The first things I felt were hands clenching my ankles. It was dark and this wasn't my room and I didn't know who the hands belonged to, but I knew they wanted to pull me away from here and into something sinister. What I didn't know was that they were about to drag me to my wife.
Sleep paralysis is particularly seedy. It messes with your mind and tricks you into terror. You feel someone grab your ankles and jolt your head up. You try to kick yourself free, but your legs won't work. You twist, you shake, you punch and finally, you scream. Nobody can hear you.
You're not in danger – you're hallucinating. But the terror is so real, the helplessness so vivid, your brain actually tricks itself into believing you're 6 years old again and the aliens are coming, barging through the door to whisk you away. All the while, you're awake and paralyzed.
At some point, you just let go and brace yourself.
I'm in no way immune to this condition. Causes of sleep paralysis include sleep deprivation, fatigue and overuse of stimulants; I welcome droves of each of these deficiencies into my often lewd and nefarious life.
So it came as little surprise that this sensation would come over me last week, as I lay wired and aware at 6 am in a strange hotel room, mind nearly mush from all the molly, a five-day bender at the beach nearly in the books. Grinning like a fool, I couldn't fall asleep and hadn't in about three days.
Then, it hit me.
I thought it would be a shame to die like this, alone in such a cold, dark place. Things had been going so well. I was living on the shore, away from it all, toes in the sand and nose to the table.
For five days, everyone was my friend. The beer was cold. The girls – hold on, let me see if I can get this right: Misty, Sammy, Revel, Macy, Dars and Joanne, in that order? Yes. Yes! – well, they would have made my last week on Earth a good one. We laughed until the bars closed and walked around with arms interlocking with whomever.
At one point, I asked Joanne to come back home with me.
“Look at the size of your pupils,” she said. “I can't trust you!” And I cackled so hard my head rocked back into the night.
Now that was all in the past, since whoever came to grab me was taking me away somewhere else.
If you've never had sleep paralysis before, or you've never experienced genocide, it's difficult to truly understand terror in the word's truest sense. The fear overwhelms you; it's in your bones. It's not worry, like “Oh no, what if we forget to water the plants?" It's not being startled, like “Oh shit, I just missed running over those plants.” It's like you're a Neanderthal again, eating plants in a dark cave, and a tiger is sniffing at the door.
Which is what made our arrival to our eventual destination so perplexing. My traveling partner (I never met him or saw his face; psychologists call this concept of “the intruder” common, and use it to explain stories of alien abduction.) appeared to be dragging me through space and time, transcending this world. Where we arrived felt someplace heavenly, a massive, sprawling garden full of colors so bright I thought they'd burst.
A different energy was controlling me now. I wasn't moving myself and nobody was pushing me, but I was moving all right, toward this small group of smiling people, in the type of linear way that makes the path feel almost predestined. I was convinced I was supposed to be there and that I would be there later, for real. This was some sort of surreal experience I imagined turned sillier people to God.
This was the future.
I was drawn to four people, standing in a garden. The sun was wide but not hot. There was little glare. Everyone was existing, it felt, in perpetuity. They were happy.
It was a woman and two children. I can still see them. The woman looked like a mix between Zosia Mamet and this girl Stephanie I cheated on in high school. Her name was Olivia. She didn't tell me this. She wasn't wearing a name tag. I just knew. I knew she was my wife. And I could already feel myself loving her like I never thought possible.
Dreams are so often reflections of realities lived, of repressed whatevers. They're based on shit that's happened already, shit your brain has already absorbed and then dements. But I'm not someone who thinks about the concept of marriage when he's awake and able. It does not cross my mind. I'm the guy trying to fuck a girl from every state. She wants more; I want less. I'm that guy. The one you don't want talking to your sister.
Marriage is a particularly explosive topic I try not to think about. But in reality, I actively avoid pondering much about the future at all. There is so much shit going on now, in this moment, to think about. And so much that can change. I never understood the logic in fretting over something impossible to foresee.
Still, here I was, in this alternate reality. Not dreaming, exactly, of marriage. But previewing it? I didn't ask to come to this strange place, but I wasn't disliking it. In fact, I loved it.
Olivia embraced me and handed me two young girls. A boy, around 10, tree-hugged my leg. I can't exactly describe what I felt in this moment because I've never had comparable moments. It was like this valve stored inside me, one I never knew was there, was finally cranked open, shaking off rust and cobwebs and spilling out unencumbered joy.
These kids looked like me. I could see my own smile. I looked better than I usually do. Maybe it was the sun. They wanted me there, and for the first time in my life, I felt zero instinct to want to be anywhere else.
It stopped feeling like a dream. It felt like life. Other people around were smiling, too. I barely noticed them except one walking around with hors d'oeuvres.
A voice boomed over everything. Time to go. My son held on and told me to stay. Olivia looked into me, with strength, and nodded. In a second, they were gone.
The terror returned and it swallowed me, spilling deep into my guts. I woke up screaming and sweating and alive and free of everything but Joanne, lying naked on the other side, her nose slightly sprinkled, snoring over the sound of the ceiling fan.