Thirty Days with My Father: Finding Peace from Wartime PTSD
by Christal Presley
In my dreams, we have a different life.
My father, young and fit, runs on the beach with a Frisbee. His dark hair is tousled, his skin aglow with tanning oil. Waves crash behind him. It is a hot summer afternoon with a slight breeze that keeps it from being totally oppressive. His feet leave wet prints in the sand along the water’s edge.
I stretch my legs to reach the exact places he has touched, to put my feet inside the imprints of his. With all my might, I try to catch him.
In this dream, my mother relaxes in a chaise lounge beneath an umbrella. She sips a soda and looks up over her sunglasses to check on us from time to time. She smiles and waves, then goes back to reading her magazine about flowers. It is hard to decide what color rosebushes she should plant around our mailbox. This is her biggest worry.
Overhead, seagulls hang in midair above the waves. Music from someone’s boom box plays in the background. It is a light and airy tune that makes me want to dance. I do.
In this fantasy, my mother will get in the water before long. We all will—the three of us. We will swim just beyond the waves and laugh as the warm water laps against our necks. We are not afraid.
Even when we are in over our heads, when our feet no longer reach the thick sand underwater, we swim fast and strong. We have no doubts we will get back to the shore. If one of us gets pulled out by the current, another of us will reel that person back in.
This is a safe place, a place where we have come many times. It is a treasured late summer vacation just before school starts again. Tired and happy, gritty with sand and salt, hand in hand, we walk back to our hotel room.
In my dream, we fish for crabs in the evening. We tie raw squid in our baskets and heave them over the side of the pier. I catch more than anyone else.
We throw most of the crabs back and cook the rest that same night right on the beach. My father throws them live into a big pot of boiling water set over a fire he’s made. I walk on the beach and look for seashells as the sun sets.
Back in our hotel room, I am stuffed to the brim and sleepy-eyed. My father rubs aloe on my burned shoulders. He kisses me on my forehead and tucks me into bed. My mother reads me a story and lies beside me until I can barely keep my eyes open. They laugh and whisper in the darkness, holding each other close in the bed next to mine as I drift into sleep.
In my dreams, my family is whole. In my dreams, there was no war.