Painful memories can haunt us if we’re not careful.
I barely ever remember my dreams. If I remember that I dreamed at all, I can usually just recall fragments, or emotions, and then they fade away. This morning was no different. I woke up, and remembered I was dreaming that I was a mother again. I couldn’t remember anything else about it. I was still half asleep, not entirely back to the real world, and still partially in my subconscious where my mind forces me to see the things that haunt me. I heard little footsteps. Anyone that’s lived with a kid knows what I heard. The sound of little feet running to your room in the morning to hoist their little leg up onto the mattress, and pull themselves up to crawl over to you… maybe to say ‘I’m hungry’, or ‘can I play videogames’, or to have an epic war of pillow fights, and slow motion upper-cuts, and saving whoever fell off the bed until we were too tired to continue.
I knew as soon as I heard the sound that it wasn’t real, but that didn’t stop a million memories from rushing back to me.
I know what triggered the dream, and the memories. I also know that I made the right choice three years ago (is it possible that three years have already passed?) , but the guilt of leaving behind a little boy, and destroying one of the most constant things in his little life, stays with me.
It’s getting easier. It used to be every single day that I thought about it, and felt like I was hit with a pillowcase full of bricks in the chest. Now, it’s not so bad. It’s maybe once a week that I think of him, and its maybe once every few months that I feel my heart sink in sadness and guilt at the memory of him.
This morning, instead of a pillowcase full of bricks, I felt like I was suffocating. Like I was in a glass case that was running out of air, and all I could do was look out of it at the memories of seeing tears streaming down the face of a little boy that was too young to understand why me and his daddy weren’t going to be living together anymore.
He was too young to understand that his daddy was in more pain than he knew how to handle. He didn’t understand that when his daddy said and did these things that hurt his feelings and confused him, that he was actually trying to hurt me. To make me feel his pain, and using him was the way to rip out my heart.
He didn’t understand that I put myself, and his dad, in more pain by trying to still be around for him… because even in a decision to do what was best for me, I was still trying to sacrifice myself to do what was best for him.
He was too young to understand that I wasn’t around anymore because his dad was still hurting, and unable to let go of me. And years later, I still can’t see him because his dad is still not able to separate his pain from the situation.
If I’m not careful, my mind will still wander to him. I wonder how he’s doing in school, and if he’s making friends; if his laugh is still the same, or if he’s grown out of that deep, uncontrollable, belly-laugh when you’re play-fighting and start tickling him. I wonder if he still idolized the good guys in super hero movies, and wants to help them when he gets bigger; and if he still shuts down and closes all his doors when he thinks he’s in trouble.
But it’s not my place to worry about him understanding his homework anymore, or learning to be patient when he’s frustrated; or learning to say sorry when he accidentally does something wrong, or if the kids at school are nice to him, and he’s nice to them. I’m not supposed to worry about if he’s eating his vegetables, and playing outside enough. I don’t get to teach him things anymore. I don’t get to wake up in the morning, and know that I’m going to work to take care of someone who’s life means more to me than my own. I don’t have that calm sense of purpose anymore that comes with raising a child.
He taught me to not be scared. He taught me that I’m stronger than my fears. He taught me to open my heart up, and let someone in without worrying that they’ll hurt you. I feel selfish for missing him, because I know loving, and capable parents and family that keep him safe, and happy, and nurtured surround him, and he doesn’t need me.
I wonder if he misses me, or even remembers the happy times together. I worry he only remembers the breakup, and that his dad and me hurt him with our actions. I wish I could still be there for his firsts, and for picking him up from school and asking about his day. I wish I could still be there for his meltdowns, and jokes, and games, and setbacks, and life. I wish I were going to be there for his first date, for his high school graduation, for his first heartbreak…
But slowly, it gets easier.