"The realities of the world affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams became, in turn, —not the material of my every-day existence--but in very deed that existence utterly and solely in itself."
~Edgar Allen Poe,“Berenice”
My eyelids reluctantly flutter open, fighting against the stinging icy wind that has rendered every muscle in my face frozen and utterly useless. My body lies enveloped around itself in a tight ball on a very cold, stone surface. I force my stiff muscles to sit up while surveying my surroundings. Colorful string lights dangle overhead, illuminating several empty flowerpots from my mother’s herb garden. It appears my intuition about laying on a stone surface was correct after all. Oh no, I think to myself. I’ve done it again. How long was I sleeping out on the patio? Apparently not too long, since it is the dead of winter and I appear to be, well, alive. I didn’t even have the courtesy to bring myself a blanket during my typical nighttime sleepwalking excursion. I shake my head in disappointment. You’d think after all these years of sleepwalking, my sleeping mind would remember to provide me a bit of warmth, or at least wait until the weather is warm before forcing me to sleep on the patio again…. in a bathing suit?! My psychotic sleepwalking self has a sense of humor, I see. Well, two can play at this game. Before bed this evening, I am locking every piece of summer clothing I own in my suitcase and hiding the key in the empty flowerpot. Take that, snarky dream-self.
I roll my eyes at my own idiocy. It’s official: I am having an inner dialogue with my subconscious, as if we are two separate people. Sigmund Freud would have a jolly time diagnosing me.
The one troublesome fact that bothers me the most is that during these sleepwalking episodes, I am physically and mentally aware of the fact that I am tearing my room apart and roaming the house, actually acting out these dreams in a way. From all the research I’ve completed on sleepwalking, it seems most sleepwalkers don’t realize what they’re doing until they have awakened in a strange place: I, on the other hand, remember every detail of every dream, and I feel in my body what the dream scenario is supposed to make me feel. I take a deep breath and open the patio door to my house, preparing myself for the humiliation that I will face when I walk inside.
As I step into the living room from the patio doorway, the looks I receive from my family are hilarious, as if I am some sideshow circus freak. My father, sitting in his oversized fluffy brown chair, raises an eyebrow at me, hiding a smirk behind his crossword puzzle. My twin sister, Charlotte, stares at me with her mouth hanging open while a forkful of blueberry pancakes hovers midair in front of her face. The slimy tongue of Biff, our Black Labrador Retriever, slurps my face excitedly, his bullish paws propped on my shoulders. Disgusted by the fishy stench of his breath, I pry Biff away from my shoulders and shoot an evil glare towards my beefy older brother JT, rolling on the couch with howls of laughter. I grind my teeth. Even his laughter is meat-headed.
“What’s up, Sea-bass? Going for a refreshing swim in the middle of February?” he announces, chuckling like an oaf. My nostrils flare at the mention of his horrid nickname for me. I decide to make an equally insulting move in my response:
“Oh I don’t know, Jackson Thoreau the Third, I just thought I would randomly go camping on the patio last night,” I reply with a snarky smile playing on my lips. His response is immediately gratifying, with narrowed eyes and flushed cheeks, fists clenched around his cliché breakfast of choice: A special protein shake, adored daily by meatheads worldwide. He is rendered entirely speechless by my mention of his full name, and once again I feel that special wave of peace washing over me that can only be experienced through the wrath of my older brother.
“Sebastian, honey, it is so cold outside. I don’t think you should be wearing a bathing suit,” my mother says nonchalantly from the kitchen while she busies herself making coffee. I stroll to the kitchen and roll my eyes at her exaggeratingly, just to ensure she sees. My mother- well, my whole family- definitely knows I have been sleepwalking, but for some reason she feels some maternal urge to protect me from the embarrassment.
“Good grief, Felicity, don’t pretend to be so aloof,” my father pipes up from his crossword puzzle. “Give the boy some credit and acknowledge the fact that he was sleepwalking again. He knows it, and everyone else knows it too- including you! And for God’s sake, give me a five-letter word meaning ‘the heart of a story.’”
“I am not aloof!” she replies defensively, slamming the coffee pot on the kitchen counter. Almost as an afterthought, she adds, “How about the word ‘plot’ for your puzzle?”
“No, Felicity, I said a five-letter word!” my father roars from the living room.
“The word can’t be part of the clue! That would make no sense!”
“I’m a nutritionist, Jack, not a literary scholar.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see JT laboriously counting with his fingers.
“What about ‘novel’?” he chimes in, thinking he is suddenly a crossword puzzle genius. I have to stifle a guffaw as I pour my first cup of coffee for the day, watching my mother frantically working at the stove with a frying pan and some margarine.
Sometimes I swear my mother still thinks of me as the same toddler who used to follow her around everywhere, clinging to her pants and begging to be held at all times. We were inseparable, and I was so dependent on her love and comfort, especially when I had the night terrors that frequently disrupted my sleep. I used to scream for my mother, and every night she crawled into my bed, rubbing my head and singing softly until I drifted back to sleep. The night terrors continued to haunt me through my pre-teen years, but by then I started to push her away. I resented her. She created a needy and scared little boy who couldn’t fall asleep without his mommy singing lullabies, and I just couldn’t allow that to continue. I knew she loved me and also realized my sudden icy demeanor broke her heart, but I would not allow myself to grow into that kind of man.
My family’s continued arguing disrupts my reverie. I am immediately annoyed and must put an end to it.
“Theme,” I say flatly.
“What? You’re mumbling again,” my father replies, scratching the bald spot on top of his head.
“The answer to your impossible little clue is ’theme’,” I yell a little too loudly. I suddenly find myself extremely irritated, perhaps from the tediousness of this conversation, or perhaps from my disrupted night of sleep.
“Theme! Good job, Sebastian! All that time you spend buried in those books of yours is finally paying off,” my father replies so matter-of-factly.
“Yeah right,” JT grunts, spitting protein-shake all over the coffee table, “Because books will get you a full scholarship to any university in the country.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you got that lacrosse scholarship, Jackson Thoreau, because it seems like you haven’t so much as opened a book during your five-year enrollment at the University. Have you chosen a major yet, or are you holding out for the day when knuckle-dragging will finally be offered as a course of study?” I ask.
“How about I drag my knuckles across your face, Sea-Bass?” he answers, flexing his biceps as he admires his meaty self.
“Settle down now, boys,” my father mumbles, not even bothering to look up from his crossword puzzle. “Sebastian, you can be so narrow-minded. Your brother worked very hard to get that scholarship, and in these depressed economic times, it is a rare gift to not bear the burden of student loans after graduation.”
“An even better gift will be to not have your thirty-something son living in your basement because he’s still working on his Bachelor’s degree,” I retort. I knew it was the wrong thing to say, but the words came out before I could stop myself. Besides, there is a bit of harsh truth in my response: JT is twenty-three years old, working on his fifth year of college, yet still has not graduated because he is unable to choose a major and actually pass his classes. I remember one specific day when JT stormed through the door of our house, whining about the fact that lacrosse wasn’t offered as an academic major at the University. How he managed to trick a college into enrolling him remains one of the biggest mysteries of life.
“Sebastian, enough,” my mother gives me her I’m-going-to-kill-you-if-you-don’t-shut-up face, causing my immediate surrender. I sip my coffee quietly, absorbing the chaos that I inadvertently encouraged. In a quiet gesture of support and understanding, my mother gently rustles my hair as she takes her coffee and fried tofu sandwich into the living room.
“Well,” Charlotte begins matter-of-factly, twirling a tendril of her long, almost-onyx hair around a dainty finger. “I plan on going away to New York or Los Angeles for school, hopefully on a theatre or screenwriting scholarship, so nobody will be burdened by me.”
“You’re just a junior in high school! What do you know about anything?” JT barks, showering the table and my sister’s face with more of his protein shake. Disgusted, Charlotte wipes the pink slime from her forehead and realizes it has also been sprayed into her hair. Good thing it’s a Sunday, I think, otherwise she would have bolted upstairs to groom herself back to perfection. Instead, she dashes desperately toward the powder room to assess the damage in the mirror, but not without glaring at JT with her pale blue eyes, barely visible beneath her furrowed brow.
On her way, she retaliates with the most damaging response she could muster:
“I at least know what I want to do with my life. What are your plans for when, I mean, if you grow up, huh, JT?” Charlotte yells from the doorway of the bathroom. She mutters something else under her breath as she shuts the door, but I can’t tell if she’s still talking or simply growling in frustration.
She’s never been very adept at hurting feelings or bruising anyone’s ego, because Charlotte is just not the hurtful type. Sometimes I admire her for it, but usually I just see it as a weakness. She’s a little bit too caring, in a naïve kind of way. Her heart is in the right place, but it’s simply too idealistic.
“What’s wrong with her?” JT asks, tipping the large glass of slime completely upside down and swirling his tongue around the inside of the rim to lick every last drop of his protein smoothie. When he withdraws the glass, a pink circle frames his mouth, cheeks and across the bridge of his nose. He doesn’t seem to notice, of course.
My family has progressively become overwhelming with conversations of future ambitions and scholarships. It makes my head swim, and the lack of deep sleep from the previous night is starting to wear me down. I finish the rest of my coffee with one quick swig and proceed to pour myself another, grabbing my copy of Don Quixote as I head upstairs to my bedroom. Halfway up the stairs, I overhear my parents whispering in the living room. I hide myself behind the wall separating the staircase from the living room and lean my ear closer to overhear their conversation.
“I’m concerned, Jack,” my mother whispers. “Sebastian is sleepwalking again, and it seems to be worse now. He never slept outside before. Usually the cold air wakes him up as soon as he opens the door.”
“My father had those same problems, you know,” my father replies. “Sleepwalking, vivid dreams, among other issues that I won’t mention right here and now…”
My mind spins from this new information. I always knew my grandfather was sleep deprived- the heavy bags under his eyes always gave him away- but I never knew it was because he was a sleepwalker too. And what is this other issue that my father doesn’t want to talk about? What other sleep problems did my grandfather suffer from and why won’t anyone discuss it?
“Even when I was a child, the man refused to talk about sleep, dreams, or allow any of us to talk about them. He was a bitter man,” my father continues.
“Well, he hadn’t experienced a peaceful night’s sleep for practically his whole life,” my mother points out. “You really can’t blame him.”
“I suppose,” he concedes.
“I just worry that Sebastian’s future will be the same,” my mother says sadly.
“Don’t stress about it until we know more information, Felicity. He could just be a sleepwalker, with none of the other disturbing issues that my father had to deal with,” my father replies. He clears his throat uncomfortably. “Let’s talk more about this later.”
I creep quietly up the stairs using the tips of my toes, avoiding all of the normal squeaky spots on the floor and holding my breath to avoid making any sound. When I reach my bedroom at the end of the hall, I let out my breath all at once and close the door ever so gently until the latch makes a quiet clicking sound.
I take another long sip of coffee before setting it down on the nightstand and falling limply into the bed. It looks like a tornado came through this bedroom. I pride myself on my own general tidiness and organization, but I suppose my sleepwalking self does not uphold similar habits. Books lie scattered all over the floor and bed instead of resting neatly on the bookshelf. Dresser drawers hang open in a disheveled mess, clothes strewn over every carpeted surface and on top of my small wooden desk. I shake my head in embarrassment at my crazy sleep self. I can’t count how many times I had to tidy up my room after these sleepwalking antics. To be quite honest, I feel quite exasperated with myself.
My eyelids droop heavily, threatening to close completely, and the world around me becomes fuzzy. I don’t have the energy to clean up this mess right now. What was I looking for in my dream, anyway? This central theme often haunts my slumber. I know that something important is missing, but I can never remember what or who. What I do know is the inherent terror that I feel at the fact that I can’t seem to recover whatever I am searching for. It chills my spine, sends my heart racing, and prevents me from sleeping deeply for a solid stretch of time. Hell, I’d be lucky if I could manage a full two hours’ slumber without these images terrorizing my sleeping mind.
I run an exasperated hand through my hair and rub my temples, trying to make sense of it all. Maybe my mother is right and I will be just like my grandfather: A bitter, sleep-deprived man suffering from sleepwalking, dreams, and other “disturbing issues”. What issues haunted my grandfather that will inevitably haunt me as well? I wonder. What secret sleep horrors await my life that my parents can’t bring themselves to discuss?
Regardless of what awaits my sleep future, I remain focused on the sleep issues facing me right now: I am not a normal run-of-the-mill sleepwalker, nor am I a normal, run-of-the-mill dreamer even. Some people take pride in their uniqueness, their lack of mediocrity pertaining to their abilities, but I would like nothing more than to just be a typical teenager who sleeps too much. I just want a full night’s sleep, uninterrupted by these terrors that have haunted me for as long as I can remember. I want to fall asleep and awaken the next morning in the same place.
But most of all, I want to find a way to make the dreams stop.