As soon as the insurgent pulled the trigger on his AK-47 and the first rounds hit me in the chest and side, I woke up. I immediately felt the adrenaline rushing through my body as I grabbed my chest in pain. I sat up in bed, drenched in sweat and hyperventilating.

Trying to focus my eyes in the dimly lit bedroom, I caught the soft blue light from the alarm clock shining like a lighthouse in a major storm. Three-thirty in the morning. It happened at the same time every night. I would always wake up from the nightmares between 03:00 and 03:30 am.

The Mosul nightmare was the most frequent and the most disconcerting, as it always ended in the same way, death. I never knew why, but it often reminded me of the dark tale by Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven. After researching the meaning behind this poem, I came across an interesting bit of analysis about how the narrator of the story was believed to be experiencing “a perverse conflict between a desire to forget and a desire to remember.” The third through the fifth verses stood out to me when I brought the dusty book out of retirement to see why this poem kept invading my sleep:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door-
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;-
This it is, and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”- here I opened wide the door;-
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

I wanted to slow my breathing down and tell myself that the pain in my chest was not a heart attack. I methodically removed the blankets and stepped out of the now sweat-covered bed to get my Springfield XD .45 pistol. This was the only thing that made me feel safe at night when I was torn from sleep in a nightmarish redux of my time in Iraq. The pistol on the night stand was like a Deus Ex Machina always there to save me when needed.

As I slowly walked towards the bedroom door, guided by the blue nightlight that I had insisted be plugged in at all times, I felt every pile of fiber from the carpet under my feet. They felt large and intrusive with my senses on full alert from the fight-or-flight response now in charge of my body. I listened intently, still not sure if it was a dream or if I would hear more Arabic being yelled, and more gunfire.