My brother was a plastic bag, blowing along the highway in the darkness of night. At least that's what the drowsy truck driver had believed as he'd sped along the route he had taken so many times that he could have, and most probably had at times, done it with his eyes closed.
But his eyes hadn't been closed that night. He had seen the flash of colour, moving slowly, making its way to the shoulder of the road. He had taken a final gulp of his energy drink, and quickly tossed it into the foot well of the passenger seat so that he could change gears. By the time he looked again and realised that it was the brakes, not the clutch, that he needed right at that moment, it was too late. Too late for him, and far, far, too late for Wes.
I think it was the smell that woke me. I don’t know if that is actually possible – for a scent other than ammonia to have the power to rouse you from sleep. But it was the first thing I remembered when my eyes opened that night. It was the smell of a sweaty, drunk guy squeezing past me on a crowded, stuffy train. A sweaty drunk guy wearing a hint of cologne.
I sat up in bed, my heart racing as I searched the room for him. By the light of the moon I scanned the room and saw nothing but my belongings. I was surprised by how badly my hand was trembling as I reached for my bedside lamp.
He had to be under my bed, or in my wardrobe. What did he want? And what was I going to do?
Holding my breath, I listened for the sound of his breathing. But my heart was pounding so hard, the blood pumping in my ears so loudly that I couldn’t hear anything else. The thud-thud-thud in my chest was really beginning to hurt. My head was growing lighter and lighter and I knew I had to breathe, or scream, or do something… before he did.
I must have screamed. I don’t remember it but I must have because next thing I knew my parents were busting through my bedroom door. Dad smacked the light on and Mum came rushing to my side.
“There’s someone in here!” I warned them, pulling my mum onto the bed with me. Reflexively, she snatched her feet up off the floor, as though saving her legs from the jaws of a crocodile.
Without wasting time on questions my dad slid my wardrobe doors open, nearly tearing them off their tracks. Shoving the clothes aside, he found no one. In an instant, he was crouched down, peering under my bed. No one.
Next he flew to the window, only to find the flyscreen securely in place.
“I.. I smelt him! I almost felt him!”
My dad turned and left the room.
My mum held me even tighter. “What did you see, Ella? What made you scream?”
I didn’t know. Not really. I just felt it – felt intensely afraid. “Ma, I felt like he wanted to kill me. Like he was furious and wanted to kill me.”
She kissed my head. “It’s okay, sweetheart. There’s nobody here now. It was just a dream. Just a nasty, nasty dream.”
When my dad came back to my room he was puffed out. “Ella, there’s no sign of anyone having entered our house-”
I know a look or a shake of the head from my mum silenced him because he stopped suddenly mid-sentence.
“I’m sorry, Dad. I must have been dreaming again.”
“No need to apologise, El. I’m just glad you’re alright.”
He nodded goodnight and as he turned to leave I caught the look of concern on his face.
My mum was still kissing my head. She gently rocked me in her arms. “You know, you never went through the bogey-man-under-bed phase, or the night terror stage as a little one, but you’re certainly making up for it now.”
I knew she meant no offense but I want to scream at her, to tell her that this was no bogey man. The only problem was, I didn’t know what I could possibly say it was. Only that I was thoroughly convinced that it was real.
One day I overheard my mum and her friend talking about it.
Her friend said, “Well if it’s not trauma from her brother’s death, then maybe it’s an attention-seeking thing. I mean, everything has been ‘poor Wes’ this and ‘poor Wes’ that. Ella has been shoved out of the way by this monumental thing that has happened to your family.”
I didn’t think my mum was going to say anything. I thought she was just going to let this woman who knew nothing about me make her grand assumptions about me. But after a moment’s silence Mum replied, “No. Ella’s not like that. Nothing like that all. The dreams are real… to her. She would never just invent something like this. We just have to be supportive and patient, and we’ll eventually get to the bottom of it.”
I knew that Mum wanted to believe that. I knew that she literally prayed every night for this Night Terror to leave me alone. But I also knew that it wasn’t going to be easy as that. She was the only who knew that the dreams had, in fact, begun before Wes’ death.
Wes was alive and well. Just as alive and well as the rest of us. None of us imagined that he would walk out the door one day soon and that we would never see him alive again.
We never imagined it, but I dreamed it. And if had known then what power my dreams held, my brother might still be alive today...
Mr Newland ushers me into a low, Department of Education standard issue vinyl covered chair and then tiptoes around his desk to his seat. It’s not a pronounced, creeping sort of tiptoe, but I do distinctly notice that his heels are slightly raised off the ground as he walks. It’s as though he’s not used to wearing flat shoes.
He smiles and says, “Thank you for coming Ella. This doesn’t have to take up your entire lunch break. I just wanted a quick chat – if that’s okay with you?”
If that’s okay with me? All this time the teachers have been whispering amongst themselves trying to decide what’s best for me; telling me I’m under no obligation but I really ought to go see the school counsellor. They bail me up in one of the corridors and practically drag me to his office. Now he asks if it’s okay with me? Actually it’s not. I’d rather be out in the quadrangle hanging out with my friends. I’m going to miss out on the big announcement Angie was going to make. My sandwich is going to go soggy in my bag. And no matter how hard I try not to, I’m probably going to end up walking out of this room in tears.
“Alright,” Newland continues, seeing plainly on my face that I don’t want to be here. “I really just want to know how things are going with you, El. How do you feel you’re coping?”
He tiptoes when he walks, and whispers when he talks.
“Fine,” I reply.
“Uh huh. And by fine you mean…?”
“I mean…fine. You know, okay.”
“Mmm hmm. Alright.”
I prepare to stand up and leave because I think that’s the end of the conversation – well, I pretend to think that, but Newland leans forward in his seat and whispers, “Do you know why you’re here today, Ella?”
“Because the teachers have been at me about it. They’re probably worried that I’m going to totally freak out in the middle of one their classes and they won’t know what to do. So they’re sending me to freak out in front of you instead.”
Newland starts to smile but then a look flickers across his face as he wonders whether or not I am actually joking. He aborts the smile and instead runs his hand over his beard.
“Well, you’re right - your teachers are concerned. But they are genuinely concerned about you because they care. If you were to… freak out it wouldn’t matter whose class it was in. What would matter is that you got the appropriate support. And I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying prevention is better than cure.”
I nod and make to leave again.
“But there is another reason as well, Ella,” Newland continues. “Your parents also wanted to be sure that you’re getting the support you need when you’re not at home. They tell me they’ve spoken to you about that. They’re concerned that you’re no longer attending your private counselling sessions.”
“The counselling didn’t work. They know that. They’re just worried I’ll fail the HSC. They’re worried I’ll totally flunk out with no hope of getting into uni. Then what will they do with me? They can’t have me moping around the house, unemployed; unemployable.
They’re not worried about me cracking up. We Mokoenas don’t crack up. We occasionally turn up dead in odd places, but we generally don’t crack up.”
He winces. He didn’t expect me to make this easy for him, did he?
“What does that mean, ‘we occasionally turn up dead in odd places’?”
“Nothing.” Just me running my smart mouth.
He persists. “So it means nothing? It was just a throw away remark?”
“It sounded more to me like you were reaching out, wanting to get something off your chest,” he pursues. Then he waits.
Damn shrinks! ‘Reaching out’ But it worked; he’s reeled me in. “I hate that my brother died, okay. I hate the way he died!”
I want to cry but I’m too angry. My throat’s all tight and I can feel my face absolutely burning up. “It sucks; it totally sucks what some families go through!”
Newland is shocked by my sudden outburst. But now I’m on a roll. I wish I could just shut up and let the topic go but Newland’s pushed some button and now it’s all gushing out of me. I tell him something that I have never told anyone outside my family, not even my closest friends.
“My cousin was murdered. Everyone said he was such a lovely person - kind, generous, hardworking, respectful. He didn’t have time to hang around on street corners kicking stones. He didn’t have time to stand as look out or drive the getaway car after home invasions. He was looking after his sick mother and his five brothers and sisters.
The stone-kicking home invaders didn’t like that. They’d teach that goody goody a lesson. They hunted him down like an animal. Then they killed him. To get rid of the body, they chopped him up into pieces and left him in a box, in a vacant lot, for some unsuspecting passer-by to stumble across. No witnesses were willing to come forward. No one was ever charged for the crime.
Another relative of mine, another Mokoena, was kidnapped. Then the kidnappers demanded a ransom. Her parents scraped together everything they had, paid up and headed off to go get their daughter back.”
Newland lets out the breath he had been holding and relaxes his shoulders. He thinks that’s the happy ending to my sad tale, and begins to smile.
But I’m not finished yet. “On their way to the collection they were stopped by a police car – telling them they were urgently required at the airport, at customs. They were given no choice. They were hustled off with police escorts and very few of their questions were answered on the way.
At customs they were told a delivery had arrived, addressed to them...”
“It was a coffin. With their daughter’s body inside.
It was the dodgy stitching that gave it all away. The pathologist said he had never seen such appalling autopsy stitching in his life. It was as he was marvelling over the awful work that he noticed the bit of plastic poking out from between the stiches.”
Newland has gone sickly pale. He clutches the edges of his desk; unable to ask me to desist, yet unable to go on listening to the gory account.
“They had hollowed her out and packed her body full of drugs.
She – my second cousin – was one of the test runs for a drug smuggling scam that they were operating all over the world.”
A sharp gasp tugs me out of my trance. I look up to find Mr Newland staring at me, outraged, as if I were the one who’d committed the atrocities.
Finally he finds the facility of speech. “Is this… is this true, Ella? I know you’re very angry, very upset, very confused-”
“Didn’t you want me to open up? So I do and you accuse me of lying!”
“Ella, I’m sorry but what you’re telling me… it’s …it’s, quite frankly…”
“I know it’s hard to believe. It’s disgusting. It’s horrendous. And if you’re wondering – no, it didn’t happen in Australia. It was in Africa. It’s so frickin’ unfair. But it’s true. It happened.
So you see, we Mokoenas turn up dead in odd places and every now and then. But we don’t crack up.”
He has lost his power of speech again as he tries to process what I have just said. And after a long silence he finally takes a deep breath and looks at me again.
“I am so sorry to hear what you have been through. And I am sorry that you have not yet found a counsellor to help you work through the massive trauma you’ve experienced. But it is important that you persevere, Ella. You cannot carry that burden – those memories, those feelings, on your own.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If your parents and teachers said they were concerned that a spot on your skin might be a melanoma, would you ignore their concern? A skin cancer can be almost undetectable on the surface, or at least look like any other freckle on your skin. But under the surface it is absolutely wreaking havoc with your cells. Too many times it is simply unstoppable by the time it has been diagnosed.”
“So now we’re talking about skin cancer?” But I know exactly what he’s saying.
“Ella, you know exactly what I mean. And this attitude of yours is one of the things that are of concern to us. It’s just not like you at all. ”
I don’t mean to sound like a brat. But everything and everyone gets on my nerves so quickly these days. I just can’t shake off the anger, the pain. I just feel like someone took my once happy-go-lucky, positive outlook on life and spat on it, trampled on it, smeared it in blood and then put it back together again for me to deal with. Sometimes I just feel like I can’t be bothered making an effort with anything anymore.
My English teacher, Mrs Bartlett, told my parents that she was worried about my falling marks and deteriorating attitude. She asked me a million times if I was okay and I told her I was. But at parent and teacher night she blabbed to my parents about my supposed bad attitude. She called it ‘expressing her concerns’ but I call it straight out blabbing. I don’t think my parents would have been all that worried if Bartlett hadn’t said anything. My dad has never had much in faith in psychology and all that intangible airy-fairy stuff. We’ve tried it and don’t seem to have gained anything from it. So we make do with what we have, which is each other, and we’ve all been coping. I think.
I slip back into my seat and straighten up my shoulders. I fear I’m showing signs of this deteriorating attitude that Mrs Bartlett was on about. I decide to smarten up my act a bit.
“Alright, Mr Newland, I know that my parents think I should talk to you just to make sure I’m okay. It’s just that I’m sick of everyone poking and prodding at me. Watching me and waiting. Waiting for what? I’m not going to freak out. I’m not going to kill myself or do anything drastic.”
“That’s good to hear, Ella. I do believe that you have a resilient spirit there, but please, do tell somebody if things change. Grief comes in waves. From a distance some waves look massive and terrifying but by the time they reach you they are actually much smaller and far more bearable. Then at other times you suddenly find yourself caught in a storm with waves that turn out to be far bigger and rougher than they first appeared. I don’t recommend that you try and ride that storm alone, Ella. If you do feel that you might harm yourself, we can help you.”
“Help me harm myself?” I splutter, half choking on the saliva I was about to swallow.
Newland goes a bit pink. “Pardon me!” he says urgently. “I meant that we can help you with those feelings. We have a range of options for treating and eliminating those feelings. You’re right though, people are probably watching you more than usual. But I don’t think anybody’s looking out for you to do anything drastic.”
“But they are waiting for something.”
“Perhaps waiting for you to do something quite ordinary, Ella. Something quite natural – like crying. You’ve been so stoic and people aren’t accustomed to seeing that in a young girl.”
“Crying? Been there, done that.”
I cried when the police told us how Wesley had died. I imagined that it must have been so very terrifying. They tried to make us feel better by telling us that he was probably only semi-conscious and wouldn’t have felt much in those last moments. I held back the tears as I wondered how semi-conscious you would need to be not to feel a truck running over the top of you at full speed, all but severing one of your limbs.
But thinking about whatever it was that would have put him into a state semi-consciousness made me even more upset and I couldn’t help bawling.
I cried because none of us were there to soothe him in his last moments.
I cried when I said goodbye to him at the funeral home. As I looked down at his corpse in the coffin, I remembered sudden chunks of information from the novel-thick pathology report that I pinched from my parents’ dressing table drawer, and just wanted to scream. His face was lovely, and he looked beautiful in his suit. But it was the tie that did me in – his favourite red silk tie done up nice and snugly, so as not to reveal any nasty remnants of the awful pathological procedure. They took out all his organs, weighed them, dissected them and God knows what else. They cut open his stomach to see what he had last eaten, and when. And then what did they do with it all? What about his heart – his beautiful, kind and sweet heart? What had they done with that?
I wanted to scream when I thought about what was hidden away under that neatly fastened tie. I reached out. I touched his chest, wanting to shake him awake. But I had to stifle a scream and quickly pull my hand away. He felt hard and hollow, like a mannequin. My throat ached and I thought my head would burst as I cried silently, holding in the wails and moans that wanted desperately to explode out of me.
Wes had always been so hard to wake up, especially after he’d been away from home all weekend. I’d come home from school and find him in such a deep sleep that I feared that he was dead. No matter how many times I told myself he was just asleep, I’d feel my heart rate rising as I watched him lying there, barely appearing to be breathing.
I’d watch and wait, then the panic would set it in and I would pounce to his side, shaking, slapping and screaming at him till he woke up. I really shook the hell out of him and he still would take a while to come around. Then he’d look at me, dazed, like ‘What did you do that for? And where am I anyway?’
I would be left with a mixture of relief, anger, and a deep, achy sense of dread in the pit of my stomach. We never talked about it though. I wish we had.
I cried at his funeral. I cried when I thought about my mother and what she had lost. I cried when I thought about my father and what he had lost.
I cried when I thought about the very last conversation I had had with Wes. It was more of an argument than a conversation actually – about my bestie, Angie. He had come out with a remark about her out of the blue and it totally threw me because Wes was never the lecturing type. He never criticized me and he was always very diplomatic about giving me advice, probably because I’m such a know-it-all and he knew that it wouldn’t be worth his while.
But I’d noticed that he had been really distracted and edgy on this particular day. After watching him enter the room, sit down for five minutes and then get up and leave again, only to go wandering around the house and then come back again – and then up and leave again I finally went up to him and asked him what was wrong.
His was response was, “Mum’s right. You hang around with Angie too much.” It looked as though it pained him to say that. “You’ve got plenty of other friends. They’re really great girls, from nice families, why don’t you spend more time with them?”
“I spend enough time with my other friends. How would you know, anyway?”
“El, you two are practically joined at the hip. And when she’s not with you she’s off getting up to shit that you wouldn’t even dream about. One day she’s gonna drag you into that shit… Look, I just don’t like the way she uses you. You’re a good girl, El. You’re a nice girl and if it wasn’t for you Angie’d have no friends.”
“Well isn’t that all the more reason why I should be her friend? It’s so mean to say that I should ditch her because she’s not good enough – that’s what you’re saying isn’t it?”
He looked at me for ages. He looked tired; a deep and heavy sort of tired. And he looked frustrated. He hated arguing with me and his gaze was beseeching me to – just this once – shut my trap and let someone else be right. “You’re too good for her El and that’s just how it is. It’s a crappy thing to say but it’s the damn truth. She’ll hurt you and she’ll bring you down. She’ll bring you down big time, El. Then she won’t be there when you’re struggling to find your way back up again.”
I thought he was going burst into tears. I was still trying to understand where all this had suddenly come from. “Why are you turning on me like this, Wes? Have Mum and Dad been on your case or something?”
He shook his head, making a point of not meeting my gaze. He couldn’t speak. It was like he knew something about her that I didn’t. But that wasn’t possible. He’d barely ever said “Boo!” to her whenever she came over. He’d greet my other friends, ask them how they were, et cetera, but with Angie he would just nod, like ‘Yeah, I see you there,’ then he’d he get on with whatever he was doing.
“Angie’s my best friend. I didn’t choose her, it just happened that way. She’s not as bad as everyone likes to make out and maybe I’m not as good as everyone thinks I am either. Just because you have crappy friends who aren’t even real friends and who don’t care about you and only call you when they’re about get into something that involves getting busted by the cops, it doesn’t mean that I do too.”
He flinched and I should have shut my trap right then and there but I didn’t. I went on and on about how at least I didn’t have to pretend to be someone else to make and keep friends. I could see I had really hurt his feelings and it was only the slight glint of tears - just threatening to fill his eyes - that finally shut me up.
I don’t think I had ever hurt him that much in our lives. I try not to think about that moment if I can help it. I get sick in the stomach every time I do.
I cried every time I walked past the places he used to hang out. I cried every time I saw someone who knew him and hadn’t heard the news of his death. I would cry because I knew that they would ask “How’s Wes going?” and I would have to tell them that he wasn’t going at all. I cried and I cried and I cried and then I just dried out.
I open my mouth to protest, or to say something – I don’t know what. Newland gets in before I do.
“Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you have to break down and cry in public to soothe people’s awkward consciences. It’s just that many people simply do not understand the grieving process. Even we, in this very profession, cannot claim to fully understand it. But to the layperson, crying is the principal outward sign of grief. They believe that after you have a bit a cry, a cup of tea and a lie down, you start feeling better. Then they can start feeling better too. So they’re all subconsciously waiting to see you cry so that they can know that you’re all right. They’re worried that you’re bottling it up and that it’s not healthy for you. You know you don’t have to keep things inside, don’t you? Even the negative feelings.”
“But I strongly suggest that you keep trying with the counselling, Ella. It’s good that you’re letting your anger out, but we have to be careful that the anger doesn’t take over and start masking the pain. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to rage than to allow yourself let the aching take hold of you.”
“Well, you’d be angry too if…”
“If someone I loved died? Of course I would." Newland fired back. "As a matter of fact, I lost my twin sister to cancer - skin cancer - some years ago. I was angry about it. Why wasn’t the cancer detected sooner? Why haven’t they found a cure? Why does the death have to be so agonizing and slow? And why didn’t… why didn’t Julie look after herself better? You know, it’s quite natural to be angry at the deceased loved one too.”
Unexpectedly, my eyes well up with tears. “Oh, Mr Newland, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude about the skin cancer thing before. But this… well, this is… different.”
“Look Ella, I’m not trying to compare or qualify grief. Unexpected deaths are a massive shock to the system. It doesn’t hurt any less to watch a loved one slowly wasting away, but the trauma of a sudden, violent death takes a different toll, and I acknowledge that. What I’m saying is that anger is only one of the feelings we experience as a result. My concern is the intensity of anger you seem to be feeling at the moment. It shouldn’t go unchecked. If you would only continue with your counselling then…”
“You don’t understand, Mr Newland.”
There’s no way he possibly could understand. Not without knowing about the dreams. And there’s no way I’m telling him about those. He’d think I was crazy. Right now he thinks I’m a bit messed up, but if told him about the dreams he’d have me certified. That’s what the others tried to do.
To be honest, I sometimes wonder about it. I mean, who am I to say whether or not I’m really crazy? Wouldn’t it be natural for me to deny it, even if - especially if - I were stark raving? But I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who I could talk to. No one would understand. I don’t understand. So I’ve stored those thoughts away in the DBD – Dead Brother Department – and I’ll leave them locked up there till I have some idea what I’m supposed to do with them.
When I had the first dream, I woke up with a massive headache, and all queasy and seedy like I was really hung over or something. It was a school night and I’d gone to bed at around ten o’clock. My mum nearly had fit because I actually stank of alcohol when she came to wake me up. It was a massive deal.
I couldn’t convince my parents that I had not drunk and or even looked at alcohol. They searched my room for any evidence. My dad went through his liquor cabinet and my mum just sat on my bed, asking me the same questions over and over. They got themselves into a tizzy, and they got me all worked up but we still had no idea what the hell had the happened.
Naturally, the situation escalated. My parents started yelling and screaming at me, then they yelled and screamed at each other. They ended up dragging me down to emergency. I don’t know how they convinced the nurses to arrange a blood test for me but I’m glad they did in the end, because they all came up negative.
Even so, my dad could never quite wipe the mistrusting frown off his face whenever he looked at me. Sometimes I’d sense him watching me from a distance. I’d turn and catch him, brows furrowed, looking like he was trying to solve a really complex puzzle.
My mum didn’t take as long to come around. She had no choice. She slept in my room for a week, and sure enough, on the third night she said I had been restless; tossing and turning and moaning in my sleep. She said she was just about to wake me up when I suddenly groaned loudly, rolled out of bed and went stumbling to the toilet to vomit.
“You were as drunk as a skunk!” she’d cried as we stood in the kitchen discussing the situation. She turned to my dad, waving her arms and nearly spilling her hot tea. “She was a drunk as a-”
“I heard you, Pamela!”
He marched out of the room and out the back door. That’s how discussions with my dad go.
When my mum finally got the ‘drunk as a skunk’ business out of her head, she sat quietly and let me tell her the rest of the dream.
She looked at me for a moment, holding back tears. “El, you loved Wes dearly. He was your only brother and he was ripped - very violently - out of your life. Of course your heart and mind are going to try and hold onto the memory of him for as long as possible. You know that towards… towards the end of his life Wes was partying and drinking a lot. That has obviously stuck in your mind. ”
“But Mum, those weren’t memories. They certainly weren’t my memories. It was actually like I was trapped in somebody else’s nightmare. It was like I was him… Wes….in some way, but still me… watching. ”
“For some reason, you’ve gripped onto the nature of his death, and that’s what your nightmares are about. Try to meditate on the good things before you go to sleep. Try to think of the great stuff you two did together.”
“But what about the way I’ve been waking up? How can that be? How can I be actually physically feeling the stuff that happens in the dream?”
She just shook her head. She found it easier to totally ignore the ‘drunk as a skunk’ thing. Either way, whether I was a closet alcoholic, or possessed by my dreams, it all still belonged in the ‘Too Hard Basket’ as far as she was concerned.
A few weeks later when I woke up with a gash on my forehead, above my left eye, she just cried silently as she gathered her handbag and keys to take me to the doctor.
At the door she hesitated, then turned to me. The look in her eyes scared me.
“Listen Ella,” her voice was low and trembly. “We need to talk. I’ve been hoping and praying that this would all go away but I need to tell you something.”
She gently but firmly grabbed my arm and led me into my room. She sat on my bed and pulled me down beside her. She had to pull me because I’d gone all numb and tingly and I couldn’t really move.
“Please don’t be frightened, Ella. I just want to talk to you about your dreams.”
I knew it! I knew she knew something more than she was letting on. I always felt that she was never quite as freaked out as she ought to have been.
“I’ve been having dreams too,” she confessed.
“But… when…? What have you been dreaming about?”
“Oh, my beautiful boy!” she started to sob. “He is so beautiful and radiant, so handsome!”
I was so relieved that she was having positive experiences. I hate to think of her seeing her son in the state that I have seen him in my dreams. I started to feel comfortable enough to tell her about some of my earlier dreams.
“At first, after it first happened, he would kind of come in hesitantly. He would just peep his head around a doorway and ask me if you were around. If you weren’t, he would tip toe in ask me to tell you that he was terribly sorry. I could feel it, Mum, he just felt really bad about dying... about being dead.”
Mum’s sobbing slowly subsided. She started to half smile as she nodded again. “I know. It all took him by surprise. He wasn’t ready.
He would hide from me too. I understand now that he didn’t want me to see his damaged body. He’d always stand behind pieces of furniture to hide the lower half of his body.
But once he’d - well I don’t know what to call it - crossed over? All signs of the accident completely disappeared. He had his beautiful injury free body and he was absolutely radiant!”
“What about my dreams, then?” I am puzzled. “Why is he still so… messed up?”
“Ella, I think he was opening up to you. Did you ask him things?”
Ask him things? What does she mean? Is she suggesting that I am somehow responsible; that I have somehow been conjuring the nightmares? I close my eyes and think.
“Well, I guess I asked him what happened. I don’t know why but the police report just didn’t… it just didn’t sound right, and it didn’t feel right.”
Now that I had started to voice my deepest thoughts they just kept flowing out.
“I mean, it was a plausible scenario and everything, but it just felt wrong. So I asked him. He didn’t want to say, though. Every time I asked, he would just fade away.”
Mum squeezed my hand. “He doesn’t want us to dwell on that, sweetheart. But he also knows what you’re like. I think he was finally ready to open up to you.”
“I don’t think he realises how powerful his energy is.”
“What do you mean, Mum?”
“Look Ella, this stuff is not to be taken lightly. If it weren’t in my family, if hadn’t experienced this sort of thing in the past, I would be running in search of an exorcist. But your grandmother and several aunts on both sides have always had contact with the dead, and I grew up with it too. I’ve tried to push it aside because it really isn’t in keeping with our Christian faith, but when my mother and son come to me, I cannot dismiss them. I cannot see it as Satan’s work. They come filled with such a powerful force of love and warmth that I can only associate it with God and the love that emanates from him. I don’t understand how it all fits together but it has to, somehow.”
“So Wes’ energy, Ma? Why is it leaving me feeling so awful? Apart from the physical signs, I wake up feeling absolutely wretched, Mum. I feel… harassed… exhausted… terrified…”
“Just like your brother did at the end of his life,” she says.
As soon as her words were out I felt I was beginning to understand what had been happening! Why it was happening was still beyond me, but at least I was starting to feel a little less insane.
The gash above my started to throb again. I hadn’t looked at it closely but it felt like it needed stitches. It felt like my skull wanted to pop out through the broken skin. I must have winced or gasped because my mum seemed to suddenly remember it was there. She stood up.
“Let’s go get that seen to.”
“Wait Mum” I took her hand. “Please don’t mention the dreams to them anymore. That social worker has no idea what she’s dealing with. The easiest way out for her is to have me locked away somewhere where I’ll be drugged out of my head half the time. Then that’ll be the end of my crazy dreams. Zombies tend not to dream, I should imagine.”
Mum clicked her tongue. “I’m glad you find all this amusing. I won’t say anything to the doctors-”
“To anyone!” I interrupted.
“- but I am going to ask the minister and elders for prayers for you. I won’t give all them all the details. All they need to know is that you’re going through a very difficult time at the moment and need some spiritual support. They love you so much, Ella. They’ve practically watched you grow up. I’d love it if you come to a prayer meeting. And they’d love it too.”
Then I agreed. She’d agreed to my request not to tell anyone – not even the ‘professionals’ - about my freaky dreams, so it was only fair that I agree to hers.
We met. We drank tea. We ate shortbread and overly buttered finger buns. And we prayed and prayed. I cried. I was hugged and comforted by all. Then I went home I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed, exhausted.
But the dreams didn’t stop. They never have. It’s like they’re trying to completely ruin my life. They force me to see things I don’t want to see. They force me to feel things that I would never wish on anybody else. They terrify me and leave me physically ill. But worst of all, they remind me of Wes. No, remind, isn’t the right word. It doesn’t capture the essence of the experience. Like I keep trying to explain to my mum; it’s like Wes is sending me the dreams. It’s like I am Wes.
But why? Why would he send me such awful experiences? The professionals keep throwing phrases at me like me if they give it a name it’ll go away; ‘post traumatic stress disorder’, ‘survivor guilt’, ‘mind over matter’. The label they’re trying out at the moment is ‘psychosomatic.’
They can call it whatever they like, I know it’s real. My body knows it’s real. And most importantly, in my heart and mind I know that my brother is trying to communicate to me through these dreams. I just wish the message wasn’t so damn painful and frightening. It’s a puzzle he wants me to solve and it makes me so mad that his soul is not resting in peace. It’s just not fair.