the short story project


Sheryl Adams

A Startled Awakening – Memoir

It was around 11:30 p.m., and while getting drowsy reading a friend’s newly published book (feeling somewhat caught-up in its content) I needed to mellow out before I turned in. I flipped on the TV and went to my favorite jewelry channel to unwind, but craved a snack. Rummaging through kitchen cabinets, I grabbed cheesy crackers and some peanut butter before returning to the living room. I nibbled on them briefly while admiring jewelry I couldn’t afford, but appreciated nonetheless. My eyelids finally became heavy enough to abandon the tasty treats and I wandered off to bed.

I cracked the window slightly to encourage the cool night air to drift in, and closed the blinds to reduce the glare reflected off the illuminated walkway. I shed my PJ bottoms, threw them on the bed, and climbed in. The clock struck midnight just as I switched off the light. Random thoughts started flowing through my mind. I noted nothing significant enough to dwell on, so I let them slip by. I never know exactly how long it will take me to doze off, especially if I haven’t unwound from the day, but tonight it seemed I’d done a good job of mellowing out.

Five hours later I jolted awake in a sweat, face down against the pillow’s edge, arms sprawled on either side. Panicked, I gasped for air like someone drowning. I inhaled another deep breath just to make sure I could. My mouth was dry, my throat tight and tense, as if I’d been screaming. Images streamed into my mind: I couldn’t escape the intense feeling that whatever had happened was real. In the dream my right fist had pounded a face that was resting on something beneath it, perhaps a rock. I leaned over the small skeletal mass that was covered by a thin, milk-colored skin with only faint impressions of features — a depressed line indicated a mouth, two small indented ovals where eye sockets would have been under the taut surface. I had no sense of whose face this was, but I’d wanted to destroy it. I’d pounded the head hard enough to crush the bones behind the filmy flesh.

In the dream I’d sensed movement off to my right. I glanced over, abandoning the skull, and saw a small, slender female figure hurrying down a dark path toward the entryway of a rustic stone-walled building. An older woman clad in a long dress and shawl stood near the doorway awaiting her arrival. The younger female’s tattered skirt was stained with fresh blood that had flowed down and collected at the hem. I had no sense of who this injured woman might be, only that she rushed urgently toward the building. I watched intently until the figure reached the older woman and was ushered inside. I glanced back at the face that I’d been pummeling; satisfied that it was no longer a threat.

I lay in bed and took one last deep breath. I don’t know if I’d screamed while I was dreaming, but I felt the strong urge. While the dream had ended, the intense sensation of it had not. My sweaty body was caught in the drama. Only my mind was aware of the transition.

I got up, pulled on my robe, made coffee, and sat in the living-room trying to piece the nightmare together as I tightly clasped the throw pillow. It was the most terrifying dream I’d ever had. I’ve felt anger, but what I’d experienced in the dream went beyond anything I could imagine in an awakened state. How could I have felt enough rage to pound someone’s face into bits and pieces? Who was the slight female who ran for help, and why had she been horribly mistreated? I have no answers.

                                                         * * *

Days later I noticed one very significant personal change. For years I’d experienced a low but consistent level of generalized anxiety. I don’t know when it began, but my childhood had been wrought with family tensions. In adulthood, there have been a number of incidents that contributed to my anxiety, and fearfulness. While I was never aware of a desperate need to purge those emotions, maybe it was always there. Since the dream something astonishing happened. My ever-present anxiety vanished and with it the residual fears.

                                                        * * *

                          “At least once a year, dive into the sleep mirror

                                 and cleanse the water you find there.”

                                 From Author/Astrologist Bob Brezsny

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