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Close Your Eyes
My mother used to tell me to close my eyes and think of something nice before I went to sleep, that way I would have good dreams. She’d lean over, tuck the covers in around me, and kiss me good-night. Her breath would brush against my cheek, warm and gentle, dark hair tickling the skin of my face. And I would close my eyes, think of something nice, and fall asleep to dream of sweet things.
The trick doesn’t work anymore. I still try, every night, curled up tightly beneath the covers, afraid of every shadow, screwing my eyes so tightly shut that they hurt. But no matter what I think of in the hours before sleep finally comes to relieve the fears of shadows that rule me, another kind of fear takes over the minute I am asleep. The sweet dreams of my childhood are gone, replaced by fears no adult should ever have to deal with.
I don’t know that many do struggle with the fears that run rampant in my sleep, pushed back into the corners of my mind during the bright hours of daylight. I never asked anyone if they were afraid of the things I am. You see, I don’t want them to know what I am afraid of. I’m afraid of speaking my fears; afraid they will become reality. It’s become a superstition; an all consuming thought that preys on me in my weakest moments; in my dreams, in the minutes and hours that tick by ever so slowly before I fall asleep, when I’m praying in church, reading a story, or sitting quietly to think. It hits me like a physical blow, a fear so intense that it almost moves me to panic. The root of the panic that grips me I know is love; love for these people. I know that I’m blessed to have them and to love them, and to know that they love me. But this love is not always a blessing. On the contrary, sometimes it is a curse.
I’m afraid of losing my family.
It took me a while to realize it; at first I thought they were just random nightmares, but they kept happening, again, and again, and again: night after night, interrupting my sleep, making me restless, tossing and turning, waking up hot and sweaty, panicked, sometimes in tears. I’d wake to the sound of my own voice, crying out in the darkness, tears running down my face, doused in my own sweat, only to find that the darkness around me is filled with the sounds of my sisters sleeping.
My family is composed of so many people. I make my friends my family. That is how much they mean to me. I love them like I love my brothers and sisters. And the fear of losing anyone I love is so extreme it haunts my nightmares.
Drugs, gunshots, bloody knives, falls from terrifying heights, kidnappings, murders, car crashes…always car crashes. This real life fear of something that we are in danger of every day is what haunts me most. It’s because I’ve had to deal with it before; I know the damage it does. Years later, I’m still afraid, and I wasn’t even there. I see the effect it has had on my friends, and I fear that it will repeat itself.
“I’m driving,” a friend says, and instantly the fear returns, so strong that I almost panic.
The nightmares are the worst. Broken glass, crumpled doors, headlights shining through cracked glass. I even dream of them walking, the car spinning out of nowhere, sweeping them off their feet. Dead. So simple. So easy. And I am so afraid.
The dreams are so real; time ticks so slowly, the graves so cold, the dirt freshly turned, smelling of the earth, the polished wood of coffins reflecting my tearstained face. The names on the stones should not be there. Young people should not die like this.
But I am so afraid. What if it happens again? Next time we won’t be so lucky. I won’t be so lucky. He’ll be dead next time. No more scars to deal with; no more fears for me to cope with, just grief. Grief that will consume everything.
Please don’t die, I whisper. Please don’t leave me.
But the promises they whisper in return are empty. One day they’ll leave me standing beside their graves, all alone, just like in the nightmares that haunt my sleep.
Just last night, the minute I closed my eyes, I was dressing for a funeral. When I woke, crying his name, hot, sweaty, wet with tears, the grief was real. I could feel it in my chest; like my heart was breaking. Why? Why am I afraid?
So now, as I put off going to sleep, I pray that tonight I will be able to sleep in peace; that no dreams of loss and grief will disturb my slumber. But the time for prayers is over. My mother is coming to tuck me in my bed and kiss me good-night; coming to whisper “Close your eyes”, even though I don’t want to ever sleep again.