Cassandra woke up screaming for the third time that week. Sweat beaded on her forehead; her body was cold, damp and heavy. Remnants of a nightmare clung to her brain; the terror caught in her throat and chest. Each night she had the same dream, yet the vision and memories were slower and slower to fade. Each night the dream intensified.
Crying, she sat up, wrapped her arms around her legs and buried her face in her blanketed knees. She heard the crash and clambering that could only be her dad running down the hall half asleep. She peered up at the clock on her dresser. It was just after two in the morning. She was thankful for summer break. Rest was not coming easy these days. She was glad to stay in bed after these episodes that left her exhausted and emotionally drained.
Through the darkness, she could see her dad’s crouched shadow looming in her bedroom door. He walked clumsily to her bed and wrapped his arms around her.
“Did you have a bad dream again?” He held her and stroked her hair. He was always there for her.
Cassandra nodded, but something inside kept scrambling and confusing the words she desperately wanted to tell him. She looked up into his eyes, happy to be in his arms, yet she struggled to articulate, struggled to remember. There was something she had to tell him.
Hopeless, she cried harder and buried her face into his chest.
The next morning she couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling the dream had left. As odd and as troubling as it was, she couldn’t help feeling as if she felt this same uneasiness before. She felt a little silly holding her stuffed bunny like she use to, but it always made her feel better.
I don’t care if I am fourteen, she thought to herself as she cuddled it tighter. She normally kept it on a high shelf in her room as a memento from her young childhood, but something drew her to it.
As she stroked the fur around her bunny’s eyes with her thumbs, she remembered how her mom gave it to her in the weeks leading up to a trip to her grandmother’s house miles away from home. She had just turned six that summer.
“I know you’re feeling nervous about your first week away from home,” she remembered her mother saying, “So I got you a little something to take with you.” She was so warm then.
It was true she was a little nervous about being away from home for a week, but her anxiety felt like so much more than that.
Her mom presented the stuffed floppy bunny with a pink ribbon around its neck and then gave Cassandra a comforting hug.
She looked at the now old and dirty bunny in her lap and remembered how it use to smell just like her mom. She remembered breathing in the smell deeply to make her anxiety go away. She felt the uneasiness then just like she felt it now. She breathed in deeply. It smelled like old forgotten tears. Memories began trickling back into her consciousness. The nightmares. Helen.
She cried again reliving the memories.
She tried to warn her mom. She didn’t want to go to Grandma’s house. It wasn’t just a fear of being homesick. She saw. Her nightmares told her, but no one would listen to her. She found it so strange, so frustrating that she could tell her mom and dad about other dreams and nightmares, but the ones that seemed so real and so terrible could not be articulated no matter how hard she would try.
That was the summer she lost her sister.
Helen was only four. She didn’t understand. The pool looked covered and she thought she could walk on it. Not wanting to be bossed around by her older sister, she stepped out onto the tarp that covered the pool in their grandma’s back yard. Cassandra watched in horror as Helen sank like a stone. Cassandra ran to get help, but by the time she came back, Helen was wrapped up in the tarp, still and cold, just as she had been in her nightmares.
The therapist called her story of the nightmares her way of coping with the tragedy. It was just a story that Cassandra contrived in order to believe she could have stopped it from happening. She eventually let the memories fade from her mind.
Her mother was beside herself. She became withdrawn and distant. She has never been the same since. She missed her mother terribly.
A fresh wave of emotions consumed her and she cried herself to sleep.
When she woke the next day, she was fully conscious of her dream. Although it terrified her, she no longer woke screaming. In her dream, she felt her heart catch in her throat as the phone rang for the third time. Picking it up, she tried to steady her hand. She pressed the receiver to her ear and felt the dread drain the blood from her face. She heard a man’s voice it was Officer Kipley, her dad’s buddy who dropped by from time to time. There had been a robbery at the bank. Her dad was dead. She felt her stomach drop. Somehow the phone left her hand and she was retching on the kitchen floor. After that, everything went dark.
She knew deep down that this was not just a nightmare. She knew this was a premonition just like the one she had so many years ago. She knew she wouldn’t be able to tell anyone and even if she did get the words out, she knew no one would believe her. Perhaps if I cannot warn him, she thought to herself, perhaps I can change his fate myself.
She threw her covers off, jumped out of bed with determination, and ran downstairs to the kitchen. Breakfast was sitting on the counter: bacon and eggs with toast. Her mother was sitting at the kitchen table gazing out the window, as she so often did. She didn’t seem to notice Cassandra when she came in.
“Morning, Mom.” She wrapped her arms around her mother’s shoulders from behind and kissed her on the cheek. Her mom touched her arm lightly. Cassandra always thought this was just how she was, but she could suddenly see the never-ending sorrow from losing her baby.
She needed to come up with a plan to keep her dad away from the bank, but she was suddenly consumed by the loneliness she felt in her mothers presence. She ate her breakfast slowly, wishing there was something she could do.
Just then her dad came into the kitchen gathering his keys, wallet, and phone.
“Ok, I’m running out for a bit before my evening shift. Need anything while I’m out?” he asked as he quickly grabbed a piece of toast to go.
“Eggs.” Her mother said. “We ran out of eggs.”
“Where are you going?” Cassandra asked.
“I’m just going to run a few errands. I need to make sure this check gets deposited and then I can pick up a few things from the store…” he looked around for a notepad and pen. “Ah, here we go.” They were hiding in the junk drawer. “Eggs” he said scribbling in the notepad.
“Please don’t go.” Cassandra begged her dad.
“I’ll be back soon.”
“Let’s make your favorite cookies instead! We’ll cuddle and watch football!”
“First of all, honey, it’s summer. We’re in the off season. Second, we’re out of eggs. Can’t make those cookies without them. We can make cookies after I get eggs, and after I deposit this check. Maybe we can even smuggle them into an air conditioned movie theater.”
“Can I go with you?”
“To the theater? Of course!”
“No, can I run errands with you?”
He looked down at his watch. “How fast can you get ready?”
“I’ll be ready in five minutes!” She ran upstairs, threw on the first outfit she could find, and quickly brushed her teeth.
They were out the door in no time.
She felt so grateful to be with her dad. She savored every moment. They talked the whole way to the bank. As they reached the driveway, she could feel the anxiety catch in her throat. He parked in front of the front doors and ATMs.
“I’ll be quick. You can wait here.”
“I’m coming with you.”
He looked confused. “Ok.”
They both jumped out of the car. As she reached for the doors, she saw him stop at the ATM. He pulled out his wallet, inserted his card, tapped the screen, took out the check, placed it in an envelope, and inserted it in the machine. He gave it a few more taps and the machine spit out his card.
“Uh, yeah.” She was both confused and relieved.
They continued talking and bonding throughout the rest of the errands. She felt so lighthearted and grateful. She had an amazing day. It was so simple yet so meaningful. They made cookies together and snuck them into a matinee like he had promised.
When they returned home, the three of them sat down to an early dinner. They all talked like never before. Her mother even seemed to have some of her old sparkle back. After dinner, her dad went upstairs, changed into his police uniform, and kissed Cassandra and her mom goodnight.
After dinner she and her mom cuddled on the couch and fell asleep watching reruns of old TV shows.
The phone rang, startling her out of a deep sleep. The TV was still on and flickered with police lights from some breaking news piece. Her mom must have turned down the volume before she went to bed. Her heart was racing and her head was spinning. In a daze, she tried to wrap her head around what woke her up.
The phone rang again. Mystery solved. How long had she been asleep? It was dark outside. Everything seemed wrong and yet so familiar.
Then the phone rang for the third time and her heart caught in her throat. Déjà vu.
She picked up the receiver and pressed it to her ear. “Officer Kipley.” She whispered.
“Hey kiddo,” He sounded like he was trying to keep chipper. “Is your mom available?”
Something about the television caught her eye. It was a helicopter view of the same bank they visited earlier that day. “Why are there police cars at the bank?”
“I’m so sorry, Cassy. I was hoping to call before either of you saw the reports.”
“What’s going on?”
“Listen, there was a bank robbery. It ended in a shootout. Your dad was shot.”
Already knowing the answer, she asked with hope “Will he be ok?”
“I’m so sorry, Cass. It was a fatal wound. Please, let me speak to your mother.”
She walked the phone slowly up the stairs thinking about the last time her mom received devastating news. She was so afraid of what this would do to her. She gently woke her mom and handed the phone to her. She sat with her as she received the news. The phone falling from her hand. Her mom screaming in agony. She wrapped her arms around her and together they cried.
“Mom,” she said between sobs. “Please stay with me. You’re all I have left. I need you to be strong. We can get through this together.”
And just like that she saw that, although she may not have been able to change anyone else’s fate, she had the power to change her own.