“IN YOUR SLEEP (A Mother’s Greatest Fears)”

Nobody asked you to be tough, to always stand tall for everybody. I didn’t know where you’d gotten the idea from.

A few months after your father’s funeral, you moved out. That new job was located far away from home. You needed a rented room nearby, because the traffic was always heavy.

Like all mothers, I never wanted you to leave. If possible, I’d rather keep you close for always.

However, I knew that would make you feel unhappy. I know that doesn’t mean you don’t love me, despite their accusations on you. You’ve longed for an independent life since you were 18.

“Besides,” you told me, “this is my turn to start taking care of you, not the other way around.”

I sighed. Very well, then.

Three years later, it’s still the same. We’ve been living separately, even in the same city. You only return home once in a while, mostly on the weekends. Sometimes we meet up at some restaurant or mall and hang out all day.

I miss you. I miss our Sunday mornings together by the front porch, with our coffee and my crosswords puzzles. Sometimes you read a book or write on your notebook too.

We don’t talk much anymore. I understand that you’re busy. You’ve grown up too. Perhaps you think it’s time you solved your own problems.

Be careful what you wish for. You know many rarely take that seriously until it happens.

You stayed over that weekend. As usual, you slept in your old room that night. I passed by your door when I suddenly heard you mumbling. Obviously, you were talking in your sleep, so I quietly opened the door and entered your room.

“Stop.” You were frowning with your eyes closed. You looked angry. “Stop it. You stop it. Stop looking at her! Look at me. I’m your daughter too, for God’s sake!”

I froze, unable to believe what I’d just heard. Is that why you’ve stopped sharing stories with me? You think I love your sister more?

That’s not true. You know I love you too. It’s just that, your sister has always asked for more attention. You’ve mostly kept quiet. All that time, I thought you were okay.

I’m sorry you feel that I’ve pushed you away…

“I miss Tobey…”

This time, you sounded sad. My heart just went out to you. You’ve always wanted a big brother. I love your hazel-eyed best friend too. Tobey has always been protective of you. He was so caring whenever he was around.

I know you always miss him when he returns to his home country, dear…

I thought that was it, but then you mentioned another name in your sleep:


Who is it? Your frown was not just of anger, but also…fear. You started moving about in your sleep, your mumblings growing louder and much clearer.

“Stop it. I don’t want it. Max, stop it! You’re hurting me.”

My blood ran cold. Who was Max, baby? Why was he hurting you?

I had to grab hold of your hands when you started clawing at your own arms. No, not clawing, I realised. You looked like you were trying to let go of someone’s grip.

“Let me go, Max. I said no! Stop it, you’re hurting me.” You were sobbing now. I shook you awake, pleading:

“Wake up. Honey, please wake up!”

You finally stopped and opened your eyes. I thought you were fully awake, so I said, “Sssh, it’s okay. You’re okay now. Sssh…”

Then you went back to sleep. For the rest of that night, I was lying next to you, holding your hand and stroking your hair…

— // —

You looked completely different in the morning light. Gone were the frown and the tears from the night before. Had I imagined them all? You smiled at me while having your breakfast.

“Everything okay, Mommy?”

“What? Oh, yes.” So I joined you for breakfast. Silence filled the room, mixed with our gulps and clanking of the spoons against the bowl.

After that, it was your time to leave again. The weekend was almost over. The weekdays were ahead. Time to start working again.

“Do you need to bring anything else?” I suddenly asked. When you shook your head, I smiled and said, “Take care, dear.”

“I love you so much, Mommy.” You were smiling back at me, which made me see the ghost of your father for a while then. I silently choked, thinking:

Have I failed her, Ray? I wish you were still here. You’d always understood her better.

I didn’t know why your eyes reminded me of the time you were six, accidentally breaking my favourite china. You hadn’t been crying, but your eyes were pleading – a silent apology.

“I love you too, baby.” There. I’d just missed another opportunity. I stood there as I let you kiss my cheek, turn around, and walk away. The moment the door closed, I sat down and cried.

Do you hide your tears too, everytime you turn away? I think your violent dreams have been enough. I’ve heard more than enough in your sleep.

But how do I get you to talk to me in your waking hours? How do I convince you that no, I’m not going to be angry? I promise you, baby, even when I’m not ready. I just need to knw what’s been bothering you lately.

Please, you can tell Mommy…

Nobody has ever asked you to always be tough, so I’m wondering why you’ve chosen to go down that road anyway…



(Jakarta, 19/10/2017 – for Jakarta’s Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Weekly Writing Challenge at Caribou Coffee, Sarinah – Thamrin, Central Jakarta. Topic: “sleep”.)


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