“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”
Sylvia Plath, Mad Girl’s Love Song
As I made my way to my appointment, I wondered how the meeting would turn out. Would I be thrilled or devastated by the outcome? My fate lay in the hands of a total stranger and I was dangerously close to being late for the occasion.
The snow was thick and looked like it was going to settle. The front of my trainers sullied by black slush. Red headphones covered my ears, substituting the sounds of city life with an eclectic mix of Radiohead, Aaliyah and OutKast. After narrowly avoiding another ear-plugged civilian, I saw a glass tower. On a day like this, you could mistake it for Mount Everest’s kid brother.
I entered it and took the elevator to the thirteenth floor. In front of me was a secretary sorting out documents on a mahogany table. Once she was done she briefly looked at me and asked if I had an appointment. I gave her my name and sat on the sofa on the other side of the room, flicking through the latest edition of TIME magazine. After a few minutes on the phone, she casually walked towards me, brought me to a red door and said, “Dr. Scott is ready to see you now.”
Dr. Scott was a tall, robust man. He seemed to be in his late 40s and his face was covered with a black beard that had a greyish tint at the bottom. Dr. Scott got up from his desk, smiled, shook my hand firmly and said, “Please sit down. Tell me about yourself Mr. -”
“Jacob is fine,” I interrupted.
“Well Jacob, have you ever done psychiatry before?” Dr. Scott moved back to his desk while I sat down on a chair opposite him. I shook my head.
“So why are you here?” he asked.
“School punishment mixed with parental concern,” I replied.
Dr. Scott nodded and started to write down his observations. He looked up, studied my mannerisms and said, “so where do we begin?”
It all started with a dream. Like every normal human being I have dreamt before. Some were weird, some were epic but all were slightly formulaic. This dream, on the other hand, was vivid, unstructured and felt real.
In most of my dreams, I was a passive participant, like as if I was the actor of a play written and directed by my subconscious. In this dream however, I was autonomous. No longer a player in some vague fantasy. My mind was active, my senses were alive and I was totally aware of where I was and what I was doing.
It was night-time. I was sitting on a park bench, watching people skate on a frozen pond. Couples and professional skaters effortlessly glided over the ice, all moving in unison to an invisible beat. In the center of this moving display was a caramel-skinned girl wearing all white.
More snow fell down and she danced as if she were one with the atmosphere, conducting the breeze and the people to her whim. I slowly walked up to her, her grace was inviting. She turned around and hit me with a slight but disarming smile, my knees buckled in her presence. She took my hand and we skated around the illuminated pond. For a brief moment, I felt completely free and at peace.
We looked at each other for a few seconds and the other dancers stood still, forming a circle around us. They slowly moved back until they faded into the background and, suddenly, I heard music playing.
The dancers were now a string orchestra, dressed in black tie and cocktail dresses. Above each player were streetlights, barely showing their faces, only their hand movements. I could hear the violinists stretching out each chord to its limit, creating a sweeping sound punctuated by some soft piano playing.
The centerpiece and I were shuffling on the edge of the frozen pond, apprehensive about making the first move. Our mouths slightly opened, our breath visible under the spotlight. Her pink painted lips moved close to mine and, in response, the whole scenery changed.
The sun replaced the moon and shone at full capacity. The string orchestra evaporated in the heat. The frozen pond melted and I sank to the bottom of it with the centerpiece. She kissed me on the cheek and was instantaneously pulled back by some mysterious force as if she had a committed a serious crime. I reached out to keep her close but it was too late.
I looked up and saw large Polaroid pictures slowly descend in the water. There were seven of them, each about six feet in height. The pictures seemed to be snapshots of my life. One picture, in particular, captured my attention. Beaming brightly, the picture in question showed a pool party with old friends and acquaintances. Instinctively, I swam to it and soon found myself at a post-graduation party I attended last summer. People were talking amongst themselves on the patio and sitting by the edge of the pool was the centerpiece, this time she was wearing a black bikini.
The centerpiece blended with the night and casually looked up at the stars, waiting for something to arrive. As soon as she heard me splash in the water she turned her attention to me and stared at me like I was the only thing that mattered. She took off her towel and joined me in the pool, her gentle kicks drowned out any other noise.
She stopped a couple of inches away from me and I asked for her name. She slicked her hair back and she kissed me. “Lana,” she answered. I was too awestruck to respond. I nervously tried to ask her more questions but she gently caressed my face and said, “see you soon.”
Dr. Scott inquired if that was where the dream stopped. I nodded. He wrote again in his notebook and asked, “how did it make you feel?”
“How did what make me feel?” I responded.
“The dream, experiencing that and finding out it wasn’t real?”
“Because reality came to destroy something I was so sure of two minutes ago and I couldn’t accept that.”
“Couldn’t accept what?”
“How quickly and easily it was done.”
Just as I said that I felt pathetic but Dr. Scott urged me to go on. His encouragement felt sincere but it did little to alleviate the shame. Therapy was meant for people with real problems, people who were clinically depressed, people with post-traumatic stress disorder, people recovering from a loss, not some guy with a dream that finished too quickly.
After the dream, I tried to force myself back to sleep. I closed my eyes as hard as I could but all I got were faint residues of the dream, all I could see were traces of Lana’s smile flickering in the darkness.
The next time I saw Lana was about six months after our first meeting. It happened during an afternoon nap. The snow settled on my black beanie and I saw Lana standing in the middle of the frozen pond, anxiously waiting for someone. I rushed up behind her to surprise her but when she turned around I was terrified by what I saw: a blank face.
Another no-face figure soon emerged from the shadows: a guy with the physique of an Olympic athlete and the fashion sense of a Bond villain. He approached me, tilted his head as if to inspect me and punched a hole through the ice. Cracks started to spread across the pond and I fell through, this time with the feeling of death’s cold embrace.
I tried swimming up to the surface but the water above my head refroze. I tried punching through the ice but I broke my hand in the process. I tried screaming but water just filled my lungs. I was trapped, scared of what was going to happen next.
I saw Lana/her impostor walk away with The Man With No Face. The water got colder and started to form an ice coffin around me. Various mementos were at the bottom of my feet: my high school football jersey, a letter from my ex and a photo of Lana and I at the pond. The photo showed me hugging Lana from behind but this time her facial features were present. The photo had a note attached with her writing “sorry that it couldn’t work out x”.
I didn’t understand. How could our relationship disintegrate so quickly? What did I do wrong? Did I take too long to come back? Is this really the end? Before I could reflect on my possible transgressions, a barrage of hail battered my face and I woke up in a cold sweat.
“What are your biggest fears?” Dr. Scott asked
“I couldn’t tell you, I’m a pretty paranoid person.” I replied
“Humour me. Top 3.”
“Failure, divorce, zombie apocalypse.”
“Expand on failure.”
“Failure is like death, it’s inevitable. You have no idea when it’s coming or how much it’s going to define your life. I hate the idea that it can happen at any moment, I hate the fact that it puts me further away from my dreams, I hate that as soon as it happens I begin to doubt myself.”
“Do you feel that you failed in your previous relationships?”
“Yeah, I guess. One second everything is fine, the next second the person I’m in love with runs off with someone else. The worst thing about it is that I never find out why.”
“So what happened after the nightmare?”
After the nightmare, I was nervous about dreaming again. Like my first dream with Lana, the nightmare felt so real and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for another near-death experience. I slept less and I soon became a borderline insomniac.
I put all my focus back on college, I was already five weeks behind and my academic advisor was starting to get worried. One day, after a long read of This Side of Paradise for English class, I took a short power-nap. In that brief moment, Lana popped up again in full bodacious glory. This was the first time I saw her in three months and the sight of her, the real her, never failed to mesmerize me. No blank face, no tricks.
She waved at me and walked closer towards me, I tried to stay asleep but something kept prodding me. I woke up enraged, feeling cheated again and rushed at the person who rudely interrupted my dream. I put my hand on his throat and pushed him against the wall, his look of fear and indignation put me back in my right mind. I quickly packed my books and ran off.
I went back to my dorm room and put my red headphones on to block out any distractions. I then started to draw Lana from memory. I figured that if I was able to remember a few things about her (what she looked like, the way she moved, how her lips felt) then I would be able to see her again whenever I went back to sleep.
I slaved at it endlessly for days. I locked my door, cut off all contact and drew countless pictures of her. My wall plastered with various sketches and scribbles. I drank heavily during these sessions. Alcohol helped me visualize Lana properly. It heightened my imagination, it made the images of her more intense and less controlled.
After I was done, I surveyed my work and started to develop a strategy for my next visit. I shut my eyes and pictured her olive skin, her brown hair and her red painted lips. My memories of her were beginning to flow easily together like a roll of film playing through my mind. I had one more sip and lay down on my bed, my eyes slowly moving up and down, constantly drifting in and out of consciousness.
I found myself in a wooden house, amongst a sea of blank faces. I saw Lana, her long black hair was undeniable. I followed her but it seemed that she was running away from me. I was finally able to get a hold of her but when I turned her around it was only to find another blank face. I shoved her into the crowd and demanded the impostor to tell me where the real Lana was. I was determined not to have another nightmare again. I had waited too long, done too much, to be denied my wish.
I tried to get more answers from the impostor but The Man With No Face got in my way and pushed me back. I punched him in the face but it went concave and instantly filled back up again. The crowd took Lana’s impostor away but when she turned back at me I saw Lana’s face reform, a face of longing and regret.
I rushed after Lana but The Man With No Face obstructed me again. I punched him in the stomach, he fell to his knees. He carried my legs and speared me to the floor. I kicked him off me, my anger had reached boiling point. He rolled across the room, regained his footing and ran towards me. He tried to punch me in the face but I blocked it with my arm. He tried to kick me in the chest but I caught his leg with my hands. I then swung my leg across his and swept him off his feet, his head banged hardly against the floor. I took advantage.
While he was on the ground, I sat down on top of him and punched him repeatedly in the face, each punch filled with more venom and hatred than the last. He tried to push me off but I didn’t stop, I wanted to see in the pain in his face. This was for all the times I was frightened and teased by my subconscious, this was for all the times that I failed to achieve my goal, this was for all the times I was left behind for the “other guy”.
I could sense his body getting weaker so I used this opportunity to finish things off once and for all. My hands around his neck, I could feel his life slipping through my fingers. Just before he breathed his last breath, The Man With No Face had one more trick up his sleeve: he copied my face. In horror, I let go, only to see a carbon copy of my face beaten, bloodied and lifeless.
I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of pressure crushing my body. I moved away from my adversary, knelt down beside him and felt like throwing up but nothing came out. I was choking and saw that the house was burning down. I mustered whatever strength I had left and kicked the front door open. The blank face crowd cowered into the forest while Lana ran towards the horizon. I shouted her name but she didn’t look back. I chased after her, orange flames and black clouds behind me.
After a minute mile run, I finally found Lana lying on a bed of roses, waiting for me. I crawled towards her and she stuck her arms out to embrace me, we kissed. The long-sought feeling of joy and serenity overwhelmed me.
I pulled back to take a look at my prize and I noticed some odd changes. Lana now had brown hair, her skin was a lighter shade, her lips deep red. She looked beautiful but it wasn’t matched with grace like before, it was replaced by a sexual ferocity, confident but verging on arrogant.
Something was wrong. Had I made a mistake? Did I add these features in my drunken haze? I was sure that this was Lana but this wasn’t the Lana I spent all those months thinking about.
The new Lana caressed my face with a familiar touch and said, “you have to wake up.” I couldn’t believe my ears. All my hard work and this is the thanks I get? It was hard to hide the disgust on my face.
I tried to hold her hand but Lana dismissed me. I kissed her shoulder but she pulled it away.
“How can I wake up now? I just got here,” I asked.
“You just have to,” she replied.
“I’m not going back,” the rage in me started to creep up again, “you’re ungrateful, you know that?”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you. Why can’t you accept that?”
“I do. But now is not the time.”
After she said that, I lost control: “so what time is good for you? Next week? A month? Two years? What would you like me to do when I come back? Put a glass slipper on your foot? Kiss you while you’re asleep?”
“Look at me!” I screamed.
“You have to-”, before she could finish her sentence, I slapped her across the face.
I tried to console her but the rose bed trembled and a pillar emerged beneath it shooting Lana up to the sky. A ladder appeared beside it. I climbed the ladder and observed my imaginary surroundings. I found the burnt house and all the carnage that I left trailing in my wake. I looked up and saw Lana, no longer sobbing but no longer accepting of my presence.
I finally reached the top of the ladder and the rose bed had formed into a Greek temple, various paintings of Lana and I scrawled all over the ceiling. I went to Lana, got down on my knees and begged for forgiveness.
“You know that I never meant to hurt you,” I cried.
Lana took my hands, brought me back up on my feet and said, “let’s forget about everything and enjoy this moment together.”
In that instant, Lana reverted back to her normal appearance. Her hair blackened, her skin regained its full color and her lips lost its red shade, a captivating modesty surrounded her again.
We stood by the edge of the temple and watched the sunset. It was a magnificent sight. The sky was purple and peach mixed with hints of vanilla, the sun emitted golden rays.
Enjoying the moment, Lana turned my head towards her and kissed me for what would be the last time. Her luscious lips separate from mine, she sighed and said, “well it’s time to say goodbye.” Before I could respond, she pushed me and I felt an electric jolt pass through my heart. She shoved me again. Each shove came with another penetrating shock. Lightning and thunder commanded the skies.
My body seized up. The feeling of choking and vomit enveloped me. I couldn’t breathe but Lana kept on pushing me until I had fallen off the cliff. As I was falling, I saw her wave goodbye and the temple exploded, the debris rapidly following my descent. Behind the debris was an all-consuming black void. My dream had disappeared. No burnt house, no temple, no Lana, just a void of infinite emptiness.
Something hit the back of my head and I woke up with a tube in my mouth and vomit on my shirt. Paramedics had succeeded in resuscitating me while onlookers gossiped about the spectacle. In the midst of this blur between worlds, I envisioned myself in the black void. I saw myself laying down bricks, trying to recreate the paradise I lost.
As each brick was placed, I mumbled, “next time I’ll wait. Next time I’ll be better. Please come back to me. Please.” I repeated it so many times that it became a chant, a prayer hoping to be answered. In the far distance, I saw traces of Lana’s smile, flickering in the darkness.