In the dream, I stood outside myself, watching. My little brother and I are in his room. We’re young, still single digits. We’re fighting. (This was nothing unusual. We fought all the time.) He starts crying.

The door opens. My mother enters, arms open, face gentle, concerned. She ushers him into the hall.

I shrink back as she turns to me. She expands. She is dark, furious, her lips taught in that familiar menacing line. Her voice resonates with disgust.

“And as for you…”

I woke up screaming before I discovered my punishment.

At breakfast that morning, I told them my nightmare over bowls of Lucky Charms. I felt unsettled, haunted. I needed them to ground me in family. To reassure me that I was loved, wanted. It was just a dream, Rachel. Only a dream.

They laughed at me.

I stopped talking about how often my parents were monsters in my nightmares. When demons stalked outside my window or wild animals ambushed me and sunk their teeth into my stomach, Mom and Dad were there too. Absorbing my screams expressionless and mute.

I still have dreams like this. They torment me with their poignancy. I want to scream at my subconscious to sleep when I do. But it doesn’t. Once triggered, the trauma stirs and every time I close my eyes I see them. Sometimes shrieking, sometimes sobbing. Iron faced, stone statues with their backs forever turned towards me. I feel the dreams lurking in the corners of my room after I wake. They drain my day. This strange amalgam of fiction and reality where my Mother and siblings ignore my screams or my Father and Uncle kidnap me from church. I wake up with the taste of my childhood in my mouth. That helpless, lonely bile I keep vomiting up.

So I watch horror movies instead. I drench my brain in someone else’s dark version of the unimaginable. The more twisted and sadistic the better. Grey gaping children with black marbles for eyes. Levitating women with matted hair, their necks bent at impossible angles. Pools of blood, sawed-off limbs, and otherworldly creatures digesting their victims one agonizing frame at a time.

I don’t want to relive my hell. I would rather be haunted by someone else’s ghosts.

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