Dreams are a terrible thing, perverse slices of your past thrown in your face linked up to all the triggers you try to disconnect. Disorienting and fake, they remind you of youth and old friends that aren’t around anymore and days when you were young and your father wasn’t dying.
I have dreams now, but they send me nowhere I need to go. Only back. I take surreal trips to the bedrooms and bathrooms of my past, full of constant fear of the screaming monster, the roar that made my heart ceaselessly race until it hurt. It’s crazy that something like that could have come out of the frail person I see today whose hand spasms so uncontrollably he has trouble buttoning his shirt.
They are hardly dreams, really. It’s almost safe to say I don’t dream anymore. I just have literal visions of the world I used to live in. I’m back in high school. I’m back where I grew up. I’m back in the city when I first left home. A dream is supposed to represent something, but all I do is catalogue memories and wake up wondering where they’ve all gone.
Sometimes I wake up and I’m a kid, eight or nine years old. It’s still early and through the window I can hear that it’s raining out and I know it can’t possibly happen, but I hide under my covers and delay getting out of bed and hope and pray that there’s enough rain to cancel school. That some sort of impossible fluke of weather will flood the roads and wash the cars away and nobody will come into my bedroom and yell at me over and over to get ready for school god-damn it.
Eventually though the voice seeps in, loud and angry and forever upset with me. It exists in the walls like a living hum. The voice reverbs throughout the entire house and as it gets angrier and angrier I get more and more terrified in my bed. Eventually I manage to get up, to get out of bed, to function in spite of the berating endless roar of the voice. And I run to the bathroom to brush my teeth, hating everything I am and all that I have to go through and knowing that everyone around me is angry, and everything I encounter that day will be some sort of trap to get me into trouble. There is thumping throughout the house and he’s up and trying to start his day with me, his son, forever in his way. And I try to be as small as possible and still as possible and to crush myself into nothingness, because that’s a better alternative than being noticed by my father.
I wake up confused and tired. I don’t feel rested because while I rested all I did was dream of waking up, and I go through my days firmly believing that I never slept.
I go to visit him and the drugs have made him sluggish and lethargic and stupid, constantly forgetting what he was trying to do in the midst of doing it. The voice that always existed inside my head as a constant shriek that I’ll never be as perfect as he is isn’t there anymore. The monster is gone. The monster has trouble holding a pencil as his nervous system slowly quits on him. But there’s no sense of distance or peace. Losing the monster means losing my father and all that’s left is this frail wreck.
Dreams are supposed to be special. They’re supposed to be magical, or fantastic, or scary. They’re supposed to be larger than life places that we visit as we sleep. But all I do is wake up in the bedrooms of my past and wonder where my memories have gone.
My dreams always start with me waking up. A very simple constant. I wake up and I go to get showered and ready for school. I’ll think about the school day ahead. I’ll worry about my backpack, about my schedule, about whether I’ll be able to keep up the course load I need to graduate. Then I remember that I graduated already. That I’m showering in a bathroom that hasn’t existed for years in a house that other people are living in. That other kids are growing up in. My memories and my past are being overwritten and I realize that home no longer exists for me and I am being erased.
There’s a glimmer, a structure, a baseline my brain tries to cling to. If I make it to school, the hallways look the same as they did. The lockers look the same. I have landmarks that supposedly orient me, but the dream always gets the details wrong. I expect to be faced with friends I used to swear I’d never forget, only I can’t even remember their faces enough to ponder them properly. When I make it to school it’s filled with people I don’t recognize instead of the friends of my past because nothing is recognizable after twenty years.
Everything is sort of right but never real: which classes I took, what everyone looked like, where I ran into problems, where I had breakdowns. The only thing the dream gets right are the feelings. The incessant terror of knowing I’m doing everything wrong, the knowledge that his shouting will follow me forever. In school it transferred over to teachers I found utterly terrifying, titans whose anger loomed in the hallways, their essence taking over all the classrooms. But they all have blurred into nothing, the details didn’t matter, only the atmosphere of anger and hatred ready to erupt if I spoke out of turn. I’m a scared kid in an empty classroom worried about the ghosts of the past appearing to break me down again.
And then I’ll remember that I’m not in school anymore and I’ll wake up, terrified and confused, and head to the bathroom.
It’d be nice if there was a safe place, it one of these bathrooms could offer a time in my life when I felt stable, when I felt okay, but they don’t. Everywhere I wake up I find myself heading to the shower with dread. Sometimes three or four times in a row I’ll wake up and shower only to realize I’m still sleeping. It’s an endless cycle, only broken when I finally get up in my empty bed and walk to my shower and then go out to face the same day I always face except everything is different now.
The maze is rigged and the wheel never lands where it’s supposed to. I never wake up in a good place because I never woke up in a good place.
Sometimes it’s real, sometimes it’s another dream. There’s no sense to it. I just wander through time and places, heading for the shower, wondering if I’m in reality, never quite sure which I’d prefer, the false known of the past where the monster lives, or the terror of the present where I have to watch him crumble.
There are some flashes of hope in the dreams, occasional glimpses of happiness, but only because I feel like I’ve traveled back in time, and it takes me awhile, standing in the water, to remember that I’m not fresh and young and just arrived in the city anymore. That those were wasted years as well.
The bathroom in those dreams is a conglomerate, a mess of bathrooms from apartments filled with roommates and friends and I can’t keep the good away from the bad. There’s a sense of something coming in these dreams. The notion of discovery and starting a new life and growing into something new, I can feel that as I step from the bathroom and begin to explore and I keep finding new rooms. The apartment goes on forever and I never realized I had so much hidden space waiting for me. If only I had realized that I had the space to run from the people I needed to get away from, the drug addicts and the alcoholics and the assholes and the thieves. The detritus of a life I mostly just watched as it happened to me, long since having given up real control to the monster. Choices made aren’t mine, roads taken aren’t mine. But there are so many other rooms in the apartments of my dreams and I almost start to think that if I run down enough hallways I’ll actually be able to get free.
There are old girlfriends, flickers from the past, different bedrooms and different places we slept together and I can’t remember any names because all of them left and became one constant sense of loss.
In the hallway the roommates scream and yell and it’s all familiar again as I start to panic and suddenly I want to leave. I hate it here…but there are so many rooms and I keep finding more. It’s the greatest apartment in the world, there are sixteen living rooms and sunken studies and stairs leading into more space and I could use all of it if I could just get away. But roommates and friends and people come crowding in, the rejects and the assholes and always more yelling, rumbling in the walls, telling me over and over again how I don’t fit in, how I’m not right, how I deserve nothing, and the hallways always lead back to filthy kitchens and crowds of people instead of brand new rooms and freedom. I tell myself it will be okay and then try to run as far away as I can and hide in a bedroom that they’ll never find but it doesn’t help, they’re always there, always yelling.
But that isn’t right either and I wake up and it’s now.
I dream and I return and there’s nothing for me. Waking I find a reality I no longer want. Time has ticked away and instead of shouting down the voices in the walls I’ve only bobbed along from bedroom to bedroom until the clock ran out. There’s no yelling, his voice is weak now, and there’s nothing to fear anymore, but all semblance of myself crumbles away as well like a sandcastle in the surf. It was supposed to be a fight, the struggle was how I came to define my life. When you dream of winning a battle, you dream of doing it on your own terms, and it’s sweet and it’s nice because you’ve taken your life and made it into a story where you’re the focus, instead of a side-character to someone else’s roar. When the monster simply checks out one day into a haze of medication never to return, who’s to say what my life even meant.
My dreams don’t let me rest anymore, they just show me over and over again how my life was never mine and then leave me in the present, heading towards the shower, wondering which is worse, having a life that was only about trying to beat him and always losing, or suddenly having no life at all and watching him die.
Dreams are terrible things, catalogs of the past, containers with no substance.
Hailing from New Jersey, Joseph Devon is sarcastic, caustic, abrasive, and yet a surprisingly good cook. As the eldest member of the arena’s cadre, Joseph has come to rely on discipline over flash and dozens of rewrites over bursts of creativity. He also sometimes remembers where he put his dentures. Joseph grew up fighting for attention over loud guidos and even louder New Yorkers and polished a knack for concise, striking imagery. A fan of most anything silly, Joseph also has a depth hidden under his love of talking animals that can rope in unsuspecting readers and make them think before they realize they’re reading anything of substance. Joseph is the author of the first two books of the Matthew and Epp trilogy, Probability Angels and Persistent Illusions and is hard at work on the third.