Cyclic Nightmares

Cyclic Nightmares

Emma Tang

TW: references to domestic abuse


Dad’s never actually raised a hand against me. Unemployed and under Mom’s oppressive reign, he’s been long accustomed to acting as the family scapegoat, though I suppose even the family scapegoat needs to vent his anger somewhere.

He usually has no trouble putting up a happy facade. But everyone has a breaking point. Whenever that happens, I get that silent nightmare.

I know it’s coming soon, so I’ve been trying to keep myself awake. For a week, she’s been after his lack of creativity in meal-prepping. Of course, she had no suggestions – the cooking is not her job, she is already working a nine-to-five, must she worry about this, too? She pulled out another legal form yesterday, asking him to sign to confirm that my custody and our house would belong to her when they divorce.

So, it’s expected that he was angry when I asked him to drive me to practice. He hates being asked of things in times like this, no matter how reasonable the request. 

We were silent the entire way, his knuckles white from clutching the steering wheel; I sat stock-still and stared out the window. It’s moments like this when I wish I could try to reason with him. Tell him to come to his senses. Tell him I wish our relationship didn’t hinge on the marriage in which I had no part. 

But I didn’t feel like testing him at his breaking point. If I concentrate enough, I can hear his voice ricocheting around in our little car in the middle of the empty road. In moments like these, with no one to protect me and unable to defend myself, I’m sorely aware of his wrist – twice the circumference of mine – and his hands, strong and calloused.

Sometimes I find myself wondering: what’s the worst that could happen? But looking at his quietly enraged profile yesterday, I realized I wasn’t ready to find out.


I had the dream last night.

I woke up as usual and headed down to eat breakfast. Only, when I tried to say good morning, I could not – for the life of me – get a word out.

I tried screaming with all the power in my lungs, but it was as if my vocal cords had disappeared. I could feel the air moving up my throat and through my lips, feel the words formed by my tongue, but there was no vibration. No sound.

It’s not the first time I’ve had this nightmare, so I recognized that I was dreaming right away. The scary part, I think, was the feeling. It was so utterly distinct, almost like it was real.

The day proceeded as usual, and neither Mom nor Dad noticed. Mom threw a fit at the dinner table when he served the same food as yesterday, so he refused to eat with us – for what purpose I am not sure, as it was only successful in making her burst into ear-piercing cries.

I suppose there’s always some sense of normalcy in even the most bizarre of situations. 

I left to lock myself in my room. I used to feel guilty about my inability to comfort Mom when she got like this. I used to wish that one of them would yield so we could live as a happy family. Fortunately, I’ve realized that stressing myself over the two of them was both entirely my decision and entirely pointless – it was almost liberating to live largely unaffected by their tumultuous relationship, save from Dad’s occasional bouts of anger.

It was good that their fights no longer bothered me because, combined with the jolting panic that intermittently arose over my lack of voice, I might have really lost it. I vaguely remember forcing myself to “fall asleep” so that I could “return” to what must be the real world.

When I woke up, it was already Sunday. I suppose the sleep deprivation had finally caught up to me.


I think I’m going insane.

I had that dream again. I’m vaguely aware of my thoughts keeping me awake the entire night, though that wouldn’t be possible – would it? – had I dreamt.

I tried to write in my journal to escape the insomnia, but after noting the date, my pen ran out of ink. Strangely, there were no other ones in the house. I tried typing too, but my fingers would not come within an inch of the keyboard, as if there was an invisible barrier. I wanted so badly to scream in frustration, but of course, only the soft woosh of empty air would come out no matter how deep of a breath I took or how hard I desperately scratched at my throat.

I woke up, slumped over my desk. Thank god my pen is still working.