Brooklyn, NY

It happens on afternoons let go to waste. It’s the curse of dilapidated mornings. It’s the self-punishment when indulging in sleep gluttony, or when grazing the claws of depression, or self-defeat. It taunts the fatigued and tortures the lazy. It is a loss of time and a small death.

Here’s how it goes.

You’re idle, reading a tedious book, watching a sluggish movie or just letting time burn away in a corner on a day when you decided to do less than what you knew you could do. You feel drowsy, but it’s a sickly drowsiness, a tiredness you know you can face by getting up and walking, or having another cup of coffee, or anything else really. You don’t break the cycle you know very well you’re in, but instead decide to take a nap, a short nap you tell yourself, a resting of the eyes. It may even be construed, and you do, as an honest attempt to regain just enough energy to reset your day, you even set an alarm. The time for a short nap passes. You turn your alarm off and, prodded by your imp of the perverse who’s been reigning all day, fall back to sleep. But you don’t sleep deeply, for you know you ought to be awake.

Soon, your dreams start taking on a tint of darkness: they’re either bona fide nightmares or realities where you’re unloved, mocked, or ignored. You find yourself sinking into deep sleep and immediately after being half awake again. Eventually, in one of these oscillations between worlds, you’ve risen from the deepest sleep and the darkest of dreams just one hair away from the waking world. But you’re not there.

And then you feel it: the heavy gravity pulling you downwards into your pillow, your sofa, your bed. Sometimes you try to move and can’t, and trying to move is painful, as if your whole body was made of lead, as if you would never wake again. When you suspect you’re paralyzed you try to speak, to mumble, to cry out, you may even hear your dream self moaning a brooding low tone in despair, but you’re not making any sound: someone sitting in the same bed as you, wide awake, won’t hear a thing, won’t see any of your desperate attempts at moving. Your dream self sees a carbon copy of the room you fell asleep in, it may even be some conscious part of your brain getting real, if faint, signals from your senses. You try to move again, feeling as if you’re ripping your soul away from your sleeping body, falling over any neighboring person and, like a ghost, not making a single dent in reality. You’re tired, and feel the heaviness pull you downwards, towards whatever dream hell has taken over your awareness, you feel yourself asphyxiating against your own pillow, unable to change positions, to even jerk your legs in terror. And that part of you that faintly perceives your surroundings starts dreading that which is just out of your perception: you start believing for a fact that hideous demons and killers are just outside of your door, right behind your back, creeping slowly, forever unseen, until they take your immobilized life.

You feel like time has stopped: all that you feel happens at the same time, all of your attempts, your desperation or reconciliation with your new fate overlap in a split second, in an eternity frozen. And then you feel the darkness begin to abate, the paralysis start to leave you, and you essay moving and you can unfurl yourself from whatever position you were hopelessly trapped in, and you try talking to the person next to you and telling them about your nightmare and they react. But their reaction is strange, as if that person has been taken over by a faint phantasm of what your imagination remembers them to be. And you realize that the darkness and the heaviness haven’t completely lifted. And you find yourself trapped again, fooled by a false hope and a false awakening. Just another in a sequence of which no end or beginning exist anymore: every time you feel like waking life is within your grasp, right behind a diaphanous veil that you can break with the smallest of efforts, you’re pulled back into the attraction of your nightmare. You didn’t wake, you didn’t move, you didn’t talk. It’s another taunt, yet another rung in the interminable ladder back towards the world to which, you hope, you still belong.

Eventually, you wake up. You can move, you can talk. You feel the strange fear and powerlessness leaving you and the agency and potential of the world of the leaving slowly taking back control. And you try to tell whomever may listen and words always seem too much or too little. Like any dream state, it recedes fast and evades description, and by eluding your shedding of light on it, it keeps its power to subjugate you, to punish your indulgence, to show you those other things that lurk in the darkness of sleep and beyond. And as the minutes pass and you cower away from this shadow in the very center of your self, trying to distract yourself with writing about it and listening to the haunting notes of Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 5, that heavy atmosphere hasn’t quite left you. And you can’t but wonder if you didn’t wake up from all the nested nightmares, if this is just another, bigger, more twisted, lure into the claws of that darkness that you carry within and which will, one day, have its way.