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Crossing The River Of Reality
It was the summertime.
There was a creak on the back porch, followed by a knock at the door. I hopped up and went outside to see who it was.
“Look who followed me home,” my friend said dryly, pointing to her right.
Standing next to her was a small, elderly woman, about four feet tall. She had long and black hair that covered her eyes, and a white robe that matched her milky white skin. Her stare cut through me like a bullet, even though her form resembled a graveyard statue. I gulped and slowly took a step back before spinning around, throwing open the screen door as quickly as I could, and dashing inside to bolt the latch. I had expected the woman to chase me inside, but she simply stood on the porch, still staring. My friend broke into shrill laughter, her head detaching itself from her neck. It flew into the air and exploded, and her headless body fell to its knees like a rag doll. The old woman didn’t flinch. My face was pressed right up against the screen door. I was too scared to move. She slowly floated forward and squished her face against the screen, millimeters from mine. Most of her face was hiding behind her stringy, oily hair. She took her cold, lifeless hands and put them up against the screen. There was a moment of nothingness, and then she cackled horribly, her hair flying back as though she had received an electric shock, revealing her bloodshot eyes and green teeth. She punched through the screen door, grabbing me. The fingers that had looked limp a second ago were now bone crushing. I screamed and pulled away, racing through my house out onto the front porch where my mom and my dad were enjoying the calm summer day in rocking chairs.
“There’s a demon on the back porch!” I yelled.
My parents laughed.
“No, I’m serious!” I yelled in my small, 8-year-old voice.
“Okay, Marty, we believe you,” they said. “She’ll be gone soon, don’t worry. Just hope she doesn’t hide under your bed and scare you in the night!” My parents locked eyes and broke into a new fit of laughter. The sun dropped out of the sky, and the world went completely black. As my parents chuckled in the darkness, I fumbled for the door and tore it open. I sprinted upstairs into my bedroom and hid beneath the covers. I was safe.
Suddenly, the woman’s head shot up through the covers from under the bed. She shrieked like a wild animal, her bloody red eyes falling from their sockets, her head spinning around in a circle, blood from her detached eyes gushing everywhere.
And in a second, I wake up. I’m lying on my back on the sofa in my living room, listening to the hiss of the burning logs in the wood stove and the buzz of the light bulb from the lamp that is burning out. My body is drenched in sweat, and I can’t stop shivering, so I roll off the couch and lie down next to the woodstove. I look at my reflection in the glassâ€”my hair is sweaty and standing on end and my cheeks are bright. I shut my mouth and try to stop my teeth from chattering.
For the past two months, this has been my life. I am not an actor in a horror movie. I am not a mental patient. I don’t do acid. I’m just a junior in high school in southern Vermont who doesn’t have much to do. Cross country running season is over. My classes aren’t very difficult. I have mostly A’s, but I barely have to try. I don’t have that many friends, and the ones I do have are busy most of the time. Most days, I take the bus home, start a fire in the wood stove, get on the couch, pull up a blanket, and close my eyes. When I first started making this into a habit, I was a little surprised at myself. I’m a pretty active person. So at first, I recognized going home after school every day to sleep as laziness.
The idea of sleeping being a form of laziness now seemed laughableâ€”my naps were vivid, intense roller coaster rides through my brain. But it wasn’t always like this. When I first started sleeping after school, the dreams were pretty tame, mostly stress-relatedâ€”I forget to do homework, I fail a test, etc. Those dreams weren’t particularly interesting. Today, I like to call them Level One: Stress Dreams.
I didn’t give upâ€”“stress dreams” turned to Level Two: Sad Dreams, which mostly consisted of me crying for assorted reasons. Other times, I would just dream that everyone hated me. “Sad dreams” were more exciting than “stress dreams,” but they made me feel angsty. I hate feeling angsty.
As I continued to pursue my hobby of recreational sleeping, my dreams got weirder and weirder, and they grew into Level Three: Crazy Dreams. Most of the Crazy Dreams that I remember are very frightening and grotesque, like the above dream, or the one where I walked into a little cabin in the Midwest, and once I was inside, a table attacked me, stamping on me with its legs, leaving holes all over my stomach.
Don’t worry, I’m not some kind of insane person who only dreams about sketchy things. Well, at least I don’t think so. I just remember the crazy ones because they make the best stories to tell people. I have happy dreams, too, but they never leave an impact on me like the scary ones.
Remembering any dream is a challenge, anyway. Sometimes I wake up, and say, “That dream was amazing! I have to remember it!” But as the day goes by, pieces of the dream slip away until there’s nothing left but a stale cartoon. It’s like trying to hold sand in your fingers. You can clutch it for a little while, but eventually, it’s all gone.
The first time I woke up from my demonic little woman dream lying on my back on the couch, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I remembered the dream, but not that vividly. That was all about to change.
The next Sunday, I was lying on couch, staring at the ceiling. It was like any other Sunday. I was avoiding doing my homework and counting the rotations of the ceiling fan. All of a sudden, something reminded me of the witch-like woman, and it all came back like a speeding freight train. When I closed my eyes, my film projector brain would click and replay the dream for me. But this time, it was in Technicolor and filmed in high definition.
As soon as I remembered the dream, I started shivering all over again. I was terrified, but at the same time, I was energized, and I knew I had to do something with that dream. I wasn’t going to let it slip away from me again. I ran to my mom’s computer and typed up what happened as fast as I could. You read the original version. After I typed it, I grabbed my guitar and my recording equipment, and I recorded an improvised song about the dream. It included moaning and howls in the appropriate spots, and although I had begun the song by calmly strumming my guitar and whispering, I broke into screaming and nearly breaking the strings by the end. Once I was done, I hit the stop button and replayed what had just come out of my mouth. I had played for about 15 minutes. Did that really come out of my head? I wondered. Am I crazy?
For some reason, I made an attempt to take this dream beyond my own mind and played the recording of the song for my best friend, who confirmed that I was, in fact, as crazy as a coconut. I remember the momentâ€”he was lying on the floor, next to the speakers. Once the song was over, he looked up at me, wide-eyed.
“Sh**, man,” he said. “I’m scared of you.”
Not I’m scared for you, or I’m scared with you, he was scared of me. When he said that, I realized that I had tried to take something that belonged to my brain out of my brain. It was a mistake, and now I was scared of myself.
“You’re crazy,” he said, shaking his head. “Crazy.” Awesome friend, right?
“I’m not crazy,” I shot back. “You don’t even know how big of a deal this is.”
“Oh, no,” he said. “I know it’s a big deal. But you’re still insane.”
“I’ve never felt this in touch with my creativity,” I said. “It’s like my conscious mind and my sub-conscious mind have melded together to create something awesome.”
“Marty, only crazy people mess around with that sh**. Normal people don’t pay any attention to their subconscious mind.”
I shrugged my shoulders.
“You’re going to turn into one of those crazy artists when you get older,” he stated dryly. “They think that they’re getting in touch with their creativity, but they’re really just getting crazier.”
Images of Anne Sexton poisoning herself with carbon monoxide and Elliott Smith stabbing himself twice in the heart were dancing in my brain. I was at the same time honored to be compared to “one of those crazy artists” that I secretly dreamed of becoming yet furious that my best friend could say something like that. But I just shrugged my shoulders like it wasn’t that big of a deal. After he left, I said to myself, “this is a big deal.” After all, I did have a schizophrenic aunt who took her own life at age 21. Was it genetic? I searched “schizophrenia symptoms” on Google and found a “free test to see if you’re insane!”
To my delight, the only symptoms I really met were “disorganized speech/thinking” and “sitting in the house for many hours a day doing nothing.” The test assured me that if I encountered a Level Three: Crazy Dream while I was awake, I would be certifiably insane. Close call!
I was very happy that I wasn’t schizophrenic. I had learned my lesson: when you create something that only you understand, and you know you shouldn’t show it to other people, don’t show it to other people. I continued to sleep recreationally until the winter was over, but none of the other dreams I had even came close to my “demonic little woman” dream.
ONE YEAR LATER
Today I am a senior in high school. My life is a lot more interesting now than it was a year ago. Now I never sleep, not even when I’m tired. Well... I sleep sometimes, but my recreational naps are few and far between.
Dreams still intrigue, and yes, haunt me. To me, they’re the most obvious way to build a bridge across the River of Reality. On the east bank of the river is fact, and on the west bank is nothing but loony, unbelievable fiction. As a writer and musician, I am still trying to build the bridge between those banks. Right now, all I have is one of those rickety rope bridges like they have in rain forests. Maybe someday I can transform it into a gigantic four-lane suspension bridge that encompasses the mind and turns the most delusional dreams into a creative effort that is thought-provoking. Luckily, unlike building a real bridge, this mental bridge doesn’t take much physical work. In fact, I can build it by sleeping and writing down my totally bizarre dreams. And I plan to do just that.