Hell is That One Beautiful Endless Dream
The alarm goes off at 8 am just like every other morning and she opens her eyes wearily to take in her surroundings. When she’s made sure that she’s in her own bed, she rolls over to her side and closes her eyes again as she tries to recall where she’s just been.
At his house, she takes in a deep breath as she remembers and gives herself time to allow that one ragged breath to ease the soreness in her heart.
He had introduced her to his kids, well, specifically, to his son. As she knelt down to look into those inherited eyes, he had bent his head low right next to hers and she had dared to look into his face as he told his son all about this nice lady who had come to visit and asked him to say hello to her.
She had in fact talked to his son more than to him. In that short conversation, she learnt all about what a wonderful father he was, just like — she recalled fondly and proudly — she had thought he would turn out to be all those years ago.
It wasn’t the most damaging of dreams.
The night before, he had brought her to his new apartment where she had keenly observed just how handsome his room was, with walls lined with sleek white cabinets that proudly showed off his polished handcrafted woodwork, quite unlike her place that was always peppered with all sorts of personal junk. She remembered a time when she had known that they were “incompatible” right down to choice of living space.
As she looked around at his place, she knew she had remembered rightly.
And the night before that, he was back on one of those summer breaks from school and they were out at that brand-new club in town. He had easily silenced the wildly thumping music when he looked at her in the same aching way he used to. She hesitated for just one brief moment, as she always did like a deer caught in the headlights of that inevitable collision, before she moved toward him. He pulled her into that familiar embrace that she had missed for so long and there, she rested, for just a second before she woke up.
The week before, they took a walk on a muddied path that cut through a forest. He was dressed in the white shirt that she used to love removing off him. She asked him something unimportant just to break the silence and to still those thoughts and he smiled kindly at her. There was no love lost or found between them, at least not in the way they once knew together, but there was everything else that she had sought for years: Reconciliation.
And the week before that, he wanted to bring her to his family home. [In her dreams, she reminded herself to look up what it means when you visit a person’s home in your dreams. Was it because she wanted to be invited in to his space again? Or was it just a memory of when she had first visited his new home?]
She thought it might be awkward to meet his mother, but he convinced her it would be alright. In the faintest of whispers, she remembered how his mother had in fact, won the fight against their union. She could not understand how it would “be alright” but was immeasurably moved that he was going to stand up for her. This time, at least.
The month before, they were shoving their way through the crowds at a Cairo marketplace with frenzied activity all around them and most wares — shawls, galabeya, jewellery, trinkets and perfume bottles – being offered at “only 50USD!” He had her on his arm like he was going to proudly show her off to the world but she already felt on top of it right there next to him. Vaguely, she recalled how the streets looked during their honeymoon there and she knew this dream was right.
And the month before that, they had danced to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon”, one of the very first songs they had listened to together, and her heart had skipped as impulsively as her sequinned black dress twirled, to music that not even Frank could touch. She had looked up at his aged wrinkled face and held it in her open palms.
“Don’t let me go again,” she whispered quietly in her heart. A tear formed in his eye and she knew that she had earned his promise.
A year before that, they were in his old bedroom, him propped up on the window’s ledge and strumming his guitar carelessly and with no heed to how he was playing her heartstrings. His dark hair was all over his face that was just beginning to reflect the stress of his job but when his fingers moved, he was lost to those real-life ravages and she remembered how one night a long time ago, she had known there was no turning back as she began a new life with this man.
In one of these dreams, he had handed her a gift, not unlike how he used to. It was a music box that played the most soulful music she had ever heard composed from a combination of bells and melodies, forgotten whispers and remembered dreams. She knew that music as if it had come from a secret place within her.
But that was how dreams were, created from a source within, whole worlds pieced together from our experiences and memories. The tune took her away… and back to life.
She had heard somewhere before only the seasoned dreamer could return to a dream and continue it. That morning as she opened her eyes from that place of divinity to the reality that was her life, she had quickly and deliberately closed them again, willing herself to return to that same dream; almost immediately, she had snapped back to her dream and found herself arrived back at the same scene with the music box in her hand.
She opened it and again, that beautiful music. It was the first time she had dreamt of him and could not care less for him.
In all those years of nighttime romances, they had walked across the small land of Singapore, flew to the London they never saw together, stood on atolls in the Red Sea, drank hot sake and ate hot ramen at the top of Niseko mountain, counted blue cars they passed on a drive up to Kuala Lumpur, huddled together in the cold of Rovaniemi, lived till the stars burnt out as they stayed home together to watch it all come to its beautiful dramatic end.
They had spent whole lifetimes together.
In her dreams, she was always a nobody: nobody’s child, nobody’s friend, nobody’s wife and nobody’s mother. And at the same time, it was in those dreams that she was the most beloved and cherished person of all. She was somebody to the only other person in her dreams. She was his. His to love and to chide, his to spoil and to break, and his to hold and to cast away.
But she had forgotten who he was.
He was once that boy who would not return the pieces of her he had stolen but he was also the man who became her rock and anchor that kept her afloat. Later, she suspected he had become the one who played peekaboo with her in her fantasies and daydreams, the one who hid behind doors and poked at the corners of her mind waving tickets to brave new worlds where the adventures she never had, beckoned.
Captor, anchor, escape… in the passage of life’s inevitable heartbreaks, they became one and the same.
She knew that some of these dreams were memories but she had long forgotten which ones. They had started four decades ago and instantly ensnared her. Even then, she knew she had entered a realm of hell specially crafted for her.
It was a hell made up on one unending string of dreams interspersed with reality that was constantly blurred enough to mar the lines. She embraced these delicious shadows of reality. So she chose to stay.
Long ago she had relinquished control of her mind.
But not her heart. And not that musical gift box she retrieved from a dream. She would fill her dreams with that beautiful symphony of forgotten music played over and over again with never enough words in the universe to capture its soul and essence. Until it was 8 am anyway.
Then, and only then, would she let the tears fall: For the music that didn’t belong in this world, and for the love that she could never grasp in her waking world with the him that she could not even remember anymore.
Written for all the dreams we dream where we remember our names, the people in our stories, where we time travel and come undone.
This story was first published on P.S. I Love You.