familiar nightmare

That dream. Again. She had not had that dream in a long while, and it never failed to leave her unsettled, bothering on anxious. She was breathing heavily, fighting back the tears that were moist on he cheeks. Her eyes were still closed, trying to grab the remnants of the nightmare she had endured and turning them into something else. Something good. But to no avail. The harder she tried, the more her conscious mind took over, until finally, she was awake. Her eyes fluttered open, and she stared into the dark. The sweat was cooling on her skin. She shivered; as much from the vivid memories as from the cold.

She was at work, laughing with her colleagues, when her phone rang. She saw the number and smiled. Usually, she did not pick up when he called, and she was on a shift, but she was in such a good mood, she wanted to hear his voice and tell him that she would get in touch later. He would certainly understand; they hadn’t talked in two weeks, a couple of hours surely were bearable. But it was not his voice that greeted her; it was another man.

“is this Shelly speaking?” The man asked. His voice was slightly familiar, but she couldn’t place it. “Yes,” she replied “who’s this?” She was confused why a stranger was calling from her boyfr…- she didn’t even know how to label him, they weren’t a couple after all.

“it’s Vic, Dave’s brother.” Ah! That was why the voice sounded familiar. Curious, she left the small office to have a moment of quiet and to understand the man on the other line properly. “I’m afraid I have bad news,” he continued. “Dave passed away. He… He killed himself last night.” His voice broke, and her heart was racing too fast. It felt as if someone had put cotton in her head and it blocked a myriad of oncoming questions that washed over her like a tsunami. “What? How? Why? That cannot be.” She refused to believe the words he said. “He left letters for you, an entire box full. He also left a will in which you are mentioned, but we need to have it checked with our lawyers.” Vic sounded so pulled together as he continued to talk without listening to her. It was almost as if he was going through the motions of informing people about his brother’s passing on auto-pilot. “Could you send your address as a text message? I will make sure that you receive everything Dave wanted you to have.”
Shelly felt the colour draining from her face, and the force holding her upright was fading too. “Yeah, no. Will do. I am sorry for your loss”, she said and quickly disconnected the call. A wail left her mouth as she fell to the ground. Uncontrollable sobs shook her entire body, and she heard noises she couldn’t be sure came from her. But they had to; no one was around. She got up from the floor; she was trembling and gasping for air. It was too hot, and too cold. It was too much of everything. She needed to get outside. And she did. Her crying didn’t stop. How could he be gone? How could Dave be gone?

But there were no answers to that question because every time that dream tormented her, this was the moment she woke up. Every time. In reality, she had not talked to Dave in months, and she was pretty sure that no letters or other belongings were waiting for her, and she was most certainly not mentioned in his will either. Shelly pushed the bunched up sheets off her body and decided to distract herself by starting her day. But the bitter aftertaste of that all too familiar dream tinted her mood. She was not ready to let Dave go. And she couldn’t wash the suspicion that something terrible was about to happen to him off in the shower either.

✨✨✨✨

668 words, 20 minutes

Dear Stranger

Years and months of the same are behind us. And for a moment, we were closer than ever before. We were both lonely during this extraordinary worldwide crisis, and the pandemic made us spend many hours on the phone together. Something grew. A bond that turned out to be more profound and more genuine than it has ever been before. But, we are fragile minds with different lives, different needs, and different desires. I always knew that the inevitable would come. I was waiting for it almost daily. I was unsure of you, and maybe I was even more unsure of myself and my feelings towards you. And then, one day, you told me we need to talk after I am done with my shift. It was a late shift, and the message came early on. I am not proud to admit that I had to leave the office and the group to gather myself. I had an anxiety attack that day brought on by the fear of losing you. I was sure you would tell me that you didn’t want or couldn’t be in touch with me anymore. Just the way you had done before. Instead, to my surprise, you asked for my support. For friendship and advice. Whereas a year before you told me that I don’t matter and that you never cared, you now asked for me to take small steps in the right direction with you. I felt needed and seen. You saw me. And I saw you. Everything worked well for us. We talked. We laughed. We cried. You were healing, and so was I. Slowly, steadily. It was a good time. But I still had the nagging feeling in the back of my head that this was not going to last. And I was right. One day in August, you told me to call you as soon as I was ready and done with work. Again I was working the late shift. Again, I was worried. But I pushed the thoughts away. I called you as soon as I sat in my car. It was dark outside. A streetlight illuminated my car. I called twice and woke you up. Your voice was slurred. I did not understand a lot of what you were trying to say, but I understood that we were over and done. I did not have a say in this, but you told me we would talk the next day.

The next day, you called, and we talked about it all. About what had happened. Then we texted about it some more. I apologised for all the things I did to you. I told you that I want what’s best for you, and if that’s for you to be away from me, I would not fight your wishes, no matter how much it hurts. But I needed you to know that I wanted you in my life. You have your place in my life and in my heart. Always. You became defiant and nasty. You always do when you don’t know how to react to my bursts of emotions. Once again, you told me that my stuff is none of your business and that you really don’t care. I got the message. You needed no-contact. And I ended the conversation there. I did not want to pick a fight and leave with a bad taste in your mouth. I gave you the space you asked for. I did not block your number as you requested. I cannot do that – it hurts me more than it hurts you. But I did not get in touch the way I did for months and weeks before, checking in on you when I felt that something was off. (I was always right, but who cares, and it does not matter.)
Yesterday, you sent an email. I was asleep. I read your usual words in that email. And I debated this morning if I should react or not. I took my time. And when I did, you called. Not once but ten times. I pushed you away, telling you that I was busy and would get in touch later. Later. I needed a moment to decide what to do. Because you were not wrong when you accused me of holding on to you out of selfish reasons and not because of you. Indeed, later, I had a clearer mind. I sent a message back saying that we didn’t do us any good with our behaviour. Always the same patterns. You have your needs that only I can fulfill, and I have my needs that can only be met by you. But, what are we doing, dear Stranger?! We are hurting ourselves this way. And I really thought there would be no reply; I did not expect anything but rejection and disappointment. Instead, you surprised me with a thank you, and a couple of other messages were sent back and forth. You never cease to amaze me. In good and bad ways equally. We are burning bright without each other, turning into dust. Together, we at least have us.
I will never let you go. I will never betray your trust. I promised to be there. To catch you when you fall. It sounds like a threat and not like friendship or love.

But is this the right thing to do? I am not sure anymore. I just know that the months we were so comfortable together, so close, were awesome, and I miss you. Miss us and who we became.
Soon, we will have our 6th anniversary. That’s a long time. A lot has happened. A lot has changed. More for you than for me, I admit. But without you, I would not be here. I owe you.

It’s hard to give up our weaknesses when there is grace and care. But we must.
What are we doing? What are we going to do?

I don’t know,
Forever yours,
Sweetie

Re-birth

And when she woke up from the deep slumber she had vanished to, her soul was shaking, and her body was trembling. Something was different. She was different. One look, one touch had unraveled her stoic self, and now she was a stranger. She did not recognize her reflection in the mirror. She did not understand her thoughts. Her voice was new to her ears. An unusual desire to be alive and present struck her like lightning in the sand. And her iridescent self shone brighter for everyone to see. One touch, one kiss, had turned the key and opened her cage. She was not hidden anymore. The veil that had protected her from curious eyes had been lifted. She took a deep breath and smiled. It had taken a while, but today she was grateful for yesterday’s memories.

❤️💜🤍🖤🤎💙💚💛🧡

(Somewhere in the Netherlands, October 2020)

Dear Stranger

I had six missed calls today. They say if a man don’t want to talk to you, he will not call. You called and sent messages, and even a selfie. I have been waiting for a selfie for a long while. You look tired but so handsome. You know that I don’t love you for your looks. I love you for your mind and soul. Six times you tried to reach me, and once I told you that I couldn’t take your call. You tried again and again. I stayed headstrong; you did too. We are weird together apart. And I wish that I could just come over and hug you. But, that cannot happen. You’ve changed, though. A lot.

Two years ago, I lay on my back in a field at night on a warm August night. I wished upon many stars for you to love me that night. That year, nothing happened. Nothing at all. The year after that, you started being there at the end of the year. The first half has been challenging for you, I learned since. My heart broke for you when I heard what you had to go through – mostly alone. And this year, out of the blue, really, I became marriage material. You said you love me. You said you trust me. And while I believe you, I am weary. Weary, because I know you. I know you all too well. And I am trying not to hurt you, because you are a fragile mind. And I worry so much about you. So so much. I am afraid that you become dependent on me and my presence, and that’s when I fear that I am not good enough, and I want to retreat. But I will not. I will be strong for both of us.

We deserve each other. I think we do. But Stranger, what are we doing? We are wasting time, and we are wasting our lives. Will we ever be more than voices on the phone? Words on a screen?

I love you, Stranger, and I will take your calls tomorrow. I promise. I want to be there for you. I’m doing my best to be there for you.

Yours, Sweetie.

Everytime it rains.

The thunderstorm made me think of you. I stepped out of my overheated living room and onto the warm patio. I saw the lightning in the distance. It took a moment before I heard the thunder. And I smiled. The first drops of rain hit my head, and I looked up at the sky. I spread my arms out to the sides. I felt every raindrop kiss me. And I smiled. I raised my hands, palms up, and let the rain soak me. If someone watched me, they might have mistaken me for a crazy woman. And maybe they are right. But I was also glowing from within. Burning with a fierce passion for life. And a yearning for the man I carry in my heart.

Did you sleep?

The thunder and lightning make me think of you. Are you out there?

And the thunder rolls.

This thunderstorm makes me think about you. We both like it. The wind in our hair, the crackling in the air. The rain on our skin. We love it. It makes us feel alive.

And I wonder: did you sleep last night? I worry about you and know that your overthinking mind keeps you from laying your thoughts to rest at night. The lack of sleep makes you overthink, and you end up in a vicious circle.

Yesterday, I read that asking the above questions shows that the one asking cares. There is no judgment, just “did you sleep?”. And how often did I ask this lately? Very often.

The thunder rolls, and I keep thinking about you. I keep worrying about you. Please be well. I love you.

Dear Stranger: 15 things I love about you

Lately, you’ve been on my mind day and night, every waking hour and every sleeping moment too. I think it happened. It finally happened. And I am sorry. I apologise.

There are too many reasons for me to love you.

  • I care and never want to see you hurt
  • I want to protect you and keep you out of harm’s way
  • You act strong for everyone else, but I’ve seen you, and I understand
  • I like you; you are my person
  • We have a past, a present, and a future
  • Your presence in my life helps me grow
  • You make me smile, even more so when you realise what I am made of
  • When I hear your voice, there are butterflies in my belly
  • I trust you, so much so that your is the only number that can call me at any time of the day and night
  • I see the potential in you, the creativity that knows no limits
  • I cannot fix you because you are not broken, but I can love you
  • I get jealous when you interact with other women
  • I cannot think of anything that I detest in you; nothing appalls me, nothing makes me want to abandon you
  • You deserve to be loved by me
  • I deserved to be loved by you.

Or as Martin L Gore wrote and sang:

Depeche Mode – somebody

Goodnight, dear Stranger,

Your Sweetie

Showered with sadness

One moment, I was happily dancing in the rain,

The next I was crying, cowering in my shower’s corner.

The manic moments got fewer while the depressive episodes grew longer every time. Rationally, I knew that it was all in my head. I knew that I was allowed to live and to love and to accept affection too. But during the depressive moments, I couldn’t remember those things; I couldn’t hear them. The voices in my head telling me that I am a waste of space or that I don’t matter, they were louder than any reason or sense. And they hurt. So much. Every time a little more. I tried to silence them with music. I tried to mum them with positive thoughts. I even tried to cut them out of my skin and singing them to sleep with alcohol and pills. Nothing worked.

And now I sat here in the shower hiding in the corner, naked and shivering. 

These fragile and frail moments were my secret. But I am not sure how well I hid it.

I read in a book that we need to talk and speak up to remind our minds that we are real and alive. I was thinking about that under the cold shower spray. Sobbing, I bit the skin on my arm. The gesture was not to hurt me, but to feel and root my overwhelmed self. I do that too during sex, but that’s more to avoid making too much noise. That’s a different subject. 

I watched the water run down my legs in rivulets, little rivers of sorrow. It was a mix of the shower spray, my tears, and, let’s face it, snot was in the mix too. But I was too far gone to care.  I tried remembering what had triggered this explosion of emotions, but I couldn’t remember. And it agitated me even more. I forgot so much. Was I too focussed on myself, or not enough? I was just trying to stay alive! The lack of understanding, of meaning, of connection, mixed with insomnia, abject loneliness, and solitude – it was killing me. Or maybe, maybe I was killing myself. Self-loathing, self-destructive, absent from my self.

The water kept caressing the goosebumps all over my body. I hugged myself tighter and bit my skin harder. I looked up to the ceiling. And when I looked down at my knees again, I felt empty. As if this was not me anymore. As if someone had found a switch to turn my emotions off. My sobbing stopped. I got up and turned to water off. Empty. Just going through the motions. As if it was not me. The lights were still on, but no one was at home anymore. I was a robot. A puppet on my mind’s strings. I grew calm but exhausted. Tired. So so tired.

I grabbed my towel and dried off without much care. Heading to my bedroom, I sat down on the mattress, naked as I was; grabbed my pillow – the one I cuddle at night, and rolled myself into a position that made me as small as possible. Fetal position.

I remember thinking that I was not thinking anymore. And then I drifted off.

In the middle of the night, I woke up because I was trembling and felt cold. I covered myself with the sheets and fell into a dreamless slumber. The next time I woke up, it saw the morning light illuminating my bedroom. I felt rested but hungover from the heavy emotions I had felt the night before. I had the image in my head of what a pitiful sight I had been in the shower. Everything else was still a bit foggy.

But as I said, these moments of vulnerability and of my fragile mind being on full display are my secrets. Just mine. No one will ever know the truth.

There was something on my arm; a bruise was forming, the skin was changing colours, reminding me of what I had done.

In sane moments, I wonder why I can’t be normal. Wouldn’t it be easier to be detached from myself more often? Who knows? Who cares? In the end, it doesn’t matter. 

We live. We die. And everything we feel in between is not real for anyone but us.

(718 words/20minutes)

Dear Stranger

I had almost 500 words written for you before I deleted it all again. I am projecting what I think you need or want and don’t allow you any space to be more than what I know.

I am aware that there are many layers to peel away from you, but you never allowed it. Now you seem to be there and ready for a deeper connection and it is me who is stuck in old patterns. It feels as if I should apologise about that.

You deserve better.

If we could stop walking on eggshells around each other and allow each other to see everything there is to see, everything would be easier. We would be free. But I am probably over-analysing.

Often, I say that I am not the romantic kind. I am a bit special in my thinking and in my needs. And yet, here I am thinking about you first thing in the morning and as a last thought before I fall asleep.

In bad moments, my mind tries to convince me that it is obsessive. In good moments, my mind tries to convince me that it is love.

Rationally, I know that it is none of the above.

Sometimes, I forget who you are. I forget that everything between us is make-believe and a fantasy. And I am scared that you don’t like me at all. I am afraid if I try pleasing you too much, you end up hating me. And I desperately need you to like me. Love me. Just a little bit.

A friend of mine told me about a Hindu meditation. During this meditation, you ask yourself if you would mourn the loss of this or that person in your life. If you don’t get sad over the emotion, it is time to let go. If you feel sad thinking about anyone’s loss, they are allowed to stay in your life.

I tried it with you, and I was devastated thinking of a life without you. I almost panicked. I got that same constricting feeling when you left the first time and also, a couple of months ago when I dreamt that you had died.

That dream of you passing away, I remember it, sort of, because I was shaken the entire day. And then in the evening, you got in touch and ever since you haven’t really left again. The distance between us changed.

And every time you’re near, a warm sensation travels through my body. Would it be the same if you weren’t who you are? Would it be the same if you hadn’t kissed my starving teenage mind with your art years before we even met?

Dear Stranger, you have that very special gift to make me feel happy and sad at the same time. You make me confident and doubting at the same time.

And tonight, I don’t know what to think.

Goodnight,

Sweetie

Throwback (April 24, 2016)

Sunday night. The weekend was uneventful, and I am watching reruns of the Gilmore Girls. Half a bag of chips is gone. Half a bottle of wine makes me feel comfortable and warm. There’s a knock at the door. It’s late. Dark. No moon. I wonder if I forgot a date or something, but there is nothing and no one that I remember.
Should I open the door? I’m scared, and my eyes lose focus. Something isn’t right. I was watching TV and mute the volume now. Is it too late to pretend not to be in? Did I make a lot of noise? I pull my legs closer to my chest and forget to breathe. My ears are on high alert, and in my nervousness, I bite at the skin surrounding my thumbnail. Nervous habit. Another knock and a sound is piercing the silence. Like a wail. Was that a human sound? I don’t know. Fuck! I run my hand across my face and try to think of what to do. My mind is blank. I am scared. That much, I know. I am curious, too. Who is at my door at this time of the night, and what is happening? I put my feet on the plush carpet and move in slow motion. The sound of my beating heart is annoying. I can’t hear much else. Can I move the curtain without anyone outside noticing? Maybe if I don’t breathe. My heart races, it almost hurts. My clammy, shaking hands touch the cloth, but they don’t move it. Too risky.
I look at the door. Maybe they are gone by now?
And now, curiosity wins. This is the exact moment in a horror movie where the brainless woman is killed in a surprise attack. Still, I open the door, just a crack. There isn’t anything. Just dark. Relief floods me. I feel the searing heat that kept me on my toes vanish and make room for a reassuring cold. I smile and shake my head, looking at the floor.
There’s a liquid on my doorstep. A puddle of it. But it’s dark, and I can’t see its nature. Did someone release themselves against my door? I scoff. Drunks are everywhere. The entire time I had been hunched over and tense. Now I straighten my back, and relaxed, I turn to close the door. I will make sure to lock myself in. I don’t need this excessive agitation. I push the door, but it doesn’t close. Something is preventing it. And I see what it is. A foot. A heavy boot. I panic and push harder at the wood, but the foot doesn’t budge, and the door doesn’t close. A hard shove, and I fall flat on my ass. A man enters. He’s huge. And while I try to get my feet under my body, he laughs. An evil laugh. Deep. My gaze falls to his hand. Right one. It is covered in a crimson liquid that drips on my floor. Will I be able to get those stains cleaned up again? He is wearing a black coat. Heavy. Appropriate for the fall weather. My eyes continue their journey, and they stop on his face. A scar from left to right. From the left eyebrow to the right corner of his mouth. His lips are twisted into a sneer. I have never been this scared in my life. Specks of red – maybe blood, cover his face. No visible hair, apart from the eyebrows. His eyes are dark pits staring at me.
Wide open. Horrifying. I want to say something. Beg for something, but there is no sound. I am just as mute as the TV. It is still playing. I see the colors and the play of light and dark. The stranger closes the door with the heel of his right foot. The banging noise resonates in the silence. Why do I notice these things? The blood keeps dripping onto my floor. Is it his blood? Whose blood? More importantly, is it really blood? Blood. The world keeps spinning in my head, and the many reasons why one loses blood keep my mind occupied.
There’s no rational thought in me. But I still try to move away from the intruder. My arms and legs are of no use. The more I try to move, the more my limbs refuse to cooperate. And when the man bends down over me, I freeze. I shake my head. I want to say something. Anything. Beg for my life. But someone must have stolen the words right out of my mouth. His sneer is burning itself into my brain. No one will ever find it there. His bloody hand guides my chin to look upwards. His breath doesn’t stink, and his touch isn’t cold. It’s almost gentle. I didn’t see the blade before. But I can feel its metal now. Cold a first, it warms quickly against the skin of my throat. His eyes keep mine hostage. How can someone have empty eyes like this? Ouch. It hurts. I try to take a breath, but no air fills my lungs. There’s a strange smell, and I feel so light. As if I am losing twenty-one grams. He moves closer and kisses my forehead. He whispers something. I can’t understand him. I panic and try to get away from him, but the way he is sitting over me keeps me from moving. I realize that I am being killed. No. No. I don’t want to… Curiosity killed the…

THE END