I had struggled with it for three years now, ever since mom died. At least twice a week I would wake up to the sound of my alarm. But he would be there. I named him Shawn. I thought it would help, making it into something tangible. Nothing worked. I even drastically changed my sleeping patterns for a few weeks but the sleep paralysis never subsided. Shawn even began staying longer. He sat there on my chest holding me down. Sometimes I wanted to scream but I either couldn’t or choose to restrain myself. I expected the experience to get less terrifying but it never did. It turns out being paralyzed is not something you just get used to.
On Friday I woke up alright I pulled off my sheet and began putting on a soft plain tee shirt and a pair of ripped jeans. I stared at the girl who looked back at me from the mirror that hung on the inside of my door. She had long dark wavy hair but her eyes were lifeless. I didn’t completely recognize myself. Sawdust is a word that comes to mind. I finished getting ready hugged my father and left out the inside door.
Ther it was as it always sat, Nathaniel's old red truck. He sat there waiting for me. “Come on slow poke” he yelled playfully out the window pushing a pile off the passenger's seat. I opened the door and hopped in. “How’s it going he beamed.”
“Well, it’s going.” He smiled. He alway smiled. But this morning he seemed particularly perky. On the other hand, I did not. “It’s Friday” he beamed. I didn’t quite understand him… I looked out the window as we drove on. Through the window the small town I knew all too well stared back at me. I turned to Nathaniel he was drumming a steady beat with his thumbs on the steering wheel.
“Do you ever just wanna get out of here?”
“Hmm,” he thought for a moment pressing his lips together. “That depends. What’s the destination?”
He was always difficult like that, vague and thoughtful. A few minutes later we pulled into the student parking lot of Grove High School. Cars were pulling in the full of drowsy kids. I opened the car door grabbed my bag and headed for my first class. I heard Nathaniel following close on my heels.
“Hey,” he touched my shoulder. “Are you ok?”
“I think so” I responded. I honestly wasn't quite sure. I hadn’t felt emotionally well in a long time.
My first-period English class droned on at a slow steady beat that buzzed in my ear. The second period wasn’t any better. Mrs. Stevens seemed to think history had to be boring if it’s taught correctly. I could barely stand it. We all seemed to be letting life walk away from us. Sitting not even learning. It all made me sick. What if we had only today left. I was angry. The day moved forward and finally, I met Nathaniel outside his truck.
“Survived another one,” he said as he manually unlocked the car door.
“You could say that. How was your experience?”
“PLeasant enough.” I sometimes wondered if he just did it for me; the happy thing.
“Hey, are you still coming tonight?” I had forgotten it was the night of the school dance. We sat there in silence for a moment.
“I suppose it never hurt anyone.” I didn’t want to go but I knew Nathaniel loved dancing or at least he pretended to. And if I didn’t go he wouldn’t either.
“Pick me up?” I asked.
“Of course” he smiled. We had been friends for a long time but since my Mom. Most of my other friends had stepped back while he stepped in.
That night I searched my closet for ages. But I couldn’t find anything for the formal. I had given away a lot of my old clothes recently.I stared at the hangers and then dropped on my bed defeated I began to tear up. I was so dumb it made me cry. Mom used to help me with this. I curled up on my bed hugging my knees into my chest. I let a few silent tears drip down my cheeks I couldn’t even explain it. I just simply felt defeat. I lay there for a while before I heard a light rap on the door. I sat up wiping my tears. “Come in.”
My Dad put his head in the door. “Hey, you good?”
“I will be.”
“You going to this dance thing tonight?”
“I don’t know anymore.”
“You should and I was thinking maybe you should possibly wear one mom’s old dresses.” I looked at him in silence for a moment. “Mean I think you should. Other wise they will just sit there. Go ahead” I smiled stand up off my bed.
Mom had the most beautiful dresses. She always needed them for work events. She would take me with her when I was younger to find dresses and drink coffee and eat donuts. I opened her closet and it hit me the sweet warm smell of honey. It was warm and inviting but it was emotionally unbearable. I swallowed the storm that was building in my soul. I felt through the six or so dresses that hung in the back. I grabbed a hanger and lifted it off the rack. It was a dark navy dress simple and elegant. My Mom was very classy. We had similar taste. I smiled I knew it would fit because we were the same size. I slipped out of my clothes and into the dress. I floated and spun gracefully as I move. It was perfect
I felt beautiful for the first time in months as I left my door to meet Nathaniel in the drive. He helped me in the door of the truck. “You look amazing.”
“Thank, you don’t look half bad yourself” I teased. That night had an odd magic about it. I danced again for the first time in a year. I may have looked pretty foolish but that didn’t really matter. It didn’t matter at all. It was dark in the school gym but soft white lights glimmered like stars. The last song came and Nathaniel pulled me close. We moved slowly and he somewhat carried my dead body. I felt a single tear drip down my cheek as he pulled me close.
“It’s ok, It’s ok”
Our serenity was broken by the DJs booming voice, “Alright young ladies and gents the night is over but don’t let this party die.” Kids left still jumping and dancing. I walked out slowly holding Nathaniel's hand tightly in mine.
I steeped in the car and smiled. It was good for me I had needed it. Nathaniel gave me a knowing smile as he put the key into the ignition. I felt happy but unbelievably exhausted. I closed my eyes for a moment. And sleep came over me like a sudden tide.
My eye fluttered open to the feeling of Nathaniel's gentle shake. But he was there. “No, No!” I screamed but no words came out. I felt my breathing become heavy. Nobody knew about Shawn except my Dad.
“You ok?” he asked.
I looked at him attempting to communicate with my eyes. I was scared.
“It’s ok you’re gonna be fine.” I think he assumed I was having a panic attack. He reached for my hand and held it tightly.
I was so scared this could last for a whole half hour. And now he knew. I realized I was less scared of the paralysis than him thinking differently of him me. I began trying to calm myself. Breathing in and out regularly. He stroked my cheek with his hand. “It’s gonna be ok.”
He was close and before I knew it he had kissed me. It all happened so fast and Shawn was gone. I looked at Nathaniel. It was hard to know what to say.
“Thank you,” I said simply hugging him with my still stiff arms. We looked at each other for a long moment before I opened the car door. Before stepping out of the car I turned back.
“Don’t be a stranger.”
“I couldn’t if I wanted to.”