The next night, my dream was terrible from the beginning. That is typical for me. I was in a room filled with people. A maniac had a gun, and threatened to kill my wife.
She was alive again in the dream. Seeing her again nearly every time I close my eyes and drift off is something I live with. In these dreams, however, I know she’s not really alive.
In these dreams she is always pregnant.
The gunman pointed his weapon at my pregnant wife. Always, in these dreams, I had to do something. At least try to help. I sprang up and jumped between her and the gunman. He only laughed.
I urged her to run. She didn’t take much convincing. Only when she was safe did I attempt to flee. I cleared the corner around which my wife had just vanished. She was gone.
I ran downstairs, outside, and into streets as crowded as New Year’s Eve in Times Square. I quickly scanned through the throng of faces surrounding me. None belonged to my wife.
I never found her. Instead, after hours of looking, I woke up in an empty bed, where I again failed to find her. I always fail, and I always will.
During this unpleasant nightmare, never once did I try to escape through the dream — to wake myself at once, before things could progress any further. The dream of Seritz and the caves felt different from the first. I started off well, only to end — through my own desperate intervention — before the true nightmare could to begin. Throughout the dream, however, it had felt real.
While it was happening, I hadn’t the slightest inkling I was in a dream. Not even at the end, when I begged my sanity to let me wake up. The fact that I actually was asleep was just a lucky break. I now know that if someone kicked in my door and came running at me with a chainsaw at this very moment, my last words would be: “Wake up! Wake up!”
The dream of the Seritz was different. Every other night — before and since — I dream of Denise and the little one she carried inside her when I last saw her. Every other night, in every other dream, we are in some kind of danger. It’s never the same thing twice, but the premise is always the same: something is trying to kill her, and, as much as I try to protect her, I somehow lose her. Her being in danger, and me not being able to help — Denise in trouble, and me not able to save her.
Every night, for thirteen years, I’m reminded of what happened in some new and visceral way: death stares us in the face, and I can only flail, and watch. Exactly as it really happened, thirteen years ago.
Perhaps Seritz is nothing more than the death I have never faced, that I have never been able to let go.
When I dreamt of the chair that could whisk me around as if by magic, it was at first a blessing, a dream of childhood. Of a time before I had met, and subsequently lost, Denise. A mystical ride on a folding chair. A respite from the horror of my memories. An emotional oasis.
But, oh how quickly it curdled. The joy of unfettered youth darkened, hardening into rock. The memories of a childhood left behind were obscured by the weight of all that had come since, in no more than a smattering of helpless moments. And what was to come next — what lay in the caves up ahead — was worst of all. The Seritz. An unknown name I found myself crying out with sickening familiarity.
Not just the way you call out to somebody you know, but the way you call to someone who knows you. A name that felt like death on my lips. And perhaps that’s what it was.
Perhaps Seritz is nothing more than the death I have never faced, that I have never been able to let go. Or it might be the now thirteen-year-old girl I chose not to know. The stranger I refused to call ‘my daughter,’ the little stranger who took away the only thing I loved, simply by being born.
Just as I have never faced Denise’s death, I have never faced this person’s life. The certificate says my wife ‘died in childbirth.’ But wasn’t this little girl also ‘born in motherdeath,’ in a kind of terrible symmetry? I knew then that I could never do anything but hate her for killing my beloved.
It felt then that I could only hate this stranger-child for what she took from me. But thirteen years later, I know nothing: nothing but pain. What have I done to myself by giving up the only person who would understand what I’ve gone through, the only person who could help? My regret at sending my little stranger away when I needed her most is incalculable.
And maybe that’s what the Seritz really is. All the pain and doubt I can’t bear to face — all the anguish I would rather simply wake up from than examine at close range. Maybe the Seritz is just the personification of all that I can’t face in this world, the embodiment of all the regret living in my heart and poisoning my dreams.
I feel like I’ve hated so many of my own choices and failures that my regret itself could be something alive. Something hungry. Something that isn’t merely content to have eaten away at any chance of happiness I will ever have. Something that wants more, and more, and more–forever.
I know the truth: the caves aren’t anywhere out there. They’re inside me, inside my mind. Something like the Seritz lurks inside us all, waiting to swallow us whole. Every bad decision we make, every calamity, every horrible choice we can’t take back — it all drains down into our core and pools together in a deep green sea.
Just as I hunger for a life in which Denise had never died and I had never given away our first, and forever only, child — my last connection with my wife — the thing inside me hungers for any fleeting moment of joy or peace that I might be lulled into allowing myself to feel. A sick, monstrous thing that makes its nest in the guilt that consumes me every time I permit myself to feel happy, and lines it with the skeletons of my hopes.
These things lurking inside us, like the memory of things we can never go back and change, unable to be ignored. These monsters clamor for our innermost and most absolute attention, commanding that we listen, endlessly rapt. From deep within, they insist that we ponder their dark mysteries, always torturing us with stinging images of what might have been, or — worse still — with vivid memories of that which will definitely always be.
Whatever the answer to the mystery of the Seritz, whatever truth lies behind our secret pains, the shrouded agonies that haunt our hearts have this in common: they feed on painful memories, and quickly blot out what little distractions from their endless feast we dare turn our eyes to. They are always desperate to remind us of one ultimate fact:
A good dream cannot last for long. No matter where we think we are, we’re actually down in the caves, with the Seritz.
Troy Blackford lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, two cats, and a son on the way. He has stories featured in Inkspill Magazine, Roadside Fiction, Bewildering Stories, and Rose Red Review.