Dreams are Free, By Erin Stephens
Dreams are Free
By Erin Stephens
I never went to sleep as a kindergartener. Every night, my nose dove deep into a notebook or novel well into the early morning hours. I’d be lucky if I got four hours of sleep, making the recommended eight an unfathomable dream. As a gifted student, my classmates and I used to brag about who got the least sleep. Puffy eyes and sluggish behavior was somehow associated with intelligence, and at carpool we’d all compete for the “Most Sleep-Deprived Award”. We were so naive. Everyday after I put forth my best effort for the award, I napped my way into forgetting about completing such a feat. My mom fussed at me most days, because my heavy slumber was very unhealthy. Sometimes, I’d begin homework or watch TV to try to stay awake, but that was never successful. One day in particular, I remember being jolted awake by her thundering voice. Sweat trickled down my leg, saturating my back as I stared at my light blush wall. The clock said 5:45 p.m. Once again, I had fallen asleep.
My great grandfather’s, Joe, funeral was the next morning and I was honestly terrified. Sleepily, I plopped out of my grandmother’s SUV sporting a velvet dress and patent leather shoes. An formidable, gothic cathedral devoured us while we waited enter the service. Even though I wasn’t familiar with Joe, my grandma’s father, I knew he had significance in my life. Before his death, my family and I visited him in hospice. I had no clue why I was there, but I immediately felt agitated when I entered his room. He was a resident of Algiers, a small section of Orleans parish on the westbank of the Mississippi river. All I knew about New Orleans was that it had flooded and that it was haunted. The city had lost its luster and everyone was effected, including me, a native of Brusly, Louisiana. In spite of my unworldliness, I was completely aware of the downcast energy after Katrina. I was quite melancholy, but I couldn’t comprehend my feelings. The complex wires weaving in and out of his booming oxygen system were all so foreign to me. I clung to my mother. A nurse said he suffered from sleep apnea and never trusted the medicine used to aid him. He would stay awake all night in fear of unknowingly taking his last breath, but suffered acute hallucinations from sleep deprivation. We at least had something in common–we were night owls.
All I could remember from the funeral was an elderly lady in a wheelchair, who happened to be his wife. I was asleep for the entire funeral and my mother carried me to the truck once it was over. On our way home to Baton Rouge, I distinctly remember feeling overwhelmed by the unsettling energy in New Orleans and wailing for my father. My mother and grandmother were so calm, but I was paranoid. Why were they so composed? My dad was the only person that could allay me, but that didn’t help when my mother glowered at me as if my edginess was not justified. We had just been in the most haunted city in the United States. For a funeral!
As soon as we got back to Baton Rouge, my mother went out to run errands, leaving me with my grandmother. My grandma, understandably, was mournful and scurried to her bathroom to grieve. Everything happened so quickly that they left me in the kitchen. I could hardly catch my breath after crying from my emotional daze. To take my mind off of everything and dry my eyes, I nosed around.
I felt much better being home in Baton Rouge, but I was suddenly confused and questioned my surrounding. It was a nippy January day, but as I gazed out at the lush green trees and freshly cut grass, it looked like June. Like a doe-eyed puppy, I gaped out the window at the neighborhood. The yard seemed to stretch for miles. It was an endless blanket made of silken fleece that was perfect for playing in. I was in a subdivision. Unimaginably, the lawn faded into a rich purple and the houses waned into a gray horizon, but the warmth of the sun gently nuzzled my cheeks and assured me that everything was fine and dandy. I lost touch with reality. As I gawked out the window, I was urged to turn around. I couldn’t hear anyone calling my name, but someone or something was commanding my attention. Being the innocent six year old that I was, I faced whatever was drawing me in. In slow motion, I turned towards the door frame and out of the corner of my eye, a gloomy light emanated from the hallway. Leaning against the door frame was Joe, my great grandfather. He was ashen and donned the suit he was buried in. Unlike the black casket he was laid to rest in, he was slumped in an old wooden casket that was covered in cobwebs. He was here with me, and not with God. An anomaly. Catechism never taught me that people besides Jesus could resurrect. A dead man was standing in front of me. Needless to say, I fainted.
After dropping to the floor, I woke up sobbing. I’m not sure how long I was unconscious, but when I did wake up my grandmother and mother were on the floor next to me. They were just as confused as I was. Between breaths I made out “Joe was there!” They simply chuckled, and picked me up off the floor. I was humiliated. The rivulets streaming down my face and pooling on their blouses were dismissed with laughter and nonchalance. I was disappointed in the fact that my own mother didn’t believe me. No one did.
How could she not believe her own child? Did Joe want to tell me goodbye before he left? Was I crazy? Did he want to take me with him? Why did this happen to me? On the way home I silently frowned in the back seat. I knew I should’ve stayed home instead of going to the funeral. Better yet, I should’ve stayed away from New Orleans and went to school. Even before the hurricane, the city’s aimless spirits wandering the streets perturbed me. At that moment, my theory that ghosts were real was solidified. When I arrived at home, I didn’t see my father’s truck and began to snivel again. My mother and I were both weary. She simply told me to lie down and urged that I take a nap to “get rid of my funky attitude”. Dragging to my room, tears dotted my face as I shuffled through my rumpled sheets. In between sniffles, my eyes fell lower and lower. I dreamt of my grandfather. It was 4:30 p.m. and even though the sun was unbearably bright, my I napped until 9:00 p.m.
When I woke up that night, George Lopez was on television. I wished I had stayed asleep, but I was elated to enjoy something lighthearted after an exhausting day. I turned over on my side and watched a little TV, hoping to fall back into unconsciousness. Instead of putting me back to sleep, the sitcom was surprisingly funny. Yawns were interrupted by giggles every few minutes. I expected to eventually fall asleep before midnight, but as more episodes passed, time did too. 10:00 p.m. changed to 11:00 p.m and then to 12:00 a.m. The word “Tired” was not in my vocabulary. Once George Lopez ended, I turned over and tried to go to sleep. After tossing and turning, I looked at the clock and it said 4:00 a.m. At that point, I had worn myself out tumbling in bed that I was actually starting to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. With one last attempt, I got comfortable. For a moment, I thought I would get at least five hours of shut eye. I was confident. But when my doze began to get deeper and nightmares were encroaching, I remembered Joe. My eyelids darted open. The only light in my room came from the corner street light and the whites of my eyes. I wasn’t going to sleep. With wide eyes and a thumping heart, I stayed awake until the sun uncovered the furniture in my room. Even though I should’ve went to sleep that night, I was sure that I’d catch up on my sleep during the morning. Just as I closed my eyes, my dad slowly opened my door with toast and milk. It was Thursday.