Phyllis woke up in a tangle of sheets screaming and sweating. She couldn’t find her way out and her anxiety was building as she felt like she couldn’t catch her breath. She felt a hand reach for her through the sheets and her struggling stopped. She opened her eyes and saw her husband Mike looking down at her. He sat down on the bed and pulled her to him. She sank into his chest and cried. He wrapped his arms around her and rubbed her back. Phyllis finally got her emotions under control and pulled away. Mike grabbed the box of tissues from the nightstand and handed them to her. She blew her nose and wiped away the tears. Mike kissed the top of her head and left the room.
Phyllis got up and used the bathroom, washed her hands and face and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like hell. It had been a long time since she had had a nightmare. She had had them regularly for awhile until she sought therapy and started talking about the man that plagued her dreams. The man who had taken her innocence. The man she had trusted until he had broken her heart the first time he had molested her. Her grandfather had crossed the line when she was 4 and had molested her every chance he got until she was 12 when she finally made the effort to stay away, refusing to stay the night at her grandparents house whenever possible, and never allowed herself to be in a room alone. She had never told anyone in her family except her sister, Jackie, who did her best to never leave her alone either. Her grandfather had died when she was 17 and when her grandma had called to let her know, she pretended to cry and be heartbroken along with her, but after she hung up, she had smiled. She felt horribly guilty for that one little smile. She should be sad, but she wasn’t. She was elated. She was free. He would no longer come after her. She would no longer have to avoid his looks. She could go to her grandma’s house and enjoy spending time there. She loved her Grandma dearly, but hadn’t really enjoyed being with her because it meant being with him.
A few weeks later is when the nightmares began. Phyllis didn’t understand it. She had made it through. It wasn’t going to happen anymore, but now all those years had come back to haunt her in her dreams. She began to feel hopeless. She thought she would finally be able to move on with her life when he had died. Keeping the secret took a lot of work. Blocking out what he had done took even more. So why was it coming up now? After a year of little to no sleep, nightmares, panic attacks, and hiding away in her apartment, her sister had put her foot down and told her she needed to get help. Phyllis didn’t want to talk to anyone. Her family still didn’t know and she still felt firm that she wouldn’t tell them. Why destroy their memories of him? Jackie was as stubborn as a ox when she set her mind to something though and Phyllis soon found herself in the passenger seat of her sister’s Honda Accord on her way to see a therapist.
That first session had been horrible. She could barely talk. She cried and cried. The therapist was patient and when Phyllis finally got it out, it came out in almost a shout. She found that she was angry and hurt. She wanted to scream, shout, and stomp around the room. They worked through her feelings and memories for years. Phyllis learned to let her feelings of anxiety out through her writing. She kept a journal that she took with her everywhere so she could write in it when the need arose.
Five years ago, she had been sitting in a Starbucks drawing a picture of her coffee in her journal, when the man that would become her husband passed her table and saw what she was doing.
He stopped beside her table and said, “Wow, you’re good,” as he pointed toward her sketch.
She didn’t look up. She mumbled a “Thanks” and kept working on the shading around the bottom of the cup.
He didn’t give up though. He sat down across from her and asked, “Why are you drawing your coffee?” He took the bagel he had just bought and began to spread cream cheese on it.
Phyllis looked up as he sat down, annoyed that he was invading her space, but when she really looked at him, she felt herself blush. He was kinda cute and was smiling at her. Guys never seemed to look at her and for now she liked it that way, but she was human after all and it felt nice to be noticed. She put her pencil down, grabbed her coffee and took a sip.
“I’m just drawing. Some people like to read or play games on their phone while they drink their coffee. I like to draw. I didn’t feel like drawing people today, so I just started drawing my coffee. You, I take it like to compliment someone at a table so you can sit down and eat.”
His smile got bigger and answered, “Why yes, you’ve got me all figured out already huh?”
They both laughed. They sat and talked together for over an hour. Phyllis never found it easy to be around other people, but there was something about Mike that put her at ease. He eventually had to get to back to work. They had exchanged phone numbers and promised to call each other.
Phyllis had really liked him, but had no intention of calling him. She was still busy working on herself. She was doing much better since that first day in therapy. The nightmares were few and far between, the panic attacks were less frequent and not nearly as paralyzing as they had been, and she was slowly making her way out into the world again. She had gotten a job writing product descriptions for an online store. She was exercising on a regular basis and had made some girlfriends that she saw weekly. Her sister still hovered around her, but was beginning to lay off a bit.
The very next day, Mike had called and asked her if she had wanted to take a walk down at Ocean Beach. Phyllis had been surprised by the call and wouldn’t have answered if she had known it had been him. She tried to think of a reason why she couldn’t go, but found her brain that was usually good at coming up with excuses was blank, so she was forced to say “Okay.”
Mike had quickly become a part of her life though they took the relationship very slow. After a year, Phyllis had talked to her therapist about telling him her secret. Phyllis was really falling for Mike and wanted to take their relationship to the next level, but felt he should know everything about her first. They agreed that now was a good time.
Phyllis trembled as she told him her story. Mike had been understanding and kind. He had just sat quietly and listened while holding her hand. When she was done, he held her. He told her he loved her and would love her no matter what. His heart was hers and nothing would change that. Phyllis had felt safe for the first time in a long time. He knew all of her now. She could truly be herself and it felt good.
Mike’s footsteps in the hallway, brought her back to reality. She looked at herself in the mirror and smiled. No matter what had scared her in her dreams, it didn’t matter. She was here now. She had found love, friendship, and happiness. She shook the dream off and turned to open the door to the bathroom. Mike was standing there with a cup of coffee for her. She took it from him and stretched up on her tippy toes to kiss him.