this is why i'm awake in a quiet house before the sun

I'm not going back to sleep after that dream. I'm not a sucker.

The therapist said her daughter was named Beth but I knew that was a lie. She probably didn't even have a daughter.

In my dream my son disappeared and I couldn't remember the circumstances surrounding the disappearance. I found myself sitting at a conference table with Ryan talking to the therapist whose sleek black bob was too polished for a grief counselor if you asked me.

"If Beth disappeared I'd be at my wit's end too," she said.

I didn't know how to respond to that. At my wit's end was a place I'd been when I couldn't find my car keys.

The problem was that things kept not being where I left them. I took a sip of very cold water from a styrofoam cup, heard the hollow "tunk" of the cup land on the table, and when I reached for it again it was a cheap ceramic mug filled with overbrewed Lipton tea.

We were playing a board game, a game so long in scope that we played a little further every session but never seemed to get any closer to the end. The game board was black and craggy and held a winding dark gray path with some squares that seemed to glow red as if lava surged beneath the glossy cardboard.  I swear when the board opened the room got darker.

The problem was that one day I arrived and the grief counselor's hair was blonde and cut in shaggy layers.

The problem was that I couldn't find the picture of my son that I needed to find. There was one photograph of him leaning in toward the camera, his mouth a perfect o, his eyes shining, that I couldn't find and I had to find, I had to find, I had to find.

One night I found the faint thread of a memory that the last time I'd seen the picture I'd been filling one of those party drink dispensers with ice, water, and lemon wedges. The drink dispenser was a loan from a friend so I went to her house in the middle of the night and broke in and found the drink dispenser on a shelf in the garage but the picture wasn't there.

The next day when I went back to the therapist she said "shall we continue" and opened a Candy Land board. "Now where were we?"

One night I woke up and reached for my phone. I searched the New York Times: 4-year-old, missing, body. Nothing. I was relieved. If it wasn't in the Times, it hadn't happened. I went back to sleep.

I woke up again and went to his room and his bed was empty and I called his name and nothing answered. I shook out his blankets, just to be sure.

I went back to the therapist and a girl was sitting next to her. "This is Beth," she said. "Her sweater says Rose," I responded. It did say Rose. The therapist smiled conspiratorially, "Does it? Actually it's neither."

I found another memory that I'd been sitting on hot cement steps in a backyard I'd never seen, a yard more dirt than straw grass, a new fence of yellow wood, my feet in rubber flip flops, dusty.

I heard his voice.

I told the therapist she was a bitch, telling me I was at my wit's end. She furrowed her brow. "I never said that." I told her she was a bitch, making me play this game that looked like a descent into hell. She spoke quietly, "I have no games in this office." I looked at the shelf. It was empty.

The problem was that things kept not being where I left them. I asked, "Am I hallucinating? Am I insane?" And then the therapist said, "If you wanted to find him you'd find him," and then I woke up.


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