“It happens when I’m asleep and only when I sleep. When I was younger, my parents just thought I had a vivid imagination that fueled my dreams, but when the boy next door started recognizing me from his dreams, that’s when I knew.”
“Knew what?” Dr. Clayborn asked, curious by my sudden development in willingness to speak.
“My dreams weren’t my own and have never been mine,” I answered as I bounced my knee from my chair hidden by her wide wooden desk in the cramped office of the hospital. The ticking of the analog clock resting above the office door pounded in my ears as I tried to steady my breathing, keeping it in rhythm to appear as unfazed as possible.
“Can you explain that to me? I would like to understand more, Aislin,” Dr. Clayborn spoke calmly and precisely. I could tell she was choosing her words wisely, a trait she had no doubt learned to develop over the years after studying teenagers battling with addiction.
I swallowed hard, wondering if I had said too much. A light sheen of sweat beaded upon my forehead. It felt like I was going through withdrawals all over again—as if this was my first day. I was never good at taking tests, and I felt like if I didn’t pass this one, I would have to say goodbye to everything I used to know. The safety net around my world was being ripped away, but I suppose this was the kind of admission these people were looking for.
“It started when I was young,” I pressed on, ignoring the dryness in my throat. “At first, I thought everything was normal because kids dream about their parents and people they see all the time. The first time I noticed something was off was when Charlie, the boy I used to live by, would tell me about his dreams. I knew about them long before he told me because I had been there.”
“You’re saying that your subconscious connects with the subconscious of others through dreams?” Dr. Clayborn reiterated for clarification.
“I…I suppose…” It sounded crazy. Utterly insane even to my own ears. Years had passed without speaking a word of this to anyone. The fear had held me hostage then, and I could feel its icy grip squeezing around my neck, choking my words now.
Dr. Clayborn straightened in her leather chair behind her desk and leaned forward, licking her lips as she contemplated my words. Out of all the nurses and staff that tended to the patients within the center, Dr. Clayborn was the only one who made me feel normal. It was the only reason I had allowed myself to confide in her—as well as my only way out of this place.
“You know there’s a term for that,” she replied after a slight pause.
“Yes.” She leaned back in her chair, relaxing. “Sigmund Freud was the first to speak of it. I’m sure you’ve heard about him from school, correct?”
I nodded. It was a name I knew in passing. I was too spaced out to pay attention to my classes during my junior year. Unfortunately, I was spending my summer before my senior year in a rehabilitation center because of my past transgressions. The only silver lining was that I was grateful I wasn’t in a mental institution, even though sometimes I felt like I belonged in one.
“He spoke of a concept known as dream telepathy. It entailed the melding of two subconscious minds where the individuals could enter each other’s dream worlds,” she explained. “While the concept hasn’t been proven, nor can it truly be tested with science without entering into a world of parapsychology and superstition, it could hypothetically be possible.”
I frowned, my displeasure evident upon my face. “So, in layman’s terms, you think I’m delusional.”
Sighing, I lowered my head and stared at my white tennis shoes given to me as part of my uniform over a month prior. It was the reaction I was expecting when I revealed myself to her. Baring my soul had never done me any favors.
“Charlie thought the same thing, too,” I mumbled. “I had a crush on him, the boy next door. I thought since he remembered me in his dreams that he would understand when I explained my story. He didn’t. And that’s when things went downhill.”
“You’ve mentioned Charlie frequently in our discussions as well as in group. He seems to be one of the catalysts for your addiction. Would you like to talk about him?”
“No—not particularly.” My instant panic caused the words to rush from me. While I couldn’t deny what Dr. Clayborn had said was true, it wasn’t a topic I was ready to take on. That boy—he broke me.
As she regarded me with pondering eyes, her hand jotted down a few notes across my open file on her desk. I needed to salvage this session. “Why could he only see me at certain times?”
“It sounds like Charlie would need to be experiencing the phenomenon known as lucid dreaming to remember you specifically,” Dr. Clayborn declared.
“Is that normal? Lucid dreaming?”
“Sometimes,” she began. “Not everyone can remember their dreams, and even fewer become conscious during them. It’s a state between the subconscious and conscious minds where people may control their dreams or change them. Were you ever able to speak to Charlie?”
“Just once. Whenever I tried to talk to someone, they would usually ignore me,” I answered. “It was kind of like watching a movie. Their movie. I can only see what they’re dreaming about, but it feels real. It’s extremely vivid to me.”
“I see. What did you and Charlie talk about when you were able to gain his attention during one of these dreams?” Dr. Clayborn spun her coffee mug around on her desk to grasp the handle.
“I remember…I remember yelling at him. I wasn’t angry. I was just trying to say hi. He turned his head to look at me, and that’s when I knew. The first thing he asked was how I got there, and then the dream faded away. It was brief. That’s probably the best way I can describe it.”
“What other dreams have you seen?” she inquired. Picking up her pen on her desk, she tapped the open file in front of her lightly.
I swung my feet under my chair, remembering all the different types of dreams I had seen over the years. Some were fantastical, while others were pure nightmares, the worst horror scenes I had ever seen. It wasn’t a question I dwelled on in my waking life. Usually, I would try to forget.
“It hasn’t always been smooth sailing in dreamlands,” I managed to say.
Dr. Clayborn waited for me to elaborate, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. While they weren’t my personal dreams, I felt a certain sense of duty to maintain their confidentiality. Some of the people I knew personally, while others were complete strangers. I didn’t know how far my abilities could reach, but the stories that unfolded in others’ minds didn’t feel like my stories to tell.
“How about we set that subject aside and talk about something else for a few moments? How’s your relationship with your family?” I knew she had to ask those types of questions to check off the boxes for my file. It was the same one she asked every time I saw her.
“It’s fine. My parents are good people, and Jess is probably enjoying having our bedroom to herself while I’m gone.” I glanced down at my nails as I picked at my cuticles.
“Do you think Jess looks up to you as her older sister?”
“I suppose…that’s the main reason I wanted to do this,” I admitted.
Jess was only a couple of years younger than me and was to start High School in the fall. I could live with being a disappointment to my parents, but I couldn’t handle having my little sister wonder why her idol had suddenly fallen from grace. It was difficult enough having to look my parents in the eye when they sat the pill bottle they found stashed under my mattress on the coffee table in front of me. It was at that moment, I knew my depression had gotten the best of me.
“Are the dreams what caused you to turn towards pills?” Dr. Clayborn asked, rousing me from my dark thoughts.
I took a deep breath before answering. “You could say that. I thought that if I didn’t sleep, then I wouldn’t dream. Adderall was the easiest prescription to get my hands on. The kids at school always had it on them.”
“How did it make you feel?” It was another generic question, typical of a psychiatrist.
“I felt like I could do anything—be who I wanted to be. I could stay awake for days and not feel a thing. It was easier that way.”
“Did you not want to feel?” she asked, her pen ready to take more notes.
I turned my gaze towards her, abandoning my nails. I thought for a moment about how I wanted to phrase my answer. “I just wanted to be alone. Inside my own head for a change. I didn’t want to see.”
“See what, Aislin?”
I flinched at the sound of my name upon her lips. She didn’t use it very often during our sessions, and sometimes I wondered if she did so only to bring me back into reality when she noticed I was slipping away.
“Not everyone has sweet dreams, Dr. Clayborn,” I whispered. “We can sit here and pretend that what I see is a gift, but it’s not. You could tell me that it’s okay to feel the way that I do, but we both know that people are twisted inside, and dreaming is a sort of escape for them. For them. Not for me. What does your degree say about that?”
I saw her chest rise as she took a deep, lingering breath before exhaling a soft sigh. She shifted in her seat behind her desk and placed her pen down on the table as she pulled her black-rimmed glasses from her face. Her face shape reminded me of an apple because her cheeks were so rosy with prominent dimples near the corners of her small mouth. Coarse black hair framed her features with tight ringlets that brushed the tops of her shoulders. Half of it was pulled away from her face in a small knot at the back of her head.
“I admire your courage to trust me with your secret, Aislin—”
“I’m telling you the truth.”
“And I believe you,” Dr. Clayborn continued. “I also believe that you were only doing what you thought you had to do with the pills. That’s why I’m going to prescribe you a sleeping aid.”
“Doc—I can’t go to sleep!” Tears formed as I tried to control my breathing. I was terrified to close my eyes and had barely slept the entire time I was in the facility. It was evident by the dark circles and the pallor of my skin.
“I understand that. One of the side effects of this particular drug is the inability to dream. I think it will help you.”
I stared at her in silence as the ticking nearby filled the room once more. Dr. Clayborn reached into a drawer behind her desk and pulled out a prescription pad. Clicking her pen, she wrote the prescription down and ripped off the piece of paper, clipping it to my file on her desk.
“The nurses will administer the medication in the correct dose for you to take an hour before bedtime. When we meet again next week, we’ll discuss your progress,” she declared, a gentle smile lighting her face.
I knew she was only trying to help, to give me the normal life I so desperately wanted. As appreciative as I was for her consideration of my unique situation, I was apprehensive about committing to her medical decision. What if I took the medication, and it trapped me in someone’s mind—especially behind these hospital walls? I wasn’t sure I could take much more.
“We still have a few minutes before our session is over. How about we do an open floor? You can talk about whatever is on your mind,” she stated as the silence dragged on.
“My family thinks I’m crazy,” I said after a long time. It was the first thought that popped into my mind.
“You’ve told your parents about your dreams?” she asked, an eyebrow raised while she eagerly awaited my answer.
“I told them when I was younger, but they just thought it was fanciful imagination. They didn’t understand, and I’m not sure they wanted to listen to my explanation.” I remembered sitting in our living room on the floral loveseat crying because my parents thought I just needed attention. So instead of listening to me, they took it upon themselves to start taking me to the city park more often as a way to cope with their ill daughter.
“Do you have trouble expressing yourself to them or to others?” Dr. Clayborn inquired, resting her hands together on top of her desk.
“It depends on what I want to say. If I’m talking about my curse, then yes. It’s hard to explain something you can’t control.”
“So, your dreams come to you randomly?”
“They’re not my dreams, but yes, it’s random. I’ve read a few articles online about tricks to help you remember your dreams, but that’s not exactly a problem for me. I can remember everything. I just can’t pick a person and go into their dream intentionally.” I wasn’t sure if Dr. Clayborn was interested in what I had to say or being kind by acting that way. It was still unclear how much of my story she thought was true.
“I think you have a unique ability, Aislin. I also think that there’s a way you can control it, but you have to learn to embrace it first. From our chat today, you and I both know you don’t belong here.”
I stiffened in my chair, ceasing the bouncing motion of my leg. “You’re not going to commit me, are you?”
Dr. Clayborn laughed and shushed herself when she saw the fear tinting my eyes. While I didn’t particularly like being in a rehabilitation center, I couldn’t handle being around actual insane people. It was just another rumor to fuel the fire when I went back to school.
“I don’t think you’re mental either. Let’s see what happens over the next few weeks before you leave, and we’ll go from there,” she replied.
The door to Dr. Clayborn’s office opened as a male nurse stepped through it to collect me. Our session had come to an end, and Dr. Clayborn handed the nurse my file with my new prescription. Glancing at it, his eyes shifted over me before offering a hand to help me out of my seat. Rebuking his offer, I stood and followed him towards the door, my tennis shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor.
The doctor stood up from her desk chair and headed over to the doorway to stand beside me. “I’ll see you soon, Aislin. You’ll get the first dose tonight after dinner. Let me know if you have any side effects to the medication other than the one we’re hoping for. I hope it helps you.”
“I hope so too,” I muttered as I headed out the door as Dr. Clayborn closed it behind me.
Following the nurse down the white hallway, I saw him look over his shoulder at me with a smirk. “How are you holding up?”
As innocent as the question was, I wasn’t in the mood for trivial conversation. “It was fine. The same as usual.”
“You’re her last patient of the day,” he continued, slowing down to walk beside me instead of in front. “She always takes a little longer with you than the others.”
“She does?” That piqued my interest. Perhaps, a part of Dr. Clayborn did care for me.
We passed other patients and nurses in the hallway as he steered me towards the cafeteria, where others were already seated in front of trays of food. “If you need anything, let me know.”
I leaned over to look at his name badge. “Thanks, Harlan.”
He stood by the double doors as I passed by, heading towards the serving counter. Sometimes I felt like a prisoner within the center. Everything was impeccably clean and white. While the center needed to maintain cleanliness, the scent of disinfectants never left the atmosphere, even with the food behind the glass.
The worker behind the counter slapped some food onto my tray and set it atop the glass overhang. I was tired of eating peas and carrots with a meat side, but it was either that or a regular ham and cheese sandwich. Needless to say, the food choices were slim. I picked up a cookie for dessert and set it down on my tray along with a banana and carton of milk. Nearing the end of the line, I allowed the cashier to scan my bracelet for payment. It all went on my parent’s tab.
Their faces flashed across my mind. The last time I had seen them, they were sporting disapproving looks. My mother kissed my forehead and told me to stay out of trouble while my dad couldn’t bear to look me in the eye. My dad and I had always been close, and I didn’t think it was the drugs that offended him but my efforts to keep it a secret instead of confiding in him about my depression. Even I could admit that my coping mechanism wasn’t the right choice, but it was the one that I had made nonetheless.
Walking towards a table, I sat down on the attached stool and placed my tray in front of me. Picking up my fork, I pushed around my peas and carrots as my friend, Raven, sat across from me. Looking up from my shapeless masterpiece of peas, she waited for me to speak.
“You’re the one who came looking for me. What do you want?” I asked flatly.
“Sounds like you had a very productive therapy session with Clayborn,” she mocked. “You going to tell me about it or make me hold my breath?”
She took a small bite of her roasted chicken as she grinned. Not only was Raven my only friend in the center, but she was also my roommate. She had immediately adopted me into her dark, twisted world as a self-proclaimed Goth. She didn’t have a specific drug of choice, but she wasn’t unlike the rest of us.
Scars were evident along her inner arms, and I could tell that wearing T-shirts made her self-conscious of her image. She brushed a strand of long, dyed black hair away from her face as she picked at her food. I tried not to watch her intensely as she ate, but her health concerned me. She was terribly thin due to her addiction to wasting away, so she didn’t have to feel anymore. We all wanted the same thing before we found ourselves here, only in different ways.
“She’s cool…I guess,” I replied as I shoveled a fork full of peas and carrots into my mouth.
“Uh, huh. You’re very talkative today,” she teased. “Can you believe I’m supposed to eat all of this? I’m already full.”
I glanced at her plate, which was identical to mine. Chewing my food, I swallowed. “It’s not that bad.”
“It’s awful. I might be able to eat half of this.”
“That would be a start,” I mused. “You want to get out of here, right?”
Raven grimaced as she picked at her food some more. “Yeah, don’t we all?
“Then you have to eat it,” I replied. “They’re not going to let you out of here if you keep losing weight. Do you want a feeding tube?”
“Harsh,” Raven muttered.
“Yeah, well, that’s what friends do,” I stated. “Besides, you’re my only friend here.”
“Gee, I can’t imagine why,” she smirked as she took another bite of her chicken with a couple of peas.
I chuckled to myself. This was the way we always talked to each other. It was one of the reasons we were assigned to room together. It was a sisterly bond that neither of us understood, but it was the only thing that kept us from spiraling into madness.
“She gave me a new medication,” I commented.
“Really? You?” she asked, incredulously. “I didn’t think you were allowed to have any medications.”
“Neither did I. It’s supposed to help me sleep, though. I mean, that’s the whole reason I started taking Adderall in the first place.”
“Do you want to sleep?” Raven wondered.
“It’s a basic physiological requirement. I have to do it at some point. The medication is supposed to make my sleep dreamless,” I remarked.
“Thank whatever spirit is out there. I can’t handle another bout of night terrors from you. No offense,” Raven declared.
“None taken.” While Raven and I were close within the center, I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about my ability. It was hard enough telling Dr. Clayborn, but I didn’t want to lose a person who was an actual friend.
“Is your family coming up next weekend for visitation?” Raven asked, plucking me from my thoughts.
“I’m not sure they’re coming,” I admitted as I stabbed a piece of chicken with my fork.
“You really think they’re not going to show up? They seemed like good people the last time I met them,” Raven pointed out.
“They’ve been really busy lately. Every time I try to call from the reception desk, they rush to get off the phone or don’t even answer at all.” I kept my gaze focused on my tray in front of me.
“Didn’t your mom just get that new job with that law firm? Maybe they’re adjusting. I’m sure they’ll be here. We only have visitation once every two weeks,” she assured.
“Yeah, and they missed the last two.”
“You got to see your sister. That counts,” Raven replied, trying to remain optimistic.
“I wasn’t too keen on a fourteen-year-old taking a bus out here. Aren’t you supposed to be a Goth? Why are you so optimistic?” I asked jokingly.
“Thanks for stereotyping me. Really appreciate it,” she teased as we both giggled into our food. Her eyes settled over my shoulder as her smirk disappeared. “Don’t look behind you.”
Raven grabbed my hand as I started to turn around. I whipped my attention back to her as we ducked our heads together over our food. “You know you can’t say something like that and expect me not to look.”
“It’s Maria,” Raven whispered. “She’s staring you down again.”
“She’s harmless.” I straightened in my chair as Raven cautiously did the same.
“I don’t know.” Raven shift uncomfortably in her seat, glancing over my shoulder to see if Maria was still staring at me. “She acts like she knows you or something. Are you sure you’ve never met her before?”
Stuffing my mouth with food, I shook my head to answer. It was better than telling her that I sometimes saw Maria in her dreams—and sometimes she saw me too.
“Aislin Smith?” a woman called out from the medication booth on the other side of the cafeteria.
“Looks like it’s time to take my new meds. You know what that means,” I stated.
“Ugh, let me go ahead and scarf down this food before the nurses start hassling me. Go get your meds. I’ll meet you back in the room,” Raven said as she ate more of her peas.
Getting up from the table, I emptied my tray in the trash and dropped it off at the window to be washed. Bounding over to the medication booth, the older woman smiled over her glasses and handed me two small paper cups. One contained my little blue pill while the other was filled with crisp water.
Taking the pill and washing it down, I showed the nurse my mouth and lifted my tongue. She nodded and checked off a box on her clipboard while taking my cups and depositing them into a tiny trashcan on the other side of the window. I walked through the double doors beside the medication booth and down the hallway to the suites.
Crossing the threshold of my room, I walked over to my dresser. Taking my hair tie out, I shook out my wavy, light brown hair, and gazed at the picture of my family. Picking the photo up, I placed my thumb over our smiling faces. It was a lie—all of it.
I heard the sound of footsteps entering the room from behind me. “You’re lucky your family was actually around. At least you still have both your parents.”
I turned around to see Raven getting ready for bed. The light over the bedside table blinked, giving us a ten-minute warning for lights out. Raven shut the door to our room and got into the other twin bed. Kicking off my shoes, I laid on top of the covers staring at the ceiling.
“I’m worried, Aislin,” Raven said suddenly through the silence.
I turned over on my side in the small bed to look at her. She did the same to face me. “Worried about what?”
“I haven’t made much progress since the last visitation. I think my family is going to extend my stay,” Raven relayed.
“We have a while before visitation. I’ll help you…if you’ll let me,” I replied, unsure how much I could do for her.
Raven smiled. “You’re a good person. If anyone deserves a second chance, it’s you.”
I gave her a sideways smile as she turned around and faced her side of the room just as the bedside bulb extinguished. Turning over onto my back, I stared at the ceiling as my eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness of the room. The glow of the street lights outside our small window near the ceiling behind our beds was the only light source.
I listened as Raven’s breathing slowed, indicating she was already asleep inside her own head. Closing my eyes, I waited for that familiar feeling to take me within its grip. As I felt myself drift off, I relaxed into the arms of my first dreamless sleep in forever.