Every week the doctor assured Chris and Ellen that night terrors were normal for veterans returning from war. During the last couple therapy session, Dr. Enigmore maintained steady eye contact with Ellen, tasking her with the responsibility of grounding Chris every time he awoke in a fit of terror. Ellen recalled the doctor's directions to her: Hold his hands, tell him he is safe, remind him you are his wife, speak calmly and sternly.
After attending spousal support groups for military wives, reading countless self-helf books for partners of individuals with PTSD, and attending weekly couple's therapy, Ellen felt prepared to ground her husband. However, no one prepared Ellen for a time when sleep would provide Chris with an escape to another world to which he longed to join again. Lately, Ellen noticed that the tone of Chris's nightmares had shifted from one of fear and terror to longing and despair. When Ellen felt optimistic, she attributed this shift to Chris's increasing despair over the harm he witnessed overseas. She pictured him bargaining to save lives and begging others' forgiveness for pain he inflicted.
Chris thrashed his head from side to side. "A solo saxophone," he murmured. "Life still has worth, I will take you. I will take you."
Ellen froze and turned slowly toward her husband. She gently touched his forehead. Unlike other nights, Chris's skin was cool and dry. The corners of his mouth turned slightly upwards. His eyes moved rapidly underneath his eyelids.
"We'll hear it again. Stay with me, stay with me, stay with me," Chris pleaded.
Ellen suddenly felt like an intruder in her own bed. She wished that she had the ability to escape as easily as Chris did every night. Where is he escaping to? , she whispered. The next thought she dared not say aloud: Who is he escaping to? . Even though Ellen had a streak of optimism, she was a realist. And realism told her that Chris was hiding something.
Chris turned onto his side, "Dance and dance and dance, it's the last night of the world."
Ellen edged out of the bed. She slowly lifted the corner of the mattress and retrieved a folded picture. Just as Dr. Enigmore recommended she say to Chris, Ellen whispered in a calm and stern voice, I am safe, I am Chris's wife. Ellen unfolded the picture and closed her eyes.
Ellen reminisced about the frigid night she walked through the door and saw Chris standing with the set of keys to their shared apartment. She remembered Chris's hands on her forearms, his darting eyes, the hardback chair he guided her into. She recalled Chris's trembling voice, there is something I need to say to you. He unfolded the paper, these keys, this home - they mean so much. They, they, mean acceptance. They mean me, you, and love.
"I have found you Kim," Chris breathed.
Ellen gasped and the picture fluttered to the ground. If verbal grounding is ineffective, holding a physical object can jar a person back to reality. She grasped the sides of the wooden chair, inhaling deeply and exhaling.
Ellen grounded herself.