~ a short story
“So, tell me about this dream again.”
Dr. Innar crossed her legs and leaned back in her big red chair. Glancing down to her watch to start the clock, she settled herself into a regal posture. Her glasses affixed to her face like a mask, keeping it serene. Listening. Judging. Wondering. Serving up questions. On her desk, the gremlin gazed. She’d told her that it was a ‘cat’ but it didn’t look like one. Teeth bared and eyes boring, it resembled a demon of some kind. A ‘nightmare’ not unlike this latest bout of dreams. Except it was something she did not mind. The gremlin was an escape. Gazing at it calmed her. Because it was supernatural, something intriguingly benign due to the simple fact that it was outside the bounds of the real. It was malevolent, certainly. And no longer did she have the inclination to say anything of it, or tell Dr. Innar to remove it when their sessions were going. It held some esoteric significance to the woman. Might it soothe her into her own mojo? Cars passed by outside with honking and screeching interference. She tried to focus now. A silent clock ticked away above her head and she tried not to consider time. She was sick of its march, its inevitability, its changeless enforcement upon the universe around it.
I don’t even need therapy. It is just these fuckin’ dreams… she thought madly. Last three sessions had helped, but they’d also forced all this into the forefront. Now so much of the real estate within her mind was dedicated to the dreams. The dream. Singular. They were all vignettes of the same experience, of that she was convinced. A recurring dream. ‘Meaningful,’ Dr. Innar had conveyed from the start of their communication. More like relentlessly tyrannical. I am well-adjusted, I have a life, a family, friends, my soulmate… It is just these dreams. This other-
“Hon, the dream,” Dr. Innar repeated.
“Right,” she said. She placed her hands upon her stomach, fingers interlocked with a firmness to steel her. She took a deep breath.
“They’re getting worse. And at this point, it’s practically all I can think about. It is beyond changing my day to day. It is a regression.”
“That’s alright. That is why we are here. So you can talk. We investigate. Work through the issues. Find solace, catharsis. You are not alone.” Dr. Innar uncrossed her legs and reached out towards her, lightly touching her shoulder in the process.
“Yeah…” she said. “But it certainly is beginning to feel that way.”
“In the dream world,” said Dr. Innar.
“Yes, but also-”
“For you, because of the dream.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Something you have to understand is that these dreams come in the form of feelings as much as experience or events. It is a cohabitation of a person’s emotions. This other’s. I feel their agency but I do not wield it. These dreams are like a demo inside of the emotional landscape of a person… All their senses, but only in mind. I am not so much doing as I am thinking, feeling… being.”
“Almost like an emotional synesthesia.”
“What is that?”
“It’s when you experience senses… in a different way. Extrasensory perceptions across multiple senses. Such as colors experienced via smell, or time counted- You know what, nevermind. Continue.” Dr. Innar cleared her throat.
“Yeah… The primary thought in my mind — or, rather, the mind of this dream self, this ‘persona’ as you have told me to call it — is “what is wrong with me”? “Why am I here?” There is a feeling … it cannot really be explained in words, but it is a feeling that everything is out of place. That nothing is right. And that everything is getting worse. Walls are closing in. All that.”
“Something like that. But the feeling itself isn’t even the worst part.”
“It’s the mystery. Of it, the feeling. The mystery of why it is there. And the mystery of its presence to everyone except for me.”
“Right. My… the persona’s true self is hidden. The feeling is hidden. This is a struggle. And this struggle is hidden. It is unknown to all my friends and family. The persona is nothing like they think. It’s like… the persona is projecting it’s own persona. It is hiding. From them, from itself. And I hate this!”
“You do? Or the persona does?” asked Dr. Innar.
“Well… both. Me personally, this hiding, this willful creation of a mystery self, of not speaking your true self into the world and for those around you — it’s a crime. A crime of the heart.”
“And what does the persona feel? Specifically.”
“It feels mad, sad. Resentful. Embarrassed. That’s a big part of it, actually.”
She nodded. “This situation… It all shows a lack of … ability. Powerlessness. An utter lack of influence on the people and places around her. The persona hates that… Hell, I hate that!”
“Most people do. What of this feeling of wrongness, from where does it source? From what you can tell, at least.”
“I don’t know… It’s just there. I don’t feel right — in the dream or as the persona. And I never do. There’s always this feeling that everything is out of place and that I — the persona — is, too. It doesn’t want what’s happening around it. It does not want the people, the situations, the events and interactions of its world. I should say, ‘she’ doesn’t want. The persona is undoubtedly female, like me.”
Dr. Innar nodded silently.
“The persona’s main gripe, from what I can tell, is that she does not feel as though she is the creator of her own activity, of her own existence. The people around her, the situations and the material circumstances … they are simply populated there, passively. Volition does not enter the picture. No control.”
“Feeding that feeling of powerlessness.”
“Exactly. But within the persona, there is a great yearning for control. There is a greater and greater desire for better conditions, for a better life. Always better than the one she is currently living. Just as things are getting worse and worse… This dream, what the persona is living out… is really a nightmare, for all intents and purposes.”
“How do you relate to something like that?” Dr. Innar interjected. “The concept of the “grass always being greener” elsewhere.”
“There is always going to be imperfections, I think … That is something I’ve had to work through though. I’ve been alive long enough to appreciate what is right in front of me, I think.”
“Anyway, this yearning the persona has is mostly, I believe, for some kind of companionship.”
“Yes, at least I think so. In whatever capacity it may come, the desired companionship must be true. It must be something strong, and real. And good. It must be someone ‘good.’”
Dr. Innar chuckled. “Well, of course. Everyone wants that.”
The woman raised herself onto her elbows to respond, “No, this is different. This is more profound… It’s nothing so naive or wishful. This persona has experienced great pain, I think. It has lived in the shadows.”
Dr. Innar’s face scrunched and she almost wrote something on her pad, but relented, continuing to stare at her subject. She always had a pad and pen in hand, upon her knee. But she never wrote anything. She always listened, never giving away her attention. The woman never understood what it meant: if it was a comfort to have it available but her memory was good enough in its own right, or if it was because she simply never said anything intriguing enough to merit writing it down. These thoughts nagged at her, but she digressed.
“The persona wants a kind of companionship … that frankly, to me, feels like an impossibility. Soul mates-type thing. Someone, anyone, that can understand the shadow, I mean, the persona, on the level that it needs to be understood. On the level that she understands herself. To see her for how she sees herself. To value her just the same. Someone honest and someone caring. Someone she can be honest with. A companion to share worlds with. A reciprocation of all … All that.”
“That’s a lot,” Dr. Innar said after a few sighing moments.
“It is all that I want… That she wants.”
“Literally everything else is less important there. That’s why the hiding feels bad. But I think it’s just a means to an end. Towards avoidance. A way to burn up the time … until this other person comes along.”
“This doesn’t really sound like dread. It sounds more like hope. Painful, the yearning, but ultimately hopeful in some manner. It is significant that the persona does want something.”
“Maybe,” she said. “But I am not so sure. It does spend a lot of time there trying to suppress these feelings. Because it doesn’t feel good, this yearning… It doesn’t feel good to not have this. The wishing, the hoping, it is exhausting. And it does not feel healthy. As much as she wants it, she still tries her best to unwant it.”
“Too late for that, though.”
“That’s right. It’s all very confusing. Counter to my own nature.”
“To yours, or-
“To mine. That is why I have hard time fully relating to this persona. To this dream world… To my own dream…”
“But … that is why it is so distressing! I don’t understand why I am having this dream. It is utterly bewildering that it has come to dominate my sleeps. And my waking days thereon. I can’t understand why it does so, when this dream is so …”
“Unlike you?” Dr. Innar offered.
“Distant. I am past these sorts of things. They are distant past.”
“So you have experienced sentiments like this in the past?”
“Certainly. Hasn’t everyone? But I learned from them. I have grown from my struggles. I am… happy. I can truly say that without any hesitation. In my own life, I mean. In my real life, haha. ”
Dr. Innar nodded, looking again down to her pad. “What else?”
“From the dream… well, this theoretical companion, the person capable of taking on the persona — of loving the persona — their true purpose, to the mind of it, is to fill a void. In the heart of her. There is a numbness… from that time in the shadows that I spoke about earlier. It feels everlasting because it feels like the only thing she has ever known. And absent this eventual person or persons within the life of the persona, all energy is expended into this void, trying so desperately to fill it. But it cannot be filled.”
“How does she try to fill it?”
“Learning. Voraciously. Reading, questions, puzzles, games. Observations. Patience. Understanding the world around her. As painstaking as all this might be, there are few progressions. All of it burns through time, initiates a form of flow. Unto escape. Escapism might be the underlying goal, I think. Time marches on. All of it is spent attempting to close this void within. All of it is cast into the darkness, searching for a light hidden within, a light to fill me up, to warm me and finally show me the way… But all the while she is trying to escape the truth of that void and what it really means. She knows this, too. It’s not just me.”
“And what is that truth?” pressed Dr. Innar.
“There is only one way to expel that void. The companion. This other person. Understanding. Compassion. Companionship. Love.”
Dr. Innar shifted in her seat. “If she knows this, unequivocally, why doesn’t she expend all of her focus and energy upon the seeking of such a companion? If it is the only way, then why don’t they begin down that path? Assuming they haven’t begun, of course… Has she?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
She looked at her hands. “She has no self-worth.” Tears formed in her eyes.
“Here,” Dr. Innar handed over a tissue from her desk, after a few moments.
She did not take it. Her eyes went to the ceiling and stayed there. “That is the dread.”
Dr. Innar sat back and took a deep breath. She slapped her pen down onto the slick paper of her pad. “I think… that’s enough for right now. We can take a break. Would you like some water?” She began to rise to leave the room.
“The stakes are so high. She has to be right. And she isn’t sure if she is,” she continued on. Dr. Innar sat back down, focusing back on the task at hand.
“Is it wrong to long for this?” she asked Dr. Innar suddenly.
“No,” Dr. Innar responded. “Far from it. It’s human.”
“That’s what I thought. But she… she takes it a step further.” The woman remained completely still in her seat, in an absolute focus upon her words and the sentiments from the dreams. She did not document them for she could not forget them. And so her words thus far and thereon, were a complete recounting of the experiences of her recent dreamscapes.
“Then comes to a mind an unsettling thought for the persona… The idea of this — this person, this companion — being false. Or not enough. What if she finds this person, they are everything anticipated and wished for. They spend their life with this person, they share their world utterly. They travel the world together, doing everything together, becoming actualized, loving one another as fully as two people can… What if they inhabit this world for many moments, many years, and yet, something is still missing.”
“Well-” Dr. Innar tried to impart.
“The void is not expelled. If not, completely, then not at all. What does that mean? What if this void is simply a part of who I am? No amount of avaricious consumption of someone else’s time and love and companionship can hope to fill it. What if it’s as much a part of me as everything else?”
“What if? What if? This is all rumination, hon.”
The woman no longer cried, a numbing blankness to the question overtook her. “It would shatter me.”
“Both of us. It may already have, for her… That’s why… That’s why she’s like this.”
“I want to bring this back… To-”
“But you don’t understand!” she interrupted again “…This grave possibility cannot be realized until after everything. If it ever comes to pass. Only ex-post, would I know.”
The woman raised her voice, “‘Sometimes I just think that all I am is a mind that thinks and thinks and does not move at all and does nothing truly good for anyone…’ That’s what she thinks. That’s how the dream ended.”
“From last night?”
She nodded and said no more.
At this point, Dr. Innar let the silence sit. She awaited further words from her subject while she tried to formulate her own.
“I lied before, Doc,” she said, after the intervening silence weighed upon them. “When I said this person is not me, that they are some kind of ‘other.’ Implying they are ‘unlike’ me was not entirely true. It’s true they feel distant. But it is more familiar than that, more personal. This person… This dream feels like the dream of what my life could be. Of the person I could have become, if I was not fortunate enough to have the life I do. It is like my life… without… Without love, without anything…”
“And that is why it is so distressing,” Dr. Innar summed lightly, “That is why it cannot leave your mind. Why it recurs.”
She nodded there in her seat, but then rose, fists clenched.
“But I want to help her. It feels so real… Real enough to do this to me. I just want to help. And I feel like I can.”
“You are,” Dr. Innar said softly.
“How? How am I helping?” The woman rose from her lay and sat anxiously upon the edge of the seat.
“By knowing her. By understanding her.” Dr. Innar rose from her seat, stretching her back. She leaned against her desk and ran her fingers through her long, dark hair.
“This past life, this other you… It was alone. No one else knew. Wherever it was, whatever fate awaited, it was alone and no one else knew it… But now you do. And it affects you. It has already profoundly influenced you, changed you.”
“Not in a good way…” she mumbled.
“In a good way. It’s made you concerned, questioning, introspective. More empathic. More self-aware. In your desire to help her, you are helping yourself. It is a challenge, but a worthy one. And it’s been my pleasure to help you both along.”
Another silence loomed between the two women. Dr. Innar just realized that their time was up, and had been for several minutes. She didn’t say anything.
“I think I understand.”
“I’m glad,” Dr. Innar said.
“Ha, it’s practically like she is in therapy. I’m here for her.”
Dr. Innar paused, and then spoke with a raised, professional tone, “That’s all the time we have.”
Both women stood. Dr. Innar opened the door for her.
“What if it’s a warning?”
“From my future.”
Dr. Innar shook her head, grimacing and sighing at the final question. More rumination, more unassailable supposition. Then, she straightened herself and made a stern expression. She gave her answer sincerely, the one the woman needed, the one she wanted to hear:
“Heed it. Listen. Go forth. Love your people. There is no doubt in my mind that is what she would want.”
She made a tearful smile.
“Next Wednesday?” she asked.
“Next Wednesday,” Dr. Innar confirmed.
She closed the door and the woman departed. Inside her office, upon the edge of her desk, the mouth of the gremlin opened as its eyes glowed with infernal inner energy. It spoke to Dr. Innar with intention, rasping every syllable with growing malice.
“One more session, Marion. One more session and the rite will be completed, a contract consummated, a shadow extracted.”
Dr. Innar sighed dreadfully, collapsed on her desk, face in her hands. Her mind raced for a way out, for a way to save a soul. She thought of a spell, one as black as the underside of her eyelids where her tired gaze now seized. She’d have to reach into her own void – use her own blood – to draw its power forth…
Dr. Innar’s eyes flicked open with intention, azure and empowered. Then and there, she determined that she would risk it. For her. For both of them.
Dr. Innar stilled her inner disciplines with a mantra.
‘A challenge, but a worthy one.’
For an ancient, accultured Therapyst such as herself, it was the final, most noble aspiration for the calling. ~
~ adapted from a dream