Warm Blankets

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I slowly woke up and got my boys ready for school. After breakfast, I stood outside watching them show me tricks on their new swing. I needed to quickly catch up for lost weekend time before I had to load them into the van.

It didn’t matter how many layers of clothes I had put on to try and block out the wind, none of them felt like enough. Not today. The cold winds blew right through me. I wrapped my arms tightly around my waist to try and keep myself warm. The thing is when I’m sensitive from the inside out, I don’t think it’s possible to fully insulate myself from feeling the hurt, the pain, the anger, and inevitably, the sadness. It’s just not fair. So many things that I saw on Sunday. It was too much brokenness. Too much wrong, not enough right. Unfortunate circumstances tangled up with loss. After loss. The good seemed so dim beneath the weight of the pure evil. The hope was drowning and there was nobody there to save it.

Everybody was too busy.

I don’t think I will ever forget the sound of the door to the blanket warmer opening and shutting, when I grab a few blankets for a patient. I think every one of us has wanted to stop at some point and curl up inside of there. Disappear and take a short nap in the middle of one of the shifts that feel more like twenty four hours. It’s sometimes the least and the most that you can do for a patient and family, go snag them a warm blanket. Or a cup of water. Because you can’t do anything about why they are there or how long they will wait, especially when there are real emergencies happening. Everywhere. You can’t tell them that it’s far better to wait impatiently alone than to have a swarm of doctors and nurses quickly take over your room. You can’t tell them that they should be grateful to leave, eventually, with their alive child.

This afternoon, at home, I grabbed a load of warm laundry from the dryer and remembered bits and pieces of the previous long work days. It all feels like a blur sometimes. The giggles. The tears. The loud cries. Infant cries. Toddler cries. School age cries. The silence before a procedure. The begging. The pleading. The lullaby music. The smells of different families, cleaning wipes, popcorn. The sadness or apathy lurking behind certain doors or curtains. The unknowns. All of the brief hallway conversations with co-workers. It all just makes me want to lay my tired body down. Then, I want someone to knock on my door and tuck me under a warm blanket so I will be temporarily sheltered from the harsh winds of sickness, the unknowns, evil, sadness, and pain.

Yet, unfortunately, a warm blanket will not make my work thoughts disappear.

After crazy weekends, there are far too many of my thoughts and feelings seemingly waiting loudly in line, bumping into one another, sharing with each other, asking to be heard, understood, or felt. All in my mind. When it gets too crowded, tears will be shed. My tears. Because I don’t know all the answers. I can’t begin to understand or solve the problems of our broken society. Tiny caskets. Shelters full. Psych facilities full. Hospitals full. It’s overwhelming. My heart can’t begin to fathom the atrocities that certain children see, hear, feel, or live through because of another human being’s ignorance, negligence, mistreatment, or selfishness. The one human being that should love and protect them the most.

I sometimes wonder what may trigger a child or family member to remember the painful moments, hours, or days spent in the hospital. Will a certain toy or TV show or sound or smell remind them of the painful times? Will it be something I said or did? Should I have them watch their favorite movie or not? I still can’t listen to certain songs or smell certain scents without being immediately taken back to specific hospital rooms, or the operating room, or the emergency department unexpectedly recalling my own medical experiences.

But somehow, despite all of my surgeries and recoveries, the warm blankets still always make me feel a little safer, a bit more comforted, and pretty warm too. There aren’t too many perks to being in the hospital. Loads of uncertainty, constant beeping, weird smells, awkward hospital gowns, and so on and so forth.

The warm blankets help.

They matter in a simple yet important way. Similar to a lot of the kind and thoughtful gestures in life, the times we go a bit out of our way to do some small act for another. Perhaps for someone we love or a complete stranger. I’m pretty sure we all possess the power to grab someone a warm blanket, wherever we are in life and whatever we’re doing. Or maybe we are the ones that need to graciously accept a warm blanket from time to time. Either way, the warmth wears off on both the giver and the receiver.

Work Withdrawal

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Damned if you don’t. Damned if you do, right? I just got sad tonight. I missed my work peeps. Ugh. My former work people, I suppose. I don’t want to come off as a complainer. I am grateful for the time I’ve had with my family, even extra family from out of town and friends too. We had some fun family time together at the lake for Father’s day, which was a first, since I’ve always worked on the actual Hallmark holiday. We’ve been swimming a lot and hitting the pillow hard at night with our tired heads. So, I know that I should not lament because it’s been an awesome summer so far.

But, still, I miss my friends. My work friends.

The ones who stood with me outside of rooms, in the hallways, next to the toy cabinets, and in the yellow charting zone area. My pseudo-office. I miss our conversations. I miss working. Even carrying my bag full of prizes, prep and distraction materials all around, throughout the red zone and yellow zone rooms. Even the green zone rooms, too. I miss blowing bubbles, holding hands, and teaching scared and anxious kids about what’s going to happen. I miss all of those powerful moments where I was confident or at least hopeful that I helped in a small way, either for the child or the parent. Or the nurses. Or the doctors. Call me crazy but I even miss hospital waitressing, grabbing warm blankets and dare I say it, those delicious lunchables for the patient or impatient yet hungry customers.

I thought I should just try and go to sleep tonight. Maybe dream the work withdrawal symptoms away, but I couldn’t. I had iced tea for lunch. That means my brain gets to keep on thinking and thinking and my heart gets to keep on wondering and feeling. A bit empty. I knew it would be hard, but I couldn’t predict how hard. (That’s what she said-Michael Scott) I don’t want to over-romanticize my career because there were definitely parts that I do not miss. And will not miss ever. But I always knew in my heart that I would miss the rare and beautiful and genuine people.

I reminded myself before I resigned that I may never find coworkers as great as some of the ones I worked with. I know I am only two weeks sober and I haven’t figured out my next career move, but I feel like I have a gaping heart hole. Which is ironic because I happen to know a crew that works really well in emergent situations. I should probably high tail it to the downtown pediatric ER. Please don’t do anything special for me like activate a trauma. I will not wear a gown. You can just meet me at the ambulance bay. I will bring cookies. If you grab me a Coke Zero. On ice.

Only I know it would be different. Because I don’t work there anymore. I don’t have a badge. Or keys.  I couldn’t naturally hop into a room to help out. Or interupt a conversation with my annoying morse code pager. It would be awkward. And painful, I think. I should probably just let my heart wound heal on it’s own. I could probably find an internet diagnosed cure for “work resignation withdrawal.” Treatment would probably encourage abstaining from the place I’m attempting to recover from.

I thought about grabbing a beer and retreating into my closet to read cards and blow some bubbles, but I don’t have any bubbles. How sad. I should have swiped a bubble tumbler on my way out. I definitely don’t want to have to make homemade bubbles. It would be like brewing my own beer. It sure kills the pitiful and sad moment when you’re measuring out glycerin. And where the heck would I even find a bubble wand this late at night in this house?

“Just don’t,” I told myself. So, I listened. For once.

I do think it would be okay to meet some of my former work friends for a beer. Or dinner. Or a playdate. I feel like I have certain stories that only my coworkers would truly appreciate or understand. For example, I have a lot of weird details surrounding the recent death of our guinea pig and his funeral that others may not fully grasp the beauty or humor or sadness or familiar combination of all three of these, like my work friends. Acckk. Former work friends. Anyways, spoiler alert. We had to put the guinea pig in the deep freezer overnight. Yeah, Yeah. It was the same place that I put your ice cream sandwiches a few weeks ago. Don’t worry, everything was wrapped up and sealed in a ziploc bag. The real deal, not a generic brand. Sterile-ish. The next day, my grieving inquisitive son wanted to pet his frozen guinea pig’s body before we buried him. So, I let him. It was a bit weird but he asked. It was his guinea pig afterall. And since he was frozen and dead….

I miss you guys. I’m sure you’ve got some great stories for me, too. Funny ones. Sad ones. Crazy ones. Work ones. Real life ones. Summer ones. It doesn’t really matter. I just miss your faces telling me the stories. Your stories. So, please, save some of your stories for me. The good ones. Or the bad ones. And I will do the same. Promise me we will all meet up soon. Don’t make me go against the internet doctor’s orders and go back to my former place of work. It’s just too soon.

The Mercy Tree

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If I wanted to be funny, I would say that I just couldn’t take it anymore. That it nearly broke me when they eradicated the sugar-free cokes. And then the chocolate covered cinnamon bears disappeared. Next they replaced the entire grill and deep fat fryers with weird non-ovens. I’m no good at packing my lunch and bringing it to work unless I pretend that I’m that homeless man’s mother off of 71 hi-way and pack us both a lunch. So, I would like to blame my resignation on something trivial like the gradual disappearance of non-healthy comfort foods in the hospital cafeteria. A junk food extinction. I don’t “feel better” about it. But that would just be ridiculous. Because everybody knows if you work in the emergency department, you will typically be surrounded by carbs. And more carbs. Carbs of every kind. Pretty much every shift. Especially on Sundays.

The truth is that I’ve been saying goodbye to this place for months. I knew I had to prepare my heart far in advance. I’ve spent too many years here to only give myself a two weeks notice of goodbyes. I’ve walked around differently, a bit more slowly, soaking in the views from the many different hallways and places I’ve worked. I’ve tried to avoid thinking about the last times. The last time I would prepare and support a child or teen as they navigate through a lengthy and humiliating exam. The last time I may temporarily squeeze into the shoes of a mother or a sister or a friend. I’ve held on tightly, so tightly, to the beautiful moments when a mother hugged me after I did something small to help her child or her. I’ve jumped at the opportunity to console a tiny crying one or comfort a sibling or explain that an accident was not his fault. Most times, even when I’ve been hurting or tired, I’ve eagerly grabbed my Mary Poppins bag full of distraction materials to quickly go support a patient getting sutures or an IV.

I’ve absolutely cherished last conversations with coworkers who I love so dearly that it physically hurts to think I won’t see them on a regular basis. Maybe if I could memorize their voices, their laughs, and their faces, it will help me later when I’m missing them.

I’ve prepared myself because I need to walk out of here with my head held high. More proud than sad. I’ve prepared myself because I know it’s best for me and because that’s what I have always done with kids. Hundreds and hundreds of kids. Nearly twelve years worth of kids and families. I’ve blown at least a million bubbles. I’ve held hundreds of nervous, scared or confused hands. I’ve taken a million deep breaths. I’ve said thousands of prayers. I think I’ve heard “Let it Go” at least a trillion times. It’s really, really difficult, almost incomprehensible, to think that soon I won’t navigate these halls with the ease, familiarity and confidence that comes with years and years of experience. This place has been like my second home with all of my beautiful brothers and sisters, my work family.

So, I’m feeling a bit shaky, like a volunteer tree. You know those opportunistic little seedlings? The ones that fall from the strong well-established mature tree and plant themselves in a perfect or not so perfect place in a forest or yard and they begin to grow. That’s me. I have fallen or taken a leap or perhaps the winds of life have pushed me away from my big comfortable home base work tree. It’s all a little scary. And uncertain. Definitely unfamiliar. But change is always new. And hard. And usually a risk. So many new doors to embark upon or windows to slide through.

A month or so ago, a kind-hearted and smart gardening friend of mine came over and walked around my backyard with me and pointed out flowers, and perennials and weeds. She also pointed out my “volunteer trees.” The trees that had grown on their own accord…because well, I didn’t plant them. Some of them were so tiny and cute, little toy trees that could easily be uprooted by my children running or tromping on top of them. Other volunteer trees appeared strong like they had strategically placed themselves in a perfect growing spot. Like they may take some real effort to dig out. So maybe I should just leave them alone and let them keep growing. Plant a tree. Or just be open to one planting itself. And leave it alone.

Let it grow.

That’s what I’m hoping to do. Little volunteer tree me. Grow through the change. Battle the winds. The seasons. The unknowns. And just keep growing. Just keep growing. I will tell myself. I will always think of all of the encouragement and support and love I’ve been filled up with. And I think I will manage alright because I’ve learned from one of the strongest, most resilient and beautiful trees that exist. The Mercy Tree.

Monday Morning

imageI held on tightly to the cold scrawny hands of my seven year old boys. I habitually reached down for them when we had to cross the road. And I didn’t let go the entire walk to school. My boys must have understood that I needed to hold their hands today. And maybe they wanted to hold mine too. After a weekend away at work, holding other kids’ hands as they cried, I had a hard time letting my own boys go as we approached their school. I love them so extremely much all of the time, but in a painfully sensitive and grateful way on Monday mornings. I stood on top of the hill and watched their backpacks bop up and down as they ran and disappeared through the school doors.

I didn’t think I could walk home. Physically. I felt like Monday had already knocked me over. And held me down. I felt defeated and it wasn’t even 9 am. The “I just can’ts…”had already crept into my head. “I just can’t brush my hair. I just can’t clean the house…and so on.” I walked across the street and Connie, the school crossing guard, told me to hop in her car and she would give me a ride back up the hill. She has done this for me many times. Maybe she notices the lack of pep in my step. My ratty hair. My coughing. Or the bags under my eyes. I always plop down in her backseat because she usually has a laundry basket in her front seat. She’s always giving stuff away to others. She’s enormously kind-hearted and will go to great lengths to provide for and protect kids. She takes off her neon vest and a few layers of coats, scarves, etc. before she sits down in her car. And exhales. She drives me around the block, up the hill and into my driveway.

It’s a small gesture that feels like a million bucks. She and I have the quickest, most deep, honest and awesome talks in those short minutes. We usually sit in the driveway finishing up our conversation. She graciously shares marriage and mothering stories with me. The lessons she’s learned. The sacrifices she’s made. She relates to me, encourages me and helps me feel less like I’m drowning most hectic mornings. She tells me I’m a good mom. And I believe her.

One morning, she held her stop sign up as we crossed the street. My husband was out of the country. I was trying to be two-parent strong by myself. And I’m not a morning person. I walked across the street with my three boys and two nieces. One of my boys cried the whole walk down the hill. I talked with him but couldn’t get him consoled before he entered the school building before the second bell rang. I felt awful. Like pure therapeutic grade shit.

Prior to leaving for school, my son had playfully laid on the floor kicking the wall with his shoes, accidentally leaving several mud prints. I didn’t freak out. But we were running late. I told him when he got home from school, he would have to clean up the wall. My request turned him into dramatic melt-down mode because apparently he thought he would never get to play again. In his life. Because he would be cleaning the wall. F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I tried to diffuse the situation with no success. So he cried. And cried. And he must have envisioned himself cleaning those three mudprints and missing out on the rest of his childhood. The whole walk to school.

Connie saved my morning. She talked with me. And helped me with that sneaky guilt that had leapt onto my back as I headed home. She told me I did need to have him clean up the mud prints. She told me I had done the right thing, even though I felt like crap. She reminded me that kids recover quickly. Then, she shared one of her stories of raising her son with me.  She helped push that mama guilt down off of my back. It still hung out by my side as I walked up the hill. It was easier to ignore there.  So, I purposely left it outside my door when I got home.

Connie unknowingly reminds me of the beauty in small kindnesses. Sharing a story or two, some advice, encouragement and a ride up the hill. She also stops cars and kids from running into school traffic. And she helps build up, encourage and strengthen parents like me. A real crossing guard kind of personality.  She’s a true hero in my book.

You really can’t ask me for much on Monday mornings. I don’t like to talk politics(really ever but especially not on a Monday). I don’t like to brush my hair. I need coffee. And patience. Lots of both, please. I’m an overthinking, over feeling, exhausted, missing my boys sort of mess. My favorite answers to questions are “I don’t know” or “give me a minute” or “I’ll do it tomorrow.” But there’s one thing for sure, if you ask me if I need a ride back up the hill, I will gratefully answer, “yes.” Every Monday morning.

Magic Bubbles

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I watched you cry. Silent, trapped cries that pushed and pushed resulting in your gasping and straining. These are the hardest cries to see. And not hear. The tiny veins in your face grew as you tried to scream in protest. And I wished I could do more.

I blew bubbles.

Your dad sat beside you and held you. Your mom stood next to the bed. Your brother played in a different world, he popped bubbles with Buzz Lightyear. I know you wanted us all to leave your room. And leave you alone. I know you wanted to go home. You knew exactly everything we had to do. I wondered if you hate bubbles. A hospital bubble aversion. All that they represent. All that they predict. This place. These experiences. Your pain. And your trapped cries.

I blew more bubbles.

This time for your mom. She stood there, helpless, yet not paralyzed by the unfairness of watching you, her beautiful child, suffer. She talked about the bubbles. She popped the bubbles for you. I hope you weren’t mad that I kept blowing them. For her. She needed the distraction. She needed a role. She needed to feel like she could offer you some comfort, some familiarity, a glimpse of hope.

I exhaled. Slowly. Repeatedly. My breaths filled all of the giant, tiny and medium sized bubbles that escaped. Into the air of your room. Before they vanished or popped.

I heard your father interupt the nurse as she prepared you for another “poke.” I think your dad wanted to protect you. Or maybe himself. Maybe he hoped you would cry less. Your nurse performed her job beautifully. She handled herself gracefully. She calmly stood her ground yet held her tongue. A delicate skill mastered by nurses who empathize, relate to, love and often sacrifice a bit of their pride, when necessary, by not fighting back. Because they understand that everyone’s on the same team. Or should be. A team that wants to get you feeling better. A team that wishes we could cause less hurt to help you. A team that will do some of the hardest things because we have to. To help you. Because we love kids. Especially the most resilient, the kids like you.

I blew bubbles.

Over and over. Again.

And again.

Until it was done. I left momentarily to go find your prize. When I returned to your room, I looked at you. No more hurt. No more crying. There, I saw it, resting in your lap, your two tiny hands gripped my pink and purple bubble container the best they could. While I was gone, you chose to hold the bubbles. I watched you happily play as you pushed the bubble wand in and pulled it back out. This helped me feel a tiny bit better, knowing that maybe you didn’t hate bubbles after all.

I put the bubbles away into my bag. I let them rest. I knew I would be using them again. A lot of times today. The next time my pager beep, beep, beeped at me.

So I walked into the next room. And I saw you.

You laid across your daddy’s lap. Your sweet ocean colored eyes peaked out from the hair that had tumbled down around your face. Your tiny half-naked body was completely surrounded by unfamiliar faces. You needed a quick distraction. Something to look at. To play with. Something to occupy your active toddler mind. I grabbed the magic container from my bag.

And I blew bubbles.

On my knees, at your level, I blew hundreds of bubbles for you to watch float around the room. They bumped into you, your dad, the nurses and doctors. Your dad blew them. And you did too. Your contagious and playful smile encouraged every adult to reach out and play along by popping the bubbles that drifted their way. Like a bunch of silly big kids. We would all do just about anything in our power to see you smile and hear your giggles.

Blowing bubbles seems like such a small thing to do. Sometimes it reminds all of us to breathe. Sometimes the bubbles remind us of your innocence. Your transparency. Your fleeting busy minds. Sometimes the bubbles can stop crying. And sometimes bubbles possess this quiet magic to momentarily take you away from the present pain.

I think I’ve watched a million bubbles take flight. And I will gladly watch a million more. If it can help in some small way to  make you less scared, less worried, more playful. And especially if it can make you feel more like a kid and less like a patient.

Driveway Hugs

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I started to put the car in drive. Then, I looked up to see one of my seven year old boys running out to my car. I thought he must have left something in the backseat. Or maybe he wanted to tell me not to forget to do something before I left for a long day away at work. Nope. He surprised me. I opened the door and he quickly wrapped his skinny long arms around me. Oh, a hug. He wanted to give me a giant unprompted driveway hug. I held him. Then, I pulled him up onto my lap and asked him a question I already knew the answer to.

“Wanna help me drive around the driveway?”

I didn’t even need to wait for his response. I started to close the door when all of the sudden, another seven year old boy had arrived at my door. His twin brother must have noticed his absence. Or mine. He showed up for a driveway hug too. He assessed the situation and climbed onto my lap for a drive around the circle. Unexpected running hugs from seven year old twin boys deserve a reward. We sat happily crowded together in the front seat. I put the car in drive. They helped me steer and reached their feet down to press on the brake or more accurately, slam on the brake. My cup flew to the passenger side floor board. Cup holders can only do so much. They giggled and may have felt like the coolest two seven year olds on the planet. One loop around and they quickly exited the car after I told them how much I love them.

I’ve been leaving my husband and boys for twelve(-ish) hour weekend option shifts away for seven years. I’ve tried not to sneak away. I’ve wanted them to know I am leaving and will come back home when they’re sleeping. I’ve always hugged my boys repeatedly, kissed my husband, held them tightly and then had to let go. I’m always running late. Always. Over the years, I’ve left screaming babies and sobbing, pleading toddlers, “will you pleeeeeeease not go to wook today?” But I have to. You’ll have fun. You’ll have a good day. You can tell me all about it tomorrow. I always say. I always come back. I say that too. But it’s hard.

So, this morning, when I was on the brink of running late, like I have been for the past seven years, I could have rolled down the window and said, “I’m running late! I’ve gotta go!” But l couldn’t resist my excited, running seven year old boy, that has outgrown his pants, and noticed I had left my parent’s house without a proper departing hug. I had just hugged his brother at the kitchen counter. My mom said, “Pretty soon those legs are going to be touching the ground.” Yes. But not today. I held and squeezed him tightly.

The harsh reality of working in an emergency department teaches you that sometimes moms and dads don’t make it back home. You should always hug readily and tightly those you love before you leave for a long day away. They should always know how very much they mean to you. Just in case.

I will never regret running to the time clock today. Running because I spent an extra couple minutes hugging my first born twin boys in the driveway. And driving dangerously, or so they thought, around the tiny circle driveway in their mama’s lap. I hope they will always remember the sweet moments we have before I leave for work. Not so much the crazy mama getting ready moments, but the family room, kitchen, driveway, and garage hugs.

I always get a little emotional when I leave, as I am driving on the highway. For a lot of reasons, but I always think how hard it is to leave them, how enormously I love them, and how lucky I am to have them to return back home to. I always think…What if I don’t make it back home to them?

Will they know how extraordinary they are? Will they know how much joy they bring me? Will they know that the world is better because they’re here? Will they know that it’s always worth being a few minutes late to hug the ones you love the very most?

The answer today and the answer I would love to think that they know everytime one of us leaves each other is, “Yes.” Always. Some things will always be worth being late for. Driveway hugs just so happen to be one of them.

A Work Dream

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Everybody slept in my house. I snuck into my bed after spying on the brilliant and giant glowing full moon outside of my garage.

Then I had a dream. A work dream.

I was in a room with two girls. We played the board game, “Sorry.” The school aged girl bounced her giggly little toddler sister up and down, on and off of her lap. Her spunky high-ponytailed sister gladly interfered with our game. She grabbed the game pieces and moved them all over the board. Time and time again. I told the older girl how great of a big sister she was. She patiently moved the pieces back each time after her little sister rearranged them.

We played and talked. The little sister playfully pinched me and loved my overreaction. “Owwwww.” It didn’t hurt.

Then, I paused.

I remembered why the big sister, still so little and innocent staring up at me, had come to the hospital.

I needed to tell the big sister something important. Something that was a little hard to say.

I shared with her how I get the chance to work with all sorts of brave kids in the hospital. I told her about some kids that need stitches or others that break their arms and need a cast. I told her that a lot of kids, like her, have to do really hard things in the hospital. Things that hurt or make kids feel uncomfortable. Weird things like peeing in a cup. Or getting a bit of their blood taken from their veins through a tiny tube. She listened intently and nodded as I talked. She paid close attention as she focused her big kind eyes right on mine. 

Then, I exhaled.

I told her that me and my friends that work at the hospital believe that some of the bravest kids we ever meet carry around a kind of hurt that happened but doesn’t show up on the outside of their skin. Hurt that was caused when a grown up did something awful. Things a grown up should never have done. I talked about how it’s really hard and worrisome to carry a secret around. As a grown up and especially as a kid. I talked about how a grown up is supposed to protect, love and take care of kids and keep them safe, not hurt them.

I told her that we were all extremely proud of her for telling that a grown up had hurt her. And then I told her that she was one of the bravest. And I said it with the kind of sincerity that brought tears to my eyes and put a big lump in my throat. The kind that makes it a little hard to talk. I think I said it because I truly meant it. And because it’s true. 

And then I woke up to go to the bathroom.

I looked out the window at the dark after midnight sky. The moon had moved west. It was no longer big, bright and beautiful.

Something had changed since I had fallen asleep.

It seemed sad, angry, frustrated and disappointed. It seemed like it longed to hide underneath a lump of dark grey clouds.

Maybe that was just me.

The dream was too real. If not for the little girl’s beauty and resilience, it would have been a nightmare.

Or the kind of dream you hope to never have again. Ever.