For the life of me, I cannot figure out whether I am awake or asleep.
At 6:00 this morning, an alarm interrupted my peaceful slumber. Still hazy from the night before, I stumbled out of bed. I figured that it was probably a bad idea to go to work drunk, so I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep.
My phone rang at 8:00. It was my husband calling to say good morning. “I can’t talk right now! I’ll call you back,” I exclaimed before hanging up on him. The phone rang again. “Is everything okay?” he asked. I insisted that I would call him back and hung up the phone. I screamed as the bedroom door crashed open. It was 8:30 and my husband was standing in the doorway. As I sat in bed terrified, he replied, “I rushed home to make sure you’re okay!” Irritated, I went back to sleep.
I had a dream. I arrived to work at 10:00 and was walking toward my office when a teacher ambushed me in the hallway. He pulled a table out of his pants and forced me to sit down. As I sat in front of the office door flipping through a textbook, the walls changed colors. The door covered itself in bright pastel-colored rectangular blocks. The dim overhead lights became brighter as grass sprouted from the floor. The colorful door inspired me to ditch class and get breakfast. As I wandered toward the kitchen, a desperate mob of people cut me off and fought over a TV mounted on the wall. Foiled, I returned to the office.
I stopped at the colorful entrance to badge in, but I could not open the door because there was no handle. Someone had cut a large hole in the door where the handle used to be. The hole was not large enough for me to crawl through, so I searched for another door. As I traversed the hallway, my mother called and asked whether I had bought the growth hormone balls to put in the playpen. I did not have time to figure out what that meant so I hung up on her.
I found a door with a handle. It led to a secure area so I could not take my phone inside. Fancy new phone storage lockers commanded attention near the door. I held down the power button on my phone but it refused to turn off. Coffee appeared in my hand. Horrified, I struggled to remove the phone battery without spilling the coffee. The hallway became very crowded with people entering and exiting the office but no one would help me. A maintenance worker pushed me as he passed by, shouting at his colleagues to follow him.
As I threw the phone into a locker, a consultant emerged from the office to assist me. She was short and blond. When I closed the locker door, it tripled in size and grew steel bars. The lockers rearranged themselves, moving my phone further up the wall until it was out of reach. I jumped up at the phone jail but it was futile.
The alarm woke me up again. It was 9:00 and my head was pounding. Punishment for drinking a bottle of rum out of boredom. I had to get ready for work, so I zigzagged to the bathroom. As I brushed my teeth, a huge roach materialized in the center of the mirror. I gurgled for my husband to “helf me” as I jabbed my hand toward the intruder. He grabbed a roll of paper towels and chased the bug around the bathroom, striking the mirror, cabinets and floor until the bug was obliterated.
My hero walked me to the car. I drove through traffic, weaving around aggressively slow drivers. Suddenly, two birds flew out of a tree. One changed direction and eagerly crashed into my car. My stomach churned as I heard the definitive thud. My car was an accessory to suicide. I had a moment of silence for the troubled bird.
At work, I inspected my bumper for signs of impact. Maybe the troubled bird had merely knocked himself out. When he awakened, he’d be grateful to have a second chance at life. He would be a proud survivor and push other birds to believe that life is worth living. Or maybe he’d torment himself with thoughts of “I’m such a failure, I couldn’t even end myself.” They were equally possible.
I floated around the office, “working.” It was difficult to function while the building rocked like a cruise ship on the ocean. I pondered how I had made it to work while feeling so unstable. I began to wonder whether I was still asleep. I typically don’t feel weightless when I’m awake, but everything in the office seemed normal. Too normal. I had to know for sure.
First, I would jump on my coworker’s desk and can-can his business proposal to the ground. Next, I’d knock my boss’ lunch from his hands and smash it with the fax machine. Then I would barge into the CEO’s board meeting and flip the table, screaming, “THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” If no one noticed, then it was probably a dream. If I beat it, I could wake up from this nightmare.
As I stepped away from my cubicle, I considered the consequences if I was not dreaming. I panicked as I realized that I’d worn jeans to work again. Startled, I looked down to confirm that I was in fact wearing business pants. Uneasy, I sat down without causing a scene.
Things remained iffy until lunchtime, when I ate a bagel that brought me back to reality. Slowly, the room became clearer and the floor stopped moving. My paranoia began to slip away as I became mostly confident that I was awake.
How can you ever be certain that you’re awake?