Shattered Dreams

For some, dreaming is a whimsical and exciting experience; for others, it can be scary and tormenting. And for most, it's a mix of everything, depending on the night and on what's weighing on your mind, although remembering them is hard when people wake up. It's always been different for me, since my dreams have never been just my own. I've been sharing my dreams with him ever since I can remember.

When I was a child, they used to be simple and kid-friendly: long walks on a puppy filled beach, train rides passing fun colored trees, playing tag on an abandoned mansion in which every room had different toys and foods… Always with him, always comfortable and normal and like coming home.

Along the years, though, the dreams started getting weirder and a little bit scarier. Sometimes we would be looking for each other, and although it all started in an innocent hide and seek kind of way, where we knew we would eventually find each other and it was all fun and games, it quickly became a nightmare where we would cry for each other and feel the terror spread through our bodies every second that passed until the last moment of the dream, when we finally met, and then we would wake up.

I was around 13 years old when those kinds of dreams started happening. It was about the same time when I finally realized that it was not normal to share your dreams with someone else. I've always been certain the boy in my dreams was real, and I've always even known his name, but I never really told anyone about him before. Because dreams, no matter if they are shared with someone else or not, are still something personal. In this case, it was something personal to both of us. We had this bond that no one else could understand, and therefore it was nobody else's business. So, for a long time, I've never told anyone.

I tried to live my life as normally as society expected, but in the back of my mind, I was always waiting for the moment I would finally get to meet him in real life. It was never a matter of if, but a matter of when. Years passed, but nothing changed.

Dreams are a funny thing, because sometimes we can have full conversations about reality, physics, psychology, and real-life events and it feels like you've spent hours talking, and other times all you need to have a full year worth of information exchanged is to share a look with the other person and in the blink of an eye both of you are on the same page about everything. Maybe that's why I would never be able to explain our bond to someone who does not share this experience. And that is probably why my girlfriend could not understand the reason I was so shaken and disturbed after waking up in the middle of the night that day.

It was dark all around me, and it took me a few seconds to realize I was dreaming. I looked around, but couldn't find him. Suddenly, two hands cupped around my waist, and after that first second of surprise, I felt the warmth coming from the steady grip on me, and somehow I felt safe.

"Do you trust me?" came the voice behind me.

He was whispering, but to me it sounded like his voice was coming from inside myself - which didn't make sense, but it was a dream after all. It took me a few seconds to think about it - or was it many? I really couldn't tell when he was this close to me. Did I trust him? Yes. Should I trust him? Probably not.

"Yes," I whispered back.

It was still dark in this place I didn't really know well, and I've known this guy for no more than two minutes - still, I had known him all my life, and I couldn't really imagine being away from him now.

He walked to my side, one hand still on my waist, and led me through the darkness. A few moments later, we were standing in my childhood bedroom, near the bed under the only window. He helped me step over the mattress and opened the window. Outside, the wind blew hard, and all I could see was the dark night sprinkled with just a few tiny stars here and there. I knew this wasn't exactly my old home, because there were no buildings around to be seen, and the ground below was too far for us to be only on the third floor. My heart should be racing, standing in that tall windowsill, wind blowing so violently, no one and nothing around us… But I felt completely safe.

His next movement was sudden, and I felt my back hit the wall that surrounded the window. Deep down, I knew that my old windowsill was not that large, but my back hit just enough concrete to be completely secure, and I didn't care that this didn't seem to match the reality that I used to know. His face came close to mine and, for the first time, I saw his eyes. They were a dark color in the dark night, but I could see them perfectly - the certainty mixed with sorrow and... Was it fear? Was he scared? Why?

I opened my mouth to tell him everything was okay, we could protect each other - that's what we've always done, after all. But before any sound could come from my lips, he closed the small distance between our bodies and kissed me. It was a weird kiss, different from any other I've ever had - there wasn't lust or desire or romance in it. No, there was something I couldn't quite decipher at first, like a primal feeling way stronger and yet, way simpler. Then it hit me: it was longing. Like we've been waiting all of our lives to find each other, to touch each other, to feel each other.

I responded to the kiss with a massive need to calm him down, to tell him I was right there, to show him I wasn't going anywhere. Then, a deep cry sounded from a distance, a cry so terrifying my whole body chilled. Was it him? What had happened to him? I was touching him, kissing him, he was right there…

Until he wasn't. I was now completely alone, standing in the violent wind, naked, powerless, just a few millimeters from falling into an abyss, falling apart. All the stars were gone, everything was dark, and I knew, I just knew that I was about to die.

"Find me," his voice sounded, but I didn't know where it came from.

Where was he?

And then I woke up.

My whole body was shaking, too many feelings overflowing my mind. I was scared - no, not scared, terrified - of losing him, I had to find him. I was confused as to why this dream was so different from all the others. I felt helpless because I was slowly realizing he was in some kind of danger, and I couldn't do anything. And finally, I was frustrated that my girlfriend couldn't understand anything about why her girl was freaking out over a guy from her dreams.

It took me almost an hour to calm down enough to give her some kind of reasonable explanation, but I was restless the whole time. He needed me, and I had no idea where he was. Dreams weren't like a phone where you could just pick up and call someone to tell you where you were and what was happening. Usually, none of us had control over anything but ourselves, and sometimes not even that.

Over the years, we figured out that our dreams had three basic layers we had to pass through in order to communicate properly. The first layer was Connection, that was literally finding each other, which in some dreams actually didn't happen until the very end, and those were usually the worst ones; the second layer was Awareness, where we had to realize that we were in an actual dream, and therefore most of what was happening was not real; the third, final and hardest layer was Jurisdiction, in which we could take control over the dreams and actually do and say whatever we wanted, including the exchange of information from our awake lives. Having all three layers at the same time was almost impossible for us, and to just understand that they existed took us years of studying dreams, awake and asleep. Most of our shared information, such as the layers themselves, could only be passed along through that weird dream-like communication where talking is unnecessary.

That night, for the first time, I realized he might actually have gone through all three layers. He reached out. He wanted me to find him, plain and simple. And that was the moment my relationship with my girlfriend, my family, my job and my life as I knew started to bend. Because my number one priority now was to find him. And it all bent until it broke, and all I had left was the prospect of finally meeting him.

No one could understand my fixation in finding this person I never met, this man who for all they knew I made up, but I knew the truth. I only told it to the two closest people to me, and none of them believed me, so those were two fewer people in my life - my girlfriend and my best friend. I didn't dare tell my family, I've tried it when I was really young, and he passed as an imaginary friend, now it would just render me therapy that I honestly did not have time to do.

It took another few weeks until we could have another dream that was meaningful enough to give me actual information to help me, and I knew he had done it again, he had broken through the three layers. I was getting closer, I could feel it, and the closer I grew to him, the further I grew to everybody else. Soon enough, my whole life revolved around him, and I had just one goal: Find me. That's what he's asked of me. He's never asked for anything before.

I got used to asking strangers for information in the streets of strange towns, driving alone on the highway for hours in the dark, crashing on crappy two-star motels and living out of take-out food. I was a nomad, living on the road, in my car, going from town to town, knowing that eventually I'd find him. And I did.

It was about four months after the first time he asked me to find him. I had been in this mountain region for almost three weeks now, so I finally caved in and rented a tiny apartment in one of the small towns. I knew I was close, I could feel it. That night in our dream, I asked him if he felt it too, and he smiled, but didn't answer. I guess I had passed the three layers, but he had not. I couldn't get any information from that dream, but his presence was enough for the moment.

The next day I was driving through the mountains when I found a big patch of land. It extended along the road for maybe ten kilometers, maybe more, the road took a turn down the mountain, and I couldn't tell if the field ended there or not. I slowed my car down to watch the green grass, enjoying the empty road. I kept driving at that speed until something told me to stop, and I did. I parked the car on the grass and, leaving it with the mountain and road behind me, I started walking down the green field, seeing trees lining the grass at a distance. For some reason, those trees were calling to me, and I was more than willing to answer that call.

I walked down the grass towards the trees for what felt like hours, and when I finally reached them, the sun was going down and the sky was ranging from red to orange and pink. There weren't enough trees to make it a dense forest, so it wasn't too hard to see the way ahead of me once the trees blocked part of the remaining sunlight.

It wouldn't be too long now, and the pathway didn't seem that difficult to navigate. I was getting close now, I knew I was so close. Minutes passed, and I reached what looked like a glade. It was darker now, so it took me a few seconds to realize there was a cabin staring at me, camouflaging in the back trees of the glade. I walked towards the door, suddenly knowing that my search was finally over. I had found him. I've finally found him.

My hand stopped the second my knuckles were about to touch the door. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. I dropped my hand and grabbed the doorknob, turning it without even thinking. It opened with a creak, and the smell hit me at once. It was a mixture of hospital cleaning supplies and a closet that was locked for too long. I looked around, but there wasn't much to see - a small couch in front of a seemingly unused fireplace to one side, a small kitchen to the other, and a staircase.

I knew not to linger, what I've been looking for all these months was just upstairs, so that's where I went. There were only two doors up there, the first one was open and showed to be the bathroom. The second door was closed, and it was finally what I've been yearning to find for all of these months - no, for all of my life. He was there, I was certain of it.

I walked the two steps between the end of the stairs and the door, and rested my hand on the knob. My heart was racing, and for a second I was terrified. What if he didn't want me to find him after all? What if it was all a lie I've told myself all along?

It was too late to turn back now. I turned the knob and was met with a dim light coming from the opposite wall, over a bed. I stared at the wall light for a second before looking down and confirming to myself that there was a person lying on the bed.

He was on his side, facing the door, facing me. It hit me all at once that I'd finally met his body. I knew what he looked like, I've seen him in my dreams countless times, although now and then both of our shapes could change in them. But I knew he was tall and had dark skin, brown like chocolate, silky black hair and dark brown eyes. I knew what he looked like, but it was still somewhat shocking to actually see him right there in front of me.

His eyes were closed, and his chest was rising and falling slowly, maybe too slowly. I entered the room, not really thinking about what I was doing. Somewhere inside my mind, I complained to myself that I too should be asleep, and then we would be together both in body and soul for the first time in our lives. I brushed the thought off my mind and kneeled beside the bed, not taking my eyes from his face for one second.

I touched his face as gently as I could, trying not to disturb him in what I imagined to be a dreamless sleep. The moment our skins touched the whole room went dark, and it felt like a dream, but I knew I was awake. What was happening?

In a matter of seconds, I knew it wasn't my reality anymore, I was seeing life through his eyes. I saw him as a little boy in kindergarten telling his best friend about the little girl he played with in his dreams, and the friend told him girls were 'icky', but he didn't care. I saw him around 12 years old telling his mother how much he cared about the girl of his dreams, and his mother brushing it off as a metaphor. Then I saw him at 13 telling his father, who was a doctor and a scientist and believed in science above all else, and he didn't seem to find it as amusing as his mother did. That was when therapy began. At 14, he refused to believe she was some figment of his imagination, so the medication followed suit. I saw him change from drug to drug, having awful side-effects, both mentally and physically. When he was 18 he tried to stop taking them, but by then his family had him committed, all of those meds having taken a toll on a once young healthy little boy, now permanently damaged by this snowball of 'therapies' that he never really needed. I watched as, at 23, his body showed signs of not being able to handle any more toxicity. He was in multiple organ failure, and he decided it was time to put an end to it.

His family had given up on him by this point, there wasn't much anyone could do anymore, so they just let him go. And he did. I watched as he picked up the few things he cared about, the money his family gave him, and went away. I saw him studying his own dreams, determined to find me as his last act. I saw him breaking through the three layers and trying to tell me where he was, but it was harder than he'd anticipated.

I saw his whole life breaking down because of me. My heart broke in a million pieces, and I was crying. I did this to him. I made him live inside his head with me and lose everything else in his life. If I alienated people in my life for the last four months because of him, he has been doing it his whole life for me. I watched him seeing me as the girl who gave him hope, but I was really the girl who shattered his dreams.

He opened his eyes, and we were both back to the small cabin in the glade by the mountains. My hand was still on his face, and tears were falling down my face at a fast pace. I met his eyes, and all I wanted to do was apologize for ruining his life. I've known him all my life, I've loved him all my life at a level I don't even think normal people know how to understand or classify, and I've made his life miserable. I was so sorry.

"Liath," I whispered his name, not being able to say anything else. I knew what was happening. He did his best to wait for me, but now it was time. He was dying.

He gave me a look that was almost curious.

"I knew you were real."