söndag 26 april 2020

I do not like my birthday

I have never liked my birthday. It has been a fixture of my entire life. The birthday itself has nothing to do with this. It is a date like any other where my mother gave birth to me far out in the Stockholm Archipelago late in the night in the presence of a midwife. There was no time to get her to a hospital nor - did it turn out - was one needed. I am the only child, my mother and my father are still happily married and there is nothing wrong with our family. We are just the same as any other family. I am just another regular twenty-six year old who long since moved out and started the work of building a family of my own. But that fixture remains.

I do not like my birthday. To be fair, it is not the day itself that bothers me. It is the night. Of course I have seen medical professionals about it and they keep telling me it is just nightmares. It seems to me that it is the only time of year I do have them because I rarely have them at other times of the year but I digress. My first memory of such a nightmare was trying to convey information to somebody and not knowing if I got through along with a buzzing sound that repeated the same two words. The words themselves are long forgotten but the sounds are not.

I had dreams of desperation, dreams of cold, dreams of hanging on, of falling off, being trapped, being thrown across a room or just plain chaos. I do not know how long they last but I wake up shaking and dripping with sweat every single time. My throat hurts like I've been screaming for my life but oddly enough, nobody ever heard any sounds coming from me in my sleep during my birthday night. I have remained silent. It is ironic and almost amusing since I apparently snore every other night to the chagrin of anybody else in the room.

In my younger years, I tried to just forget them. Stayed home from school and just took a personal day to get myself back into order. In my early teens, I tried to stay awake. I could drink large amounts of coca cola and play my Nintendo GameCube but that failed. I fell asleep where I sat. It took me three tries to realise whatever I did, I would fall asleep at around 2 o'clock in the night. So I started to do what I do about my problems. I wrote the dreams down. Every dream on every birthday since I was fourteen is now written down and archived.

Writing them down is a hard thing to do. Whatever I write, I do not feel I make the experience justice as if the person writing cannot possibly understand or comprehend it all. Events, emotions, sounds and visuals are all blurred together and it takes time to divide them from each other and put into their correct place, like a movie that is also a jigsaw puzzle, counting on you to place every piece so you can see it all.

There is a consistency to them that cannot be denied, that much is clear and that scares me more than anything else. Since when are dreams ever consistent?

My parents did try to help me but they relied on the doctors opinion; that it was just night terrors. In time, I stopped talking to them about it. All I do is make sure any birthday celebrations are scheduled days before or after my actual birthday and it is not something people comment upon; easy enough when my birthday is in the middle of the weekday most years. But the help I needed the most came from an unexpected source.

I was in the cafeteria in college. I had pulled up a book and sat at one of the tables with a Chess board in front of it. I have not played Chess for years and honestly I never saw anybody play on those things. But she just sat down, smiled and asked if I wanted to play a game. And I did. I was eighteen and not very experienced with girls - and she was not with boys - but we got along fairly quickly. I am not sure we ever had that phase where we tried to figure out our feelings or anything like a courtship. Suddenly she was my new best friend and we hung out a lot and when we kissed the first time, we just kept at it. We never declared us a couple, we just became one. Years later, our marriage would be equally simple, just walking down to the courthouse and declaring it more for legal reasons than any desire to actually have a ceremony.

And it was she who disrupted the cycle. The night of my birthday, she had turned up unannounced and asked if I wanted to see a movie. So we did. And then we snuggled up on the couch. And then she fell asleep. And then I did because my stupid ass did not check the time. And then I woke up like I always do, sweating, shaking and scared to death. She looked at me but she did not speak. I became vaguely aware that she might consider me a freak and it did not calm me down one bit but she just hugged me and said we should probably head for my bed.

So we did but I could not fall asleep again. You see, out of all the people that I see in my nightmares on my birthday, I never recognize a single one. But this time I did. It had been a vivid vision. I had shouted for a person to save themself as it was obviously impossible for me to get out of whatever chaotic predicament I was in. But she was there. Her face, her voice. I remember it clearly. I was very perplexed as to how she could be present.

The next morning, over breakfast she asked me about it. It was obvious she thought nothing of it, just making sure I got more sleep after my nightmare. So I told her everything. Of course, this is not something I do often at all. My parents know what they know because it was impossible to hide. But I never actually told anyone the whole story. The dreams, the feelings and the sheer horror of knowing you will experience something like it and you cannot do a thing to stop it.

Very carefully, she asked if she could read what I had written for previous years. I was not really into letting her do it at first but I felt like I told her this much she deserved to see more. So while I sat at the computer, writing down the latest dream she was going through the paper copies of my earliest dreams. When I stopped typing, she just looked up at me and asked to switch. So we did, she sat down at the computer. Ten minutes later, she told me that we were going out. Her complexion had changed dramatically, her usually warm and freckled face was pale and her gaze had a stern determination, like she was decided to go through with something unpleasant.

I was convinced she was taking me to the doctor but yet again, she surprised me. It was a cold, windy autumn morning with a bright sun that provided no warmth as we left the house. As we passed by a flower shop, she halted me and went inside, returning a few minutes later with a bouquet of lilies. And so we went on the bus. I had no idea where she was taking me but she was my girlfriend and I trusted her.

We went off the bus near a local park. There were few others despite the hour being close to lunchtime and I had no idea where we were going. After all, this place was known mostly for walking around and having a bunch of museums and an amusement park. But I followed suit until she took me towards a small, triangular structure that almost looked like walls stacked against each other. Outside, she looked at me, gave me the bouquet and told me to go inside. I do not know why but it was clear she did not intend to go with me. So I went inside.

It was then I saw the names carved into the walls, more than I could count. I stood reading them at random and I realised that many of the names were familiar. Not all of them, far from all of them. But eighteen of them were very familiar to me, as if I read the name of a family member despite the names not being anywhere close to anybody I actually knew. I put down the flowers and stood silent in the center of all the names for a couple of minutes before I went out to my girlfriend. I did not ask her how she knew.

I now do this every year. I still write down the stories. But then I leave, I visit the same flower shop, I buy a bouquet of lilies and place them down. And the number of names I recognize keeps growing. It is now twentysix. One for every year I have been alive. One for every birthday.

This story is posted at /r/NoSleep and inspired by content from the same source.

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