The kids and I had left their grandfathers house in journey to our own, and in what felt like a flash I was turning onto our street.
“This is weird,” I said to the kids.
“What’s weird?” my eight-year-old asked.
“I don’t remember driving here,” I answered. I really couldn’t. The forty-five-minute drive home felt like it had happened instantly. I’d zoned out while driving many times in my life, but never to this extent. I looked at my three kids in the rearview mirror. My ten-year-old and his floppy hair, my eight-year-old and her inquisitive eyes, and my six-year-old ‘baby’ who smiled and used her tongue to wiggle her loose front tooth. They seemed fine, but I felt a little worried that I was missing the whole drive. That couldn’t be safe.
We barreled out of the car and I shooed them into the house. There was a man to the side of my driveway building a wall. My elderly neighbor was always adding on something to her house, so I smiled at the man and went inside, coming back out to take the garbage tote to the road for tomorrows pick up and finding the old man painting the orange brick walkway that led to my front door gray.
“Sir, what are you doing?” I asked. I was panicking, as it was a horrible color and porous brick. “Please, stop.”
He looked up to me wide eyed.
“Your neighbor told me to do this for you for your birthday,” he replied. “She said you’d like that it matches the wall.”
I looked at the gray brick wall and then to my orange brick house and shook my head.
“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t. It clashes with my house, please stop.”
He sat the brush down and leaned back on his feet until he rested his rear on the ground and sighed.
“Seemed like a nice gesture to me,” he answered. “I’ve had a lot of birthdays, and I’ve had a lot forgotten. You’ve lived about five percent of the life I have, so I think I know a thing or two and I’d never reject a gift no matter the situation.”
He pulled a cigarette from his pocket, lit it, and took a drag while he eyeballed me with squinty eyes.
“You trackin’?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
I nodded to him, intent on giving my neighbor a call after I got the kids settled, so I went in and began to rush through our routine. I shooed the kids around the house, throwing easy dinners at them, passing them through the bathroom to get clean and tucking them into their beds. I read a chapter from out nightly book at warp speed and rambled through our prayers. I was getting so sleepy.
I turned off the light and shut the door. I went into the bathroom and took a hot bath, absently forgetting about my neighbor, much like I had the drive home. When I came out, the light was on in the kid’s room. I went in and found them talking.
“Guys, its bedtime, go to sleep.”
I turned the light off.
I went to the kitchen to make myself something to eat and saw the light flick on under their door down the hallway. Again, I walked to their room and stuck my head in. They were in a deep conversation and looked agitated. This is why I was against their wishes to all three sleep in the same room.
“Turn the light off and go to sleep,” I said more firmly.
I went back to the kitchen to finish making my meal.
The light came on.
This time I was good and annoyed because they know better than to defy me three times. I swung the door open with a flourish.
“I said go to bed!”
“I can’t! I’m scared of the water,” my eight-year-old said in a panic.
I looked around at the dry room.
“There’s no water in here, what are you talking about?”
“I can’t sleep Momma, I’m scared of the water,” she cried.
“I don’t understand,” I shook my head, not finding their shenanigans funny.
My ten-year-old looked down at me from the top bunk. His arms were wrapped around his shoulders and he was shaking.
“I’m so cold,” he shivered.
“I’ll turn on the heat,” I said cautiously. “Now guys, please, go to sleep.”
“Momma, if you’ll just read the note I wrote you, you’ll understand, please,” she was begging me and pointing behind me. “Read the note. I’m so scared of the water.”
I turned to get the note and found myself staring at me. I looked down at my outfit, we were wearing the same thing. She reached for me, and I stepped back.
“No,” I said firmly. I was suddenly very aware. “I don’t want to remember.”
I tried to get away from her, but she grabbed me by the shirt and slung me back against her and suddenly I was being drug down the hallway, reaching for my kids and screaming as I saw it all flashing through me. The rain. The traffic. The car flipping over the guard rail, filling with water, the darkness…it was so cold.
I felt my chest seize. They were trying to revive me, somewhere. I knew it, and I knew it was too late for the kids and I didn’t want to come back. I was still dragging me, I don’t know where, it felt like a tunnel, dragging me, kicking and screaming with each painful zap into my cold chest.
“No!” I screamed and sobbed. “I don’t want to remember! Please, don’t bring me back.”
There was a song. It danced like a trickling stream of water through my brain, slow little beats that played with each pulse of my faltering heart…
and I woke up.