The first time I died in my sleep was unexpected.
I was having a vivid dream, as most of my dreams are. I was chasing somebody and arrived at this big open space, a square or a parking lot. Hiding behind a low concrete wall, I peered at a couple of guys, unloading something from a van. I was getting ready to jump them when an explosion happened nearby. Interesting sensation, seeing the blast coming toward you in that curios slow-motion you sometimes get in dreams. You know it’s not real – I always do – and you expect the dream to just go on. But, as the full force of the blow hit me, I woke up gasping for air. I sat up in my bed, thrashing the pillow and the bed covers, wondering what happened. I had a curious impression of blankness, something that I could not grasp or describe coherently. There was that moment, the very moment the shock wave hit and killed me, in which there was nothing. Not the nothing you usually experience when you sleep without dreams, but the emptiness of knowing something should be there, but it isn’t.
My instinctive reaction was to turn on the light. I reached toward the nightstand, forgetting for a moment that I don’t keep a table lamp by the bed anymore. I felt the need to anchor myself into reality somehow, yet couldn’t figure out how. Sitting up and gawking into the blackness of the room, my hands trembled, and my heart hammered in my chest. I needed to calm down, so I focused on taking deep breaths. I also forced myself to close my eyes, fearing that old saying that if you stare into the darkness for too long, the darkness will stare back at you. One of my many fear-stopping mantras began loop-playing inside my head. Don’t let it slide; don’t let it slide. After a while, it cooed me into a manageable mode.
Slowly, I started realizing what happened to me. I remembered it all with a shiver. I died, and I was transported to someplace for an instant. What was it like…that uncanny place? I felt it just for a sparkle of a second, yet it was such a powerful experience. I tried replaying the dream in my mind, frame by frame, hoping I could go to that same spot, and see what I was supposed to see. But I could not reach that exact state of mind again.
At this point, I must explain that my dreams usually resemble an action-adventure movie. Why am I telling you all this? Because I need you to understand how dreams felt for me. I learned long ago that people, at least most of the people I knew, had different kinds of dreams. More blurry and unintelligible, dreams that were forgotten as soon as the alarm rang in the morning. As for me, dreaming was always good entertainment. Sometimes I live years inside one, other times mere moments. I often dream in episodes, like watching a TV series; other times I dream-replay full episodes, even years apart.
So having this nightmare was nothing special, compared to the others, except for the ending. The ending was… disturbing. But I flushed that uneasiness away. I wasn’t the person to seek out meaning where there was none. The incident was soon forgotten.
Then it happened again. Years later.
I was falling from a cliffside into the sea below. I felt no pain as I hit the water-bathed rocks, but a hollowness appeared in the split second between my dying and the moment I woke and became fully aware of my real surroundings.
In this brief moment of complete nothingness, I became interested. No, I became obsessed.
I had always wondered if death resembles an eternal sleep without dreams. Like, when you fall asleep in the evenings, and you are completely unaware of yourself until the next morning when you wake up. It didn’t seem too scary, it felt somehow peaceful. But this, the emptiness that I sensed, was entirely different. For as short as a blink of an eye, I experienced total obliteration. And it felt beyond scary, it felt FINAL.
I became consumed with that feeling. I wanted to go back to that condition again, to find out more, to explore it. I didn’t care about the rest of the world. What good is it to struggle throughout your life, being that beloved family member or intimate friend? What good does it make to have that perfect love life or a fulfilling career, when all awaiting you, in the end, is total annihilation?
I started searching for ways of mastering my dreams. I would spend hours, days, and months…sitting in total silence and gazing into my mind, analyzing every corner of myself. I read books about lucid dreaming and meditation and tried putting them to practice, hoping I could experience that feeling again. I participated in seminars, in which sleep gurus pretended they possess the key to mastering your dreams (amongst other things). Most of it was of no help at all…
But this struggle of mine paid off in the end. I learned to trigger my death by controlling my dreams as I wanted. If you spend all your waking hours thinking about the same thing, obsessing over one idea, you will succeed. I controlled my dreams by thinking intently about ways of dying and visualizing them inside my head. Then, after falling asleep, my brain would naturally continue on the path that I opened for it.
I acted in full awareness of what I was doing. No excuses there. For sure, I was exploring a dark realm. I knew I was on a very dangerous path, but I couldn’t care less. I wanted more and more… It was frustrating to always wake up on the verge of accomplishing true enlightenment, before understanding what was happening. Every new experience only added to my thirst for exploration, instead of bringing it to an end. Even though I got to a point where I could control the amount of time that passed between dream-dying and awakening, true enlightenment still eluded me. The insights I hoped to gain were out of my reach. Or at least they felt that way.
I died so often in my dreams and became so skilled at exploring the realm of darkness that there’s nothing much left for me in there. It feels like going home and exploring my own backyard. I accepted nothingness as a sort of peace. Granted, it was a frail-balanced peace, but still of some comfort.
I did succeed in my quest but lost everything in the process: my family, my friends, and my job. My attempts of making them understand why I obsessed over dreams, death, and nothingness backfired. They simply didn’t want to discuss these taboos, as I later understood they were. No one enjoys hearing about metaphysical experiences while eating mamma’s chicken soup. If I could retract some of my conversations? Sure. I would. Like that instance where I thought I was sharing some great insight into an afterlife without angels or demons… I honestly thought they would appreciate not wondering about it anymore.
Have I lost my sanity? Is that even under question? Many a time I did lose track of time and was unable to anchor myself into the materiality of the world. Discerning the real world from the dream world became ever so difficult. My dreams often happened before reality, and I suffered from a chronic case of déjà vu. Life didn’t feel real.
Did I also possibly lose myself? It was all Me, Me, Me until it wasn’t me anymore. I did it all, and I felt in control. But was I? I stopped searching for it, but it did not stop searching for me. I am afraid now. What if I was switched during those visits to the dream world? What if the Me in my dreams is not the Me in the reality now, and I’m lost in a kind of limbo? What if the Me from my dreams took over my body, and I’m just a memory, a figment of imagination?
I grow more and more anxious with every day that passes. What if there will be a need to explore further? What if the call becomes so raucous that it cannot be unheard? What if searching for this sensation becomes too much to bear? Will I still be here when the dream-Me takes over completely? I can’t find peace, not when the shadow lurking in my back is not the Lady with the scythe, but myself!
Would this dream-Me be curious about death in the real world? What if this world is his dream world?
I can envision dream-Me waiting, making plans… Day-dreaming…
I'm a Romanian living in Hungary and writing in English. As a sociologist by formation and a design team leader in the automotive industry, I am also a writer rediscovering my passion for the craft. I started writing poetry in high school, which was published in a local paper. In college, I won a special prize in the prose category in a writer's association contest for my short stories. After a long hiatus, I am now planning to publish my works of poetry, stories, and novels in both English and Romanian. I am excited to see where this journey takes me.