They stood in the kitchen, all six of them. The kitchen was not one I had ever seen before, but was as familiar as every kitchen I had ever been in. They stood together, not side by side, but casually grouped, as though they were posing for a photo. The youngest sat on the bar, the arm of an older brother around his shoulders.
They were all looking at me, expectantly. One of them spoke. He said, “One day you’ll look back and see that the last time you held us as a little boy came and went and you didn’t even know it was the last time.” I gasped. His words carried a shockingly heavy weight. They were true. I looked at them, weirdly driven to dive into the group and grab them and try to hold them or pick up the littlest one to prove I still could, to prove I still had time.
I remained frozen, however, unable to move at all. I was only able to look at them. It was too heavy. I knew it in that moment to be a dream. I woke myself up. Years ago, I realized that I could identify a nightmare mid-dream and wake myself from it. I lay in my bed, exhaustion surrounding me, knowing if I closed my eyes again, I would be right back there in that same kitchen, those eyes filled with expectation looking at me. Despite the lethargy trying to draw me back in, I sat up. It was the middle of the night.
I knew I would have to get up and move around to shake this one off. I would have to put some distance between me and the dream. Otherwise, my brain would somehow seek it out where it left off and try to run with it again. It was a nightmare, but not in the usual sense. The boy had spoken correctly. Every parent picks up their child and holds them, and at some point, it is the last time they ever do so.
Resisting my body’s need to go back to sleep, I got up. I used the restroom and got a drink of water. I struggled against the urge to go into the bedrooms and look at them. Waking them to reassure myself would not be fair to them. I wished it were close enough to the morning to just stay awake.
I wandered through the dark house, feeling sad. The dream was over, but it left a shadow with me. Quietly opening the front door, I walked out into the humid night air. The sharp contrast from the 68 degrees our thermostat was still set on in mid-September was a good distraction. I breathed in the night air. My solar powered lawn décor items were still twinkling with the gentle magic they give off in the dark after a day of bathing in the bright sun. I checked out the stars for a long moment. With a heavy sigh, I turned and went back in seeking my bed once again.
The dream did not return to me. I woke the next time 30 minutes before my alarm was scheduled to ring. Relief washed over me and the heavy sadness that had come with the dream had passed. It had brought a kernel of truth with it, but some truths were not meant to carry around all day and consume us.
I stared at the boy’s sweet faces that morning and hugged them with an urgency they had to sense. They just looked at me with slightly baffled smiles and hugged me back.