I was in the woods, running from the woman in the window. I couldn’t keep ahead. Her strides were too much. She seemed to glide along the breeze, obstructed only by the branches, which seemed to part for her, even as they whipped at me. I was in the woods. I was crying. Crying and screaming for the woman to stay away. My hair became entangled in a pair of low-forked limbs. I had been trapped. The woman stepped out. There was giggling all around, coming from behind the trees, or maybe it was the trees themselves. I closed my eyes to hide. The woman touched me. Her breath was on my face.
I woke to a gush of warmth. I had peed the bed.
I hopped up in embarrassment. My instant thought was that I didn’t want my mother to know. She had been second guessing me, asking why I always looked so tired, providing only vague questions with a skeptical look in her eye, has everything been okay? Translation: are you still seeing that woman?
I had to hide the evidence. I peeled the sheets from my mattress and gathered them up into a tight ball. Then I changed into some clean clothes.
The washer and dryer were stationed between my mother’s bedroom and mine, set off from the hallway in a cramped closet. I could hear my mother prattling in her room, her door partially open. I began cramming the first sheet in. Then the other. I was almost done.
“Why are you washing your sheets?” my mother asked while putting silver earrings in.
“What?” I asked, pretending I couldn’t hear her over the water.
She said a little louder, “Why are you washing your sheets and pajamas?”
“Oh, right. Yeah, I just wanted them clean. It’s Wednesday. I always wash them on Wednesday.” I still hadn’t looked at her.
She walked to my side. “You’re right, we do laundry on Wednesday. But today is Friday, Ms. Sarah, so I just washed everything a couple of days ago.”
I laughed. “Oh, right! It’s Friday.” I really didn’t know and I wished I had thought of a better lie.
“Yes, Sarah.” She brushed some hair behind my ear and shook her head at me. “It’s Friday. You know, TGIF. And we did laundry on Wednesday.” She flicked a corner of the sheet from the top of the washer so that it dropped into the suds. “Remember, you helped me.”
I laughed along as best I could. “I forgot, I guess. That’s okay. It’s too late now. And it won’t hurt to clean them again.”
“That’s true,” she agreed. Then my mother did what I dreaded the most: she lifted my sweatpants from the floor. I didn’t know why I hadn’t put them in first and I hated that I didn’t think of it until it was too late. “What’s this dark spot?” she asked. “Is this – Is this urine?” She smelled at the dangling pant-leg from a safe distance as her face contorted at the realization.
“No.” I laughed again, this time far less convincing, this time with unmistakable sadness.
“Sarah, you peed the bed,” she stated, not knowing what else to say.
My head sunk down. My arms dropped to my sides. I stood there, wishing she had just left me alone, wishing I was somewhere else. I could feel the tears coming. I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to cry. I said as best as I could, “It was an accident.”
“But you’re seventeen. You hardly peed the bed as a child.”
I just wanted her to comfort me, or else leave me alone. “I know, Mom.” I took the sweatpants from her and dropped them in, then slammed the lid loud enough to make the both of us blink.
“So why are you peeing the bed now?” my mother asked as though it was some new habit I had picked up, something I decided I’d like to start doing.
“Mom, it was one time. And it’s not like I wanted to.”
“But why?” She was ready to go to work. She was ready to stop dealing with my issues, nightmares and calls to the police and bed-wetting. That was my mother at her worst. Wanting answers and reasons, as though no one deserved to have a secret around her.
“Mom, please stop.” I turned my back to her, arms crossed over my chest.
“I just want to know why.”
I turned back. “Fine. I was having a nightmare and I – I peed the bed!” I burst into tears as the inescapable terror of the nightmare returned, the woman tracing her finger along my clothes.
My mother pulled me into a hug. “Oh, Sarah, it’s okay, it’s okay. I’m sorry if I upset you. I know you didn’t mean to pee the bed. I’m concerned. That’s all.” The warmth of her body made me feel so much better. I didn’t want her to leave.
I continued to cry, even as I dabbed away a tear, “I’m such a crybaby lately.”
“No, you’re not. And it’s okay to cry.”
So, I cried a little more.
“What was so horrible about your dream?” she asked.
“That woman. It was her. The one from the window. The one who was in my room the other night.”
My mother did her best to hide her immediate disappointment. It was something she had wanted to forget, something she had hoped was a simple one-night incident of misunderstanding by a daughter who had become overwhelmed by all her senior year adolescent worries. “The police didn’t find any woman, Sarah.”
“I know, Mom. But. I don’t know. I think she was, or, I don’t know.” I knew what I wanted to say, I just didn’t know how to say it.
“Sarah, you’re just scared. Going through a tough time. That’s all. Just a rough patch.”
You see, I never had many nightmares growing up, so, to my mother, this was nothing more than a phase that had caught up to me late, like getting chicken pox as a teenager when everyone else had gotten theirs years ago.
“I know. You’re right,” I said. “It’s just. I’ve been having these nightmares. Every night. But they feel so real, you know. Maybe because I’m so tired or something. So, I try not to sleep at all, or if I do sleep, I don’t sleep well. I’m always so tired.” I laughed brokenly. “I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes, I don’t know when I’m dreaming or when I’m awake.”
“Well, they’re just nightmares,” she offered consolingly. “They can’t really hurt you.”
There was no winning. “I know. You’re right,” I said.
“Well, it’s time for you to get ready for school.” She checked her watch. “And I’m running late for work.” Before jogging down the stairs, she said one last time, “It was just a nightmare, Sarah. Remember that. And hey, TGIF.”
“Yep. TGIF,” I said, suddenly absolutely disgusted by that simple stupid phrase.
My mother left, driving away. The washing machine swished side to side as I listened and watched from the middle of the hallways, from some strangely meaningful mental and emotional distance. The rhythmic sound of the machine almost put me to sleep on my feet. I stepped away. “You’re right, Mom. They’re nothing but nightmares. Each and every night.” I went to school for the day.