I sleep. As much as I can, as often as I can, I sleep. They say that eight hours is average for a normal, adult male? Guess I’m abnormal, then. I stopped counting years ago, but I know it’s a lot, way more than eight.
There is nothing in the world I fear more than waking up, and there are so many ways to do it, and they’re all horrible. I’ve been jarred awake by a shrill alarm clock, right in the middle of a wonderful dream about that one girl from high school, violently torn from her arms, and I’ve flown from the tops of skyscrapers, the whole world stretched out before me, no boundaries, limitless possibilities, until I fall. Tumbling end over end, the vast expanse of earth coming closer and closer, the ants becoming people, and then I cry out as I hit the floor, sheets tangled around me like a makeshift parachute that didn’t deploy properly.
The worst, though, is when it happens slowly. Excruciatingly, agonizingly, slow, like watching an ice cream cone melt in the summer haze. For one brief, blissful moment, I become aware that I’m dreaming, that I can do anything I put my mind to, literally. At first, it feels like I’m walking through fog so thick it clings to my skin and clothes. Everything moves in slow motion, graceful and smooth.
But then I begin to wake. It takes me a moment to realize what’s going on, and I’m helpless to stop it. The gauze is gently unwrapped from my eyes, layer by thin layer, as my consciousness begins to surface, and I fight it. With every ounce of strength, I struggle against what’s coming, desperate to stay under, but it never works. With one final, bitter thought, my eyelids flutter open, and the pain…dear God, the pain…returns.
Only when I sleep can I escape the sharp, searing, pounding, thundering pain that permeates my head, ever-present in my waking life. Every thought I have is accompanied by a lightning bolt of agony, quick and bright, tiny knives being scraped across my brain. Even now, as I type this, the thrumming is there, starting on the right side, building up, before it cascades over my entire head like a tidal wave.
I can’t stop it. No one can. Not yet, anyway. Oh, I’ve been given all manner or pills over the years, “May cause dizziness” and “Don’t take with alcohol.” I know all the warnings by heart, and the drugs do dull it for a time, the pain subsiding from a loud roar to an anguished whimper, aching to be set free, throbbing in tune with the beating of my heart, waiting.
The drugs eventually wear off, of course, they always do no matter how many I take, and like a herd of wild horses, the pain gleefully charges back to the fore, untamed, unrestrained, running rampant over and through my synapses, until I’m nearly paralyzed by it, my every movement, my every thought, triggering another jolt.
And so I sleep. As much and as often as I can, I sleep, and I dream, because the pain can’t follow me there, though I fear that one day, it might find a way. It’s always there, at the fuzzy edges, stalking, clawing at the barrier that somehow erects itself as I fly through the sky or dine with Kurt Cobain and Albert Einstein or wander the maze-like hallways of my old high school.
I’m not sure what I’ll do when it pierces the thin membrane between waking and dreaming. I’ll have no respite then, no reprieve from the endless, torturous agony, save one, of course, though I pray it never comes to that. After all, what kind of a life would death be?