What if you woke up and found out your entire life had been a dream?
“What if it happens again?”
“It won’t,” the woman who is my mother says reassuringly.
“How do you know that?” I protest. “No one knows yet why it happened, remember? What if it was triggered by something that could get repeated? What if it’s a chronic condition that’ll happen exponentially more often throughout my life until I can’t remember anything? What if—”
“We can’t know that,” my mother says.
“Exactly!” I argue. “How am I supposed to be okay with living like normal, not knowing if any night I could just dream another whole lifetime and forget—”
I stop, because she’s looking at me with that pitying look adults give, the kind when they think you’re being unreasonable and childish, but they don’t want to tell you that outright. I know there’s nothing more I can say that will make her understand.
Eventually I say, “Okay.”
But I doubt I’ll sleep tonight.
I stand and look at the bed. The one I’ve supposedly spent almost every night of my life on, and yet I don’t remember any of them except last night.
I sit down on the lavender patterned comforter. It doesn’t look like a color I would choose. Maybe my favorite color was different in the Dream.
I pull my feet up onto the bed, pull back the corner of the comforter.
What if I dream again? What if I don’t wake up for another seventeen mental years?
I sit there and stare at the triangle of exposed pale blue sheet for a full two minutes. Then I forcefully stand up and walk over to the wooden desk in the corner of the room.
Not the desk, I tell myself. My desk. I’m supposed to start ‘retaking ownership of my life,’ according to the psychiatrist who talked to me today.
I have to remind myself that these disjointed people and places and stories were once mine.
I pull out a notebook and pen from a drawer and write on the top line of the first page: “Why would a dream make someone forget their life?”
That’s barely the start of the questions I have. That’s barely the start of the things that I won’t even let myself wonder. They’re too confusing and convoluted, or worse, they hurt too much to touch.
I move to the next line. “How is it possible to dream so much in a single night?”
Dream time may not correspond with real time, sure, but seventeen years is a lot of memories to fit into a single night. How fast would I have to think to get through all that content? No one remembers everything about their life, though, so maybe I dreamed bits and pieces of those years and it still felt like the whole lifetime.
I think back to what my parents have told me about my real life. None of it sounded familiar—not even a hint of deja vu. But I haven’t collected many details yet, so there could still be similarities between the Dream and my actual life. I know that dreams are often a way of processing reality, so maybe…
“Was the Dream based off real life in any way?” I write on the third line.
The weird things wouldn’t be, of course. Not the incredible story I thought was my life. I checked as soon as I woke up and found out what had happened—it wasn’t real. I would have known if it was.
But the simple things, like with family or friends, could be. Although for some reason, none of the people in the Dream were the same people that I know—knew?—in real life. At least, I don’t think they were. I haven’t had much chance to learn about my life, so there could have been people I didn’t know quite as well who appeared both in the Dream and in reality.
I scribble on a new line “How do you know the difference between a dream and a memory?”
What if some of my memories are still there, buried deep down, but lost in the ‘memories’ that are actually the Dream?
“How do you know the difference between a dream and reality?”
I fall forward, letting my head thump on the soft pages of the notebook. I feel the urge to cry, and I can’t decide if I should or not. I have no idea what to do.
I stay motionless with my head on the desk for a few minutes before sitting up. I need something to do, so I decide I’ll write one of my earliest ‘memories’ from the Dream. Regular dreams fade quickly, after all. If I want to understand anything about what happened to me, it could be helpful to make sure I remember everything that happened in the Dream. It’s a lot, but I have time.
I write memories and questions until early in the morning. By one o’clock, my head starts getting fuzzy, but I don’t stop. By three, I’m exhausted. Crazy doesn’t begin to describe the day I had yesterday. I glance at the bed, untouched since this evening, and sit for a moment looking at it.
It’s fine. I’ll sleep later. I’ll sleep once I know more. Maybe I’ll sleep tomorrow.
And then I’m jolting upright, my head flying off the desk where it was resting. No. I fell asleep? Waves of panic crash over me until I realize everything’s okay. I didn’t dream. Right?
How would I know if I’d been dreaming? How would I know if something like the Dream happened again? After this, how can I ever know what’s real?
I look at the time. 8:23 AM. I don’t remember my mother’s schedule, but she should be here. Both of my parents are taking a break to help me deal with what’s happened, which I appreciate.
It will give me time to get to know them again.
I open the door to my room, still dressed in the now-rumpled clothes I wore yesterday, and rush down the hall. My mother is sitting on the couch in the living room. My father is making breakfast.
“Good morning, Ferne,” my mother says. “Did you end up sleeping okay?”
“I slept,” I say in answer. “Tell me what happened yesterday.”
She frowns, looking at me with the worry that hasn’t left her or my father’s face since yesterday morning. “Don’t you remember?” she says. “Can you tell me what happened?”
No. I can’t. What if it’s wrong?
“Please don’t make me do this,” I plead. I can’t explain to her why, but I’m terrified of describing another memory, because what if it turns out to not exist?
She hesitates. Then she explains, “You woke up and we found out you’d lost your memory. We spent the rest of the day trying to figure out what was going on and meeting with people who could help you.”
I exhale in relief. I’m okay. None of my memories changed again while I was sleeping.
“Is everything alright?” my mother asks.
No. Not at all. Not even close.
“Nothing worse than yesterday,” I say. It’s not a lie.