumped out of bed trying to get in front of the badness that was looming for their family.
“I’ll go,” she said.
Greg didn’t protest. He didn’t feign heroism or offer recognition that she had gotten up with Luke the past four nights. He just crawled back into their bed and dulled his senses with a heavy pillow over his face. He just wanted to dream again.
He was jarred awake thirty-five minutes later by another piercing scream, “GO DOWNSTAIRS!” In their son’s room, Jenna had run out of ammunition to keep Luke calm, or more importantly, quiet. She had tried being stern, she had tried negotiating, she had tried bribery. The battle was lost.
She knew what was coming. She closed her eyes and prayed.
Luke’s door flew open and Greg was silhouetted by the hall light. He never raised a hand to them. He just yelled. She wondered if that actually mattered.
“You have to fucking sleep!” He screamed at Luke with disgust. “You are killing us!”
“SLEEP! DADDY ANGRY!” Luke began to cry.
Greg yanked the plug of the aquarium light out of the wall. “It’s too fucking bright in here. I told you when you bought this damned thing. Go back to bed. Just let him cry.”
Jenna got out of Luke’s bed and walked back to her bedroom. She got back into bed and cried. Greg joined her a minute later without a word.
Jenna kept her eyes closed and offered a silent prayer. She prayed not for sleep, she knew that was not coming. She prayed for her family. She prayed for her husband to find peace and stay with them. Greg prayed too.
“Fuck you, God.”
Luke cried in his room. He held Charlie Brown and Woody close for comfort. The darkness hurt his eyes. He scripted his favorite scene from Monsters Inc. Eventually, his mind gave in. He slept and dreamed about warm blankets and his mom stroking his hair.