After two days of nonstop rain, cold June nights, soggy meals and a leaky tent, Alex Dodd and I finally accepted defeat. We would have to cut our Waterton camping trip short. The prospect of sleeping in a dry bed was too appealing to turn down. So piling our sodden blankets into my car, we started to make the long drive north, back to the comfort of Alex's Edmonton apartment by way of Banff.
Later that night, after I was too tired to drive anymore, Alex took the wheel, the lights of oncoming cars slipping fluidly by us in the dark. Sharp cold air flooded in through the window as he struggled to stay awake, exhaling cigar smoke into the Alberta summer night.
It was in that moment that I woke with a scream, terror gripping every ounce of my being.
Alex didn't miss a beat. After less than two months of tolerating my nightmares, he had learned what to expect and what was expected of him. Barely looking up from the road, he soothed me back to sleep, despite his own exhaustion. "It's just a dream Jess. It's okay," he said, his voice calm and low. "Go back to sleep."
And before I slipped back into unconsciousness, lulled by Iron & Wine, I couldn't help but think of how much I felt cared for in that instant.
I think it was in that moment that I loved Alex Dodd most.
Years later, when our relationship was still fresh, Jay and I went to a party at Alex's. Despite the potentially awkward social situation, the two bonded over an unlikely commonality--the management of my nightly neurosis: the sleepwalking, the sleeptalking and the occasional bouts of insomnia.
"She hasn't screamed yet," Jay told Alex proudly, somehow certain that he was sheltering me from my night terrors.
Alex knew better. "Don't worry. She will," he said, laughing with certainty.
I smiled inwardly. This is it. This is the common bond that ties together the men who have loved me most--their ability to protect me from the demons that sit on my chest at night; the monsters that make me gasp for breath; the unsettling visions that cause me to cry out in the dark and wake up in a cold sweat. Really, what they have in common is their ability to protect me from myself.
In recent months, my night terrors have intensified. I find myself waking up shuddering in the corner or desperately trying to find the light switch. (My roommates, thankfully, sleep through my screams. Court, who graciously offered to let me share her bed during my month of homelessness, wasn't quite so lucky.)
Now, there's no one to lull me back to sleep. There's no one to assure me that I'm going to be okay. Now, in my most vulnerable moments, there's just myself.
I don't mind. Because if nothing else, the nightmares are a constant. And there's something comforting in that.