Apprehension settles in right around dusk. Shadows stretch for the long night ahead, laying a blanket down for some giant nocturnal picnic. In one last show of radiant glory, the sun slides into the horizon like bread into a toaster, continuing its never-ending journey to cook the planet to perfect brownness.
But the sun’s exit, stage West, heralds the time where I can’t continue my fight against sleep. Eventually, I’ll have to lie down, close my eyes, give into the merciless machinations that cobble themselves together in the flutters of my REM. Eventually, the dreams will come, and with them all those fiendish imps of imitation and devils of deception.
Every night for nearly 8 months now, I go to sleep only to wake up somewhere else, in a blurry pseudo-reality that’s simultaneously vivid and ethereal. Memories move like phantasms, fragments of what they should be, broken pieces of things I recognize, sewn together by my mind into a quilt of mismatched nostalgia. The rules of chronology abandoned, places and ages defy logic, and I’m with people in dream that I can’t be with in sun-soaked waking hours.
Every night I spend hours with my dad, chatting with him like nothing has changed, and every bitter morning I have to wake to that chest-tightening reality that it was only a dream. Of late our chats turn dour; he’s disappointed in how I’m handling things in his corporeal absence, chiding me for not stepping up, being the man he raised and expected me to be. The joy of seeing his mischievous smile quickly falls away to his ever-present disappointment and my ever-present guilt.
I know, rationally, it’s just my stress manifesting, snarling at me from behind an unforgivingly efficient cerebellum, but that doesn’t make the daily ritual of returning to dadless reality any easier to suffer. I know that dreams are not reality, but the lanes shift too often; so often that I start to wonder how real or unreal a dream really is when it pounds so insistently on the door to my psyche, even when I’m awake.
I’ve tried to fend off the dreams by running until my legs surge lactic acid, reading until my eyes burn with fatigue, even, despite acute awareness of the dangers inherent, drinking in hopes that a few quaffs from the silky sweetness of late night stout might offer respite and nepenthe from memories relentless.
But even a drink doesn’t lessen the pain. If anything my indulgence heightens the haunt, makes the sadness palpable, going up as the contents of the glass goes down. Counter to my hopes, it does nothing to inject some subtle nitrogen into brain, nothing to smooth out the harsh edges of my fear of falling asleep.
I always imagined ghosts being more tangible, something more inline with the white sheets and wispy mists of childhood fancy. I’d convinced myself that if lingering spirits existed, they could be caught on film, captured by technology and those brave enough to actively seek them. I never expected the supernatural to be homegrown in the garden of my imagination.
It turns out that ghosts are made of memories, flashbacks that flirt with your peripheral vision during the day, and only come out to play as full bodied apparitions once your body has given up for the day. They exist there, just as real as when they existed here, brought back to life by the power of your mind.
Every night, for 8 months now, I’ve dreamed dreams I don’t want, but can’t escape.
Every night, for 8 months now, I wake up dead.