That harrowing night (and I wish I being melodramatic), is not something our family ever forgot. But before I plough on into this tale, I should give a little context on this;
My older brother, by a grand old one-year, has a mild learning disability. This was diagnosed when he was a school-aged kid as ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder – as distinct from ADHD, which is the one where the kids are on Today Tonight kicking the crap out of everything and vowing to shiv their parents for not allowing them to eat Tim Tams for breakfast… So, conversely to that, my brother was what was deemed to be a little ‘slower’ than other kids, and not more hell bent on cracking desks on skulls, thankfully. My brother had precious little confidence, and often felt frustrated when he was aware that he wasn’t picking up on an instruction or a task as well as he was ‘supposed to’ both in school and at home. But this was mainly concerned with his literacy and numeracy as opposed to other more dextrous, hands-on tasks of logic and comprehension of systems. Yep, my brother leaves most for dead when it comes to understanding visual spatial things/machines … and CoD…
Once, my brother took apart an old lawn-mower motor for fun, and put it all back together again. No manuals, no diagrams. No nothing. He was barely a teenager. He was in his element and for the first time could conquer things that most others couldn’t. This was a source of immense (and long-deserved) pride in him, and something my family henceforth actively encouraged. His natural mastery and skill around complex machines was astounding, and through nothing but instinct, he found one sliver of a refuge from the multitudes of rote-learned strains of bacterial academia he could never seem to cleanse from his sense of inadequacy from the mainstream education system. He was ‘too functional’ for special schools catering to those with alternative learning needs, and as such was subject to an underprepared public school system which wasn’t equipped to ‘deal with’ someone who couldn’t be gently hammered into their system of assessment and progression. It was not the fault of the integration aides, who connected well with him, and tried their utmost within their limited options and ‘accepted’ methods of ‘integration’ into a system fundamentally unsuited to a specialised, yet remarkably sentient and perceptive mind. So, on my brother’s exceptional talents and gifts, I, for one, protected that fiercely from those who might express ridicule, disdain or derisive incomprehension. It was clear that they were reacting to something their feebly combative, empathetically inferior minds could not, or would not understand.
Pivotally, however, my brother was prescribed a drug called Dextroamphetamine to help him maintain concentration in school. This medication is more or less and chemical stimulant. A ‘legal’ speed. Known as Ritalin in the US in particular, it is now more commonly known as a method of getting through further education by staying the hell awake. Even before knowing this more contemporary utilisation, I had – and subsequently still have – my own reservations about these medications having been prescribed to my brother. They made him operate at a level which only served to agitate his own perception of his failings through his already established (and very importantly, untreated) anxiety and anger due to lack of confidence. But, it was the ‘go-to’ mechanism to give to kids who had ADD. Unfortunately, one of the delightful side effects of this medication are night terrors. This is where the tale really begins…
When my brother had his first night terror… Or ‘Child In Living Nightmare’ mode, it was a night like any other. We were shipped off to bed when the dreaded knell of the closing credits of Home and Away sounded, signalling the arrival of 7:30pm. Time for the kids to go to the mattressed dungeon, whining and moaning about how unfair it was that we weren’t tired. Yet, we were being almost physically forced by my mum’s hammer-soft stare to go. It was a wordless directive startlingly more compelling than the loudest telling-off, to go over to the other side of the house and not be awake for a while. Off we trudged. We were all sharing a room at this stage – with the third bedroom serving as a trial ‘rumpus room’ at the time – an eventually failed experiment of mum’s to try to limit the whirlwind of stuff the three of us managed to scatter around the rest of the house, like an enchanted wind-tunnel of assorted miscellany.
Tucked in bed, three in a row. Kids a grand three years apart in total; with my sister as the eldest, my brother the middle at a year younger, and then me, scant a year younger still. We all chatted inconsequentially about how ‘un-tired’ we all were and had our ritual collective grumble about how heinously restrictive the 7:30 lockdown was – and how ‘nobody else’s mum made them go to bed to early‘. As far as we were concerned, Mum was making us even lamer than we already were – like we needed that on top of the jibes about being poor and therefore unforgivably unpopular. Woe! But nevertheless, we all passed out within minutes; our lumpy blanketed forms illuminated by the soft, low-wattage glow of the pilot nightlight my brother and I couldn’t yet sleep without.
The first thing I remembered next were my eyelids snapping open to see the glaring red numbers on the alarm clock on the other side of the room. 2:19am. I had one of those few moments where you know you’re awake, but you’re not entirely sure why or what might have woken you. Then I heard it, my brother, screaming and crying hysterically. Wet, muffled sobs echoing dully from the kitchen dining room area. My heart just about dropped into my guts with instantaneous fear and incomprehension. Everybody else was up already. Kylie’s bed was an empty twist of hot-pink fringed bedspread and flat-sheet and the main bedroom light was switched on. Feeling mildly queasy from the confused adrenaline, my brother’s squelching wails were being quietly hushed by mum. I disentangled myself from my cotton-cocoon and slowly walked out into the dining room. There was John, his reddened face protectively enveloped by mum’s pyjama’d arms. I could instantly see that she was spooked as hell. Her face was linen-white and her eyes were far wider than normal… I stood for a moment, not really knowing what to do or what was really going on. I thought that someone must be hurt, but dad, the natural protector, simply stood, towering meekly over my mum while she embraced my sobbing sibling. Both mum and dad, paragons of stability as parents, ready to protect us to the ends of the earth and all the under-bed monsters in between, were rendered speechless autopilots of vague comfort and frayed nerves against a seemingly invisible enemy…
Then the ambulance arrived, which only served to terrify my poor brother even more. The two tall men, in their stiff jackets and latex gloves took stock within seconds. Nobody was bleeding. All were standing. Conscious. No masked intruders. No swiftly exited assailants… There was nothing really they could do, but they said the magic words to mum; ‘looks like it might have been a night terror.’ My parents had obviously called the ambulance in a panic, but soon after I found out why…
Essentially, I slept through the entire thing. Which is extraordinary considering the story I was told. Apparently my dad heard John yell at the other end of the house, and sprung up to see what was wrong. When he emerged into the dining room, John didn’t react at all the way he was supposed to: he screamed, grabbed the nearest object (which happened to be a plastic clothes basket) and tried to attack dad with it as if he was fighting for his life. Dad, at 6’1″, and having no choice but to attempt to keep him from lashing out any harder, managed to just grab him in a bearhug until he stopped struggling and started to let the crying take over. Mum then appeared. John had begun to awaken then, right there in the dining room. No comprehension of why he was so mortally terrified. Why dad was looking at him like he was a ghost. Why he had this horrible urge just to RUN from whatever it was that was going to get him… It was a tense moment made of the true depths of an unseen horror not immediately able to be defeated. Mum became all instinct, and grabbed John and squished him to her like a mother cub, at a loss as to what else to do.
John doesn’t really remember the dream itself, but recalls that he was approached by a monster (dad) and that he tried to defend himself (clothesbasket) and then he was suddenly in the kitchen bawling his eyes out with everyone watching… then a pair of Ambos turn up… Needless to say, he doesn’t rate the experience highly. Even now, more than a decade later.
Uneasily, the Dexies stuck around for a bit longer. And unfortunately, yet awfully predictably, the strange sleep episodes, hallucinations and all manner of weird stuff kept on happening to John. As soon as we turfed the turbos, my bro was himself again, but he still couldn’t shake his fear of the dark for a long time afterward. Even now, at the age of 25, he will never again see a nightmare as a figure of the mind. The nightmare became him for those minutes, and was as real as his tears at awaking from being an unwilling warrior against mortal horror, and the foundations of his conscious self have never ever been in sync again since.
He has told me this. The shadows are tinged with oil, with fingers reaching from the ends of the cotton dreamscape, at the most random moments, during daylight and midnight alike. And me, as a person who found themselves as helpless as our infallible adult guardians for the long moments of an abject personal abyss, 2:19am will always glare from the electrical veins of sleep to me, whispering back images from a night which changed a boy into a man with stubborn hands, who fought from, and back into, his own home, against his own mind.
-*Posted with permission