When one of my sons was aged three or four he began waking in the night, shrieking and shaking from something we dubbed ‘night terrors’.
These seemed much more than just bad dreams. A shrill, blood-curling scream would waken me, breathless, night after night. Rushing to his bedside, I’d find my boy upright, gasping, shivering from head to toe. Often he was covered in sweat. Usually his child-sized finger jabbed the night air, pointing towards something lurking there in the darkness, some unknown horror that defied words or even shapes in the light of day.
No matter what I said to rouse him from this paralysis, my boy remained rigid, shivering, sometimes repeating one or two words, perhaps a phrase over and over. “It’s right there!” he’d shriek hysterically. When I’d press for more details he’d go cold. Never was he able to articulate what exactly he saw, nor how or why this phantom had appeared.
These night terrors happened every few nights for several years, and it was exhausting for us both.
After the first few months of the same scenario happening over and over, I discovered that if I shook my boy awake, gently, he’d eventually stop screaming. Next, he’d begin to cry. This meant he was now awake enough for me to drag him from his bed, lead him by the hand to the bathroom, force down his pajamas and instruct him to pee, after which I’d lead him sleepily back to bed.
Gradually, over time, I became sort of immune to this routine.
Until one night, maybe a year or two into these night terrors, when I led my boy to the bathroom, pulled down his long johns, and saw that even though he was still half asleep and crying, he had a stiff, little woody, so that his penis pointed straight up and out instead of down.
Not having much experience with this albeit normal phenomenon myself, I didn’t think too much about it. I certainly didn’t stand there and contemplate the what if’s. All I knew is that I didn’t want to touch it; normally I wouldn’t hesitate to put my hand down when he started to pee, to direct the urine into the toilet and not all over the seat or floor, say.
But this night I decided to leave things alone. Instead I merely instructed him sternly to pee, over top his crying and trembling. And as I waited for him to start, I leaned back against the shut door, closing my eyes. I felt comatose with exhaustion, fed up with the whole ordeal.
Then, surprisingly, I felt rainfall. Heard it, too. I opened my eyes to discover pee splattering everywhere in our tiny, L-shaped bathroom. My boys’ erect, little penis was shooting urine straight onto the back toilet wall and up overhead onto the ceiling as he wavered to and fro. The three tightly enclosed walls surrounding the toilet created a sort of ricochet chamber, so that the urine shot up, bounced sideways from one wall to the other, flew clear across to the bathroom sink, even trickled down onto my head.
“Stop! Stop!” I screamed, shoving my hand onto his penis in an effort to aim the urine stream down. No use. Pee merely catapulted straight off the backseat of the toilet, right back into my own boys’ face. Mine, too.
Now we both screamed, and my little boy, in great confusion at getting hit straight in the face with pee at 3am, turned clear around towards me, even as urine continued to spray forth from that mighty, little hose of his, arcing around our bathroom with a defiant swish not unlike a Palm Springs sprinkler head.
I find it almost incredulous how long male humans can continuously pee, and even a five-year-old is no exception. That night our tiny, little bathroom just rained urine. It was a pee-apocolypse; a whizz-blast unlike any I’ve seen before or since.
After the final liquid drop, I knelt and wordlessly removed my little boys’ soaked clothes. I neither reprimanded him nor ran away. Instead I silently fetched clean towels from the downstairs bathroom; grabbed an entire Costco-sized box of wet wipes. I scrubbed him up and down, and all around, while he stood in our carpeted hallway blubbering, swaying back and forth with true tiredness or horror, who knows?
At long last I had his hair wiped clean; his skinny little grasshopper legs tucked inside soft, warm pjs. Silently I eased him into bed, then went to survey the damage.
I stood there, in the dark, speechless. I ripped off my nightgown. Naked, I surveyed the urine stalactites dripping from the ceiling; the floor puddled with body fluids. I stared at the walls covered in pee, studied the sink faucets sprinkled with tinkle-spray, all while imagining climbing straight into the car to drive far, far away.
Yet I did not flee that night’s terror. Instead I scrubbed the bathroom – walls, floors, sink handles and all. I shoved soaked, reeking linens into the laundry, starting my first load of the day at 4am. I showered. I may or may not have drunk a glass of wine in one, big gulp.
Then I returned to my still darkened bedroom where I ruefully, almost violently, eyed my husband, peacefully snoring, completely unaware of absolutely everything.
Gently I lowered myself down, not to sleep, but to contemplate my own lurking fiends: Could I make it even one more day without running away?
Surprise, surprise, I’ve yet to flee. I’m still here, still pissy.
Today I taught a class full of twenty boys and four girls. No matter what I said, the boys seemed bored, talkative, jumpy, combustible.
I thought about running away. I daydreamed about getting up, going to the bathroom, changing my clothes, walking out the door, never coming back.
Instead I begged those boys to quiet down, stop their screaming.
“WHO keeps on talking?” I demanded, my eyes afire with exasperation.
A boy sitting in the front desk smirked at me. “You do!” he exclaimed. “YOU keep on talking!”
And in that very moment it was as if I was five years old, being shook awake.
“Kristine, Kristine, wake up! This is all just a dream. A scary, crazy dream.”
But it’s not a dream. It’s a new day. Another dollar. Clean clothes, some wet wipes, a bit of wine, and we’ll try again tomorrow.