They call it: 'sleep deprivation'. I call it: hell. I can't remember the last time I have slept well, dreamlessly. You may say that it is to be expected when one is cooped up in a 4-by-4 cell, awaiting one's execution. But, I found myself engulfed by insomnia long before that. Indeed, as I kept telling my incompetent lawyer, one thing led to another. I hacked my wife to tiny pieces because of my phantasmagoric visions, not the other way around.
But, I am jumping the queue. Allow me to retrace.
Ever since I was apprehended and detained, fourteen months ago, I have embarked on this prolonged nocturnal time travel. The minute I started to doze off, I was catapulted into the past: I relived the first encounter with my wife to be, the courtship, the trip to Europe, our marriage, the house we bought, the birth of our son - all seemingly in real time, as protracted episodes.
Those were no ordinary hallucinations either. They were so vivid, so tangible, catering to my every sense, that, when I woke up, startled by the proximity of the damp walls, the rigidity of my bunk, and the coarseness of my uniform, I would lay awake for hours on end, disoriented and depleted by the experience.
Gradually, I came to dread the night. It was as though my past rushed forth, aiming to converge with my hideous and hopeless present. The dreams that hounded me viciously were excruciatingly detailed, self-consistent, and their narrative - my autobiography - was congruent and continuous: I could smell Mary, feel the humid warmth of her breath, play with her hair, listen to her halting sentences. These specters progressed in an inevitable chronology: her adulterous affair, my consuming jealousy, our confrontations. I could predict the content of each and every ephemeral chapter in this hypnopompic saga simply because I had experienced them all beforehand as my very life.
I found the dreams' meticulous omniscience unnerving. I could not accept the perfection and impeccability thus imputed to my recollections. It all felt so real: when I wiped Mary's tears, my hand went wet; when I attended to our oft-neglected newborn, his smile was captivating, not a microsecond longer than it would have been in vivo; I bumped into furniture and bled as a result. Come morning, I was bruised.
Sometimes, when I woke up from such a trance, my heart expanded with insane anticipation: the cell, the moldy paraphernalia of the penitentiary, the solid bars, the vulgar images etched into the walls by countless predecessors - all these looked so ethereal compared to my nightly visitations! I would touch them disbelievingly until reality sank in and, heavyhearted, I would recline and stare at the murk that marked the ceiling, waiting for the sun to referee between my two existences.
Inexorably, my autolytic nightmares proceeded. When I confronted Mary with her infidelity, her dream-state wraith reacted exactly as its corporeal inspiration did in truth: contemning me, disparaging, mocking. I woke up perspiring and short of breath, cognizant of what would undoubtedly unfold next time I succumb to my overwhelming fatigue. I did not want to go through it again. I tortured my flesh into a full state of awakening, to no avail. Soon, I was aslumber and in the throes of yet another heinous segment.
This time, I found myself contemplating a kitchen knife embedded in a pool of darkening blood on the linoleum-covered floor. Mary was sprawled across the dining table in precarious acclivity, about to slip onto the abattoir. Her hair was matted, her eyes glazed, her skin a waxy tautness, and her finger pointed at me accusingly. I felt surprisingly composed, dimly aware that this is but a dream, that it had already happened.
Still, there was a sense of urgency and an inner dialog that prompted me to act. I picked up the gory implement and plunged it into Mary's neck. Dismemberment in the service of disposal occupied my mind in the next few hours as I separated limb from limb, sometimes sliding as I stepped onto the viscous muck. Finally, the work was done. Mary was no more.
I then stirred, glaring with lachrymose eyes at the glimmerings of incipient sunshine across the hall. The wardens in their first rounds bellowed our names ominously during the morning call. I examined myself guiltily and apprehensively, but fourteen months of scrubbing had left no trace of Mary. My hands were clean.
I realized that the only way to put an end to this tormenting playback of my crime was to sleep at once and to intentionally traverse the time between my display of butchery and my current incarceration. Having barely digested the meager and rancid breakfast, I alternately cajoled and coerced myself into embracing the horror that awaited me. Throughout the next few days, I nodded off fitfully, recreating in my visions my blood-splattered effort to hack Mary's lifeless corpse to pieces; my ill-conceived attempt to flee; my capture; my trial and the verdict.
Finally, the night came that I feared most. I meditated, drawing deep breaths as I sought the arms of Morpheus. As I drifted away, I became vaguely aware of an odd convergence between my dream and my surroundings. In my fantasy, I was leg-fettered and manacled. Two beefy policemen unloaded me from the ramp of a truck and handed me over to the prison guards who led me, in turn, to my cell.
My dreams and reality having thus merged, I strove to wake up. In my nightmare, everything was in its place: the rusty bucket, the stone bunk, the fetid mattress, the infested blanket, the overhead naked bulb, way out of reach. I watched myself lying on the frigid slab. Startled and profoundly perturbed I asked myself: how could I occupy the same spot twice over? Wasn't I already recumbent there, dreaming this, dreaming that I am posing these questions? But, if this were a dream, where is the real me? Why haven't I woken up, as I have done countless times before?
As the answers eluded me, I panicked. I shook the bars violently, banging my head against them. I was trapped in a delusion, but everyone around me seemed to think me real. The wardens rushed o restrain me, their faces contorted with disdain and rage. A block-mate yelled: "Hold on, buddy! It ain't so bad after a while!". A medic was summoned to look at my wounds.
The dream dragged on with none of the signs that hitherto heralded the transition to wakefulness. I tried every trick I knew to emerge from this interminable nether-state: I shut and opened my eyes in rapid succession; I pinched my forearm blue; I splashed water from the crumbling sink on my face; I iterated the names of all the states of the Union ... In vain. I was unable to extricate myself!
In my overpowering anxiety, I came with this idea: ensnared as I was in my nightmare, if I were to go to sleep and dream again, surely I would find my way back to reality! For what a dream is to reality, surely reality is to the dream? Reality, in other words, is merely a dreamer's reverie!
And so I did. Enmeshed in my nightmare, I went to sleep and dreamed of waking up to face this court. I want to believe with all my heart that you and I are real. But, it isn't easy. You see, your Honor, I have been here before and I know the outcome. Had I dreamt it? I shall soon find out, I daresay. Here I am, Your Honour, unable to tell one from the other. Do with me as you please."
My lawyer rose and called to the stand the medical doctor that attended to my lacerations after my latest bout of raging incoherence. As he creaked his way across the wooden floor, the good practitioner glanced at me and nodded. I ignored him, unsure whether he is factual, or just a figment of my overwrought and febrile constitution.
At the bailiff's prompt, he raised his hand, swore on a hefty Bible and took his seat. Having responded to some perfunctory enquiries about his qualifications and position, he settled down to reply to my questions, put to him via my lawyer:
"I wouldn't go as far as saying that your client is medically, or even legally insane. He suffers from a severe case of pseudoinsomnia, though, that much is true ."
Prompted as expected, the doctor elaborated:
"Your client sleeps well and regularly. All the physiological indicators are as they ought to be during a satisfactory and healthy somnolence. Moreover, your client has dreams, exactly like the rest of us. The only difference is that he dreams that he is awake."
Judge and jury jerked their heads in astounded incomprehension. The witness continued to enlighten the bench:
"Your honor, in his dreams, this patient fully believes that he is awake. People afflicted with this disorder complain of recurrent insomnia, even though our tests consistently fail to turn up a sleep disorder. In extremis, the very boundaries between wakefulness and napping get blurred. They find it difficult to tell if they are merely dreaming that they are awake, or are truly not asleep."
He rummaged among his papers until he found the transcripts of his interviews with me:
"In this patient's case, he developed pseudoinsomnia after he discovered his wife's liaison with another man." - The young doctor blushed - "He then began to dream that he is awake and that he is planning and executing the gruesome assassination of his spouse. Of course, throughout this time, he was sound asleep. The dreams he was having were so vivid and have processed such traumatic material that the patient remembered them in detail. Moreover, fully believing himself to be awake, he did not realize these were only dreams. He convinced himself that the events he had dreamt of had actually transpired."
The judge bent forward:
"Doctor," - he droned, evidently annoyed - "I don't understand: if the patient believes that he had already murdered his wife, why is he a danger either to himself or to her, let alone to society at large? Surely, he is not going to murder her a second time?"
The court erupted in laughter and the judge, smug on the podium, was particularly slow to use his gable to quell the hooting.
The doctor removed his eyeglasses and rubbed the lenses carefully:
"The patient's sense of reality is impaired, Your Honor. For instance, he believes that he is in prison, like in his dreams, although he has been told numerous times that he has been committed to a mental health facility for evaluation. As far as he is concerned, his existence has become one big blur. Every time his dreams are contradicted, he may turn unsettled and agitated. He may even lose control and become violent. Next time he comes across his estranged wife, he may truly kill her, as a re-enactment and affirmation of his nightmares and he is bound to consider such a deed a harmless dream."
"So," - the judge interrupted him, impatiently - "it is your view that he should be committed?"
"I would definitely recommend it." - Concluded the doctor.
When all the formalities were over, the judge rose from his chair and we all stood up. As he reached the entrance door to his chambers, he turned around, puzzled:
"By the way, where is his wife? I haven't seen her even once during these proceedings. Anyone has communicated with her? Technically, she is his guardian, you know."
There was a long silence as everyone avoided everyone else's gaze, shuffled feet, and ruffled papers.
That was my last chance:
"I murdered her, Your Honor. I have been telling you for months now!" - I shouted.
The judge eyed me pityingly, sighed, shrugged his shoulders and flung the door open, crossing into the penumbral recesses beyond.
The Capgras Shift
I Hear Voices
Folie a Plusieurs
The Elephant's Call
A Dream Come True
The Con Man Cometh - Readers Discussion
The Last Days - Readers Discussion