One night, after my toddler twins went to sleep, I wandered aimlessly around my dining room. I looked at the dishes in the sink, the pile of unpaid bills and stacks of papers that needed my response, the unread book with testimonials of changed lives, which I’d been reading three pages at a time for a month. I surveyed my options for a moment and decided on the book – in theory, I wanted to change my life.
I went to say goodnight to my teenage daughter, who was watching The Truman Show. I stood by the couch, book in hand, and watched the movie. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the couch, book on my lap. An hour and a half later I got off the couch, picked up the book, and said goodnight. I placed the book back in its spot and stood staring at it for a long time while I considered whether I really wanted my life to change.
The Truman Show is the story of a man who one day realizes that his life is a charade, and that everyone knows but him. I wondered, and not for the first time, if I was a dupe – and what it would be like when my real life began. I’d considered this before, of course, as many of my favorite movies carry the same theme – The Matrix, Vanilla Sky, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – these all involve characters faced with the choice of living in a world of reality or non-reality. I questioned whether the life I wanted to wake up to would be any better and began to panic as I considered that this may in fact be the real world and that I was already awake. I decided that I wasn’t sure which was which and went to bed.
As I lay there near my husband, shifting this way and that, futilely trying to get comfortable, I attempted to define my life. I searched for a metaphor, straining to encapsulate it all into a pithy phrase, but couldn’t quit thinking about what Roman told me when I was seventeen. “You need to stop thinking in analogies,” he’d chided. “You’ve got to stay real.”
I made up my mind that my life was like being adrift on an ocean with a compass, but no oars. I thought this was brilliant and ran downstairs to text Erica, who could always be counted on to stroke my ego. I returned to bed, phone in pocket, and waited for Erica’s response. As I was falling asleep, she replied, saying that if I had no oars, then I just needed to rip somebody’s leg off and use that. I passed out with a smile.
That night, I dreamed that I was standing on a pier that ran alongside a large body of water. A river? An ocean? A lake? The morning sun glistened on the placid water and the sky was blindingly bright and cloudless. Birds sang. My boys splashed around between the pier and the bank and I thought about how that was the safest place for them to be – close to land. There was something foreboding about that water.
I stood on the pier, watching my children play, paying special attention to the way their mouths looked when they yelled and laughed, how big their bodies had gotten since they were babies, what they looked like when they bent, how their hair shined in the sun. They were having a fantastic time and I felt happy and in love with them, appreciating them more than I had in months. It would’ve be one of the most pleasurable moments in my life if it weren’t for that water. There was something foreboding about that water.
From out of nowhere, two airplanes plummeted from the sky and collided just above the water, about a hundred feet out from where I stood. There was an apocalyptic explosion as fiery pieces of aircraft dropped into the water. Frightened and shocked, I looked around at all the other parents playing with their children, but nobody seemed to notice what was happening. I looked at my boys, but before I was able to gauge their response I heard an explosion up above. I looked up to the sky and saw that two more planes had collided and fiery wreckage was falling downward. Suddenly, there were dozens of planes in the sky, all of them headed toward each other, and I braced myself for the impending disaster.
I opened my mouth to scream at the people around me – Watch out! Run! Don’t you see what’s happening? But no words came out of my mouth. I looked at my boys again, and now they did seem upset, but only because I was.
What’s wrong, momma? Why are you crying?
I looked back out at the water again, to the spot where the first wreck occurred, and there was an emergency response team there, paddling lifeboats toward the burning fuselage.
“There’s no hope,” I heard one of the men say. “Just look for body parts.”
I woke up suddenly to a dark room and didn’t remember my dream until later in the day at therapy.
“How have your dreams been lately?” my therapist, Lynn, asked and I suddenly remembered. I related the dream excitedly, each dreadful image flooding back to me.
Lynn looked at me for a long moment then told me to return the next week, free of charge. “To relieve my own anxiety, if nothing else,” she said.
I talked to Lynn for a while, telling her about my Truman Show epiphany, my impending separation from my husband, my trouble staying emotionally connected to my children. About how things in my life were going eerily well.
“You need to consider all of your options carefully,” Lynn said. As I wandered out into the bright, cool fall day, she added, “Try to stay as real as possible.”