During the night, while I was trying to sleep, I noticed for the first time that the large wardrobe at the foot of my bed had old lettering buried beneath its paint.
I made a mental note to investigate, then remembered what I’m like and decided to find a pen and write myself a physical one instead. So I reached for the lamp and flicked the switch: nothing. The room remained in darkness.
Maybe I’m asleep, I thought, remembering that recently it had taken me several attempts to wake myself from a nightmare by trying to turn the light on. If so, I thought, I hope the inscription on the wardrobe really exists, as I’m rather interested in knowing more about it.
The scene had changed a bit (now I think about it), my position in the bed being closer to reality. I sat up, reached for the lamp (also in its proper place now) and tried again. Still nothing. Time for a concerted effort, I thought.
My memory is that I shook myself. Whether I did this physically, or simply by nudging a few brain cells into place, I don’t know; but something changed, almost imperceptibly. I don’t remember sitting up (maybe I did it as I shook myself awake), but there I was, still sitting up in bed, looking at the lamp.
I reached for the switch again, and flicked it.
This time, it worked. But I flicked it off again immediately as I remembered I didn’t own any wardrobes, let alone one with an inscription buried beneath the paintwork.
I lay still for a long time, committing it all to memory, making sure I would remember the detail of my false awakenings when I opened my eyes again.
Which begs the question: did I ever wake at all, or did I dream about turning the light on too? And that nightmare I’d remembered: did it happen weeks ago, as I thought it did (I didn’t write it down), or did it happen earlier tonight? Or even at all?
I don’t know when I learned to wake myself from dreams. I was surprised, a few years ago, when all three of the friends I was with wouldn’t believe that I could do it; but surely it’s not all that uncommon? (They were all from the same family, which may or may not be relevant.) It’s a useful trick, though, particularly when combined with the other thing.
The other thing happens periodically, often in waves, and is utterly terrifying.
I heard a radio programme, many years ago, about people who couldn’t tell if they were awake or dreaming. One girl would wake up, get dressed, go to school, come home, then wake up once more and go through the whole thing again and again: her own, personal, Groundhog Day Hell. That hasn’t happened to me, thankfully. But often I will find myself ‘waking up’ three or four times. I can usually tell when I am awake; but, after three or four attempts, one does become a little uncertain.
I’m pretty sure I’m awake now. Or maybe I’m not. Maybe my whole life is just a dream. How will I ever know?