I’ve been told that the reason why we wake up when death visits us in our dreams is that our brains don’t know how to recreate the death experience. Makes sense honestly, because how could you mimic an alien experience? Right? It would be like trying to describe a colour you’ve never seen. To recreate an experience, or an image, our brains need something to work with, some raw materials of some sort. So that’s why I feel like I experienced a glitch in the matrix, a bug in this software we call reality that only a handful might’ve experienced, if any. The next couple of paragraphs will make me sound like a lunatic, a mad man that got a little too high on his own supply, but just hear me out, will you?
You know how sometimes you get this recurring dream over a couple of nights as if your brain is too lazy to generate a whole new one? That was me for like 2 weeks. Or 3. But the worst part was that I literally forgot 98% of it once I woke up. But its aftertaste lingered on. I could feel it sip through my porous brain, as its dreadful familiarity washed through my entire body. It did feel like I had just arrived from an alternate universe but had done the mistake of waking up a couple of seconds earlier, before my brain fully cleared its cache. I knew the dream wasn’t about sunny holidays and sandy beaches, but I somehow couldn’t narrow it down to what it really was about. The only thing I was sure of is that it gave me this hollow feeling in my gut that killed the warmth in me, that feeling you get when something blood-curdling is unfolding in your presence but there’s nothing you can do about it.
Fast forward a couple of months, and my sceptic self had already brushed off the whole experience as a slight malfunction in the sleep department. I was in my final year in college and the pressure to outperform the previous mediocre years I had had was overwhelming. For this reason alone, I had slowed down on my extra-curricular activities with the boys. I had these 3 close friends that made being in school a lot more exciting than it should’ve been. We had the tendency to take things to their extreme, oblivious of obvious consequences. We chased skirts together, got bored together, skipped classes to play video games together… you know, all the silly things that boys do before they become men. But we had each other’s back despite the sideshows, and that was all that mattered.
Until I began failing classes I had no business failing. Being a decorated academic himself, my father took poor grades personally. He’d boil with fury every time he saw my grades, ranting about how soft and irresponsible I had become because of all the niceties and luxuries he had afforded us. He was right of course, but I didn’t see it that way then. Probably because my ego shut my brain down every time he spewed his frustrations on me. But getting to my final year shocked a bit of sense into me. Glimpses of my unemployed, poverty-stricken, future self kept flashing in my head and this alone put the fear of the Lord in me. It’s not like I had met Jesus on my way to Damascus as Saul did, but I felt the need to make drastic changes in my life if I wanted to make something of myself.
And that’s when the friction began. I started coming off as ‘holier-than-thou’ to my friends, even though all I had done was reduce the level of debauchery and pleasure-seeking I was indulging in. Thinking back, I get how they’d feel betrayed, especially since I helped bring life to most of our parties. They started going places without including me. I’d be scrolling through Instagram and a montage of them partying in some secluded Airbnb somewhere would hit me like a brick wall. Watching those reels triggered my fear of missing out (FoMO) like nothing else ever did. I never thought I’d be the ‘must be nice’ guy, watching them have fun from the sidelines. But I had made my bed and I had to lie in it. Until that God-forsaken dream came haunting me again.
Usually, I go to bed a little after midnight. But I had been studying for this CAT all day so I drifted off immediately after I got to my tiny, hostel room. Then after what seemed like an eternity later, my phone startled me awake. I remember being extremely annoyed at whoever thought it was a good idea to call me at 2 in the morning. It was John, one of the 3 friends I had at the time. I hope he isn’t calling to let me know how much fun they’re having without me, I remember thinking. Nonetheless, I picked up and waited for his drunken yell to awaken me from my sleep stupor. None came. I could only make out the sounds of careless fumbling and strained, muffled groaning. Must’ve been a butt dial, I thought as I hang up. 5 seconds later and the phone rang again. I was wide awake by now, disturbed even. Something didn’t add up and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Until I picked up his phone call again and my stomach tightened into a knot. It didn’t matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t speak. It sounded as if he was choking on chunks of wet bread, but still trying to tell me something. I called out his name a couple of times, my voice shaking and cracking from all the terror my mind was conjuring. Two loud coughs ensued, followed by laboured breathing and a few, quick gasps. I then heard his phone tumble to the ground, and for the next few seconds, I just sat there, transfixed by this paralyzing realization that I knew what had happened, but was still in denial. It was as though I was reliving a horrible moment in time, not experiencing it for the first time. And as the silent whispers of the ghastly wind on the other side of John’s phone blew through to me, I instantly knew what had happened as the strongest wave of déjà vu I’ve ever had overwhelmed me.
I probably should’ve died that night with them. They were leaving one of those clubs we frequented when the accident happened. The designated driver was actually as sober as sober can be. As sober as a judge they say. But fate had other plans. He had swerved trying not to get hit by an overtaking Trailer. He hit a tree instead. The driver and 2 of my other mates died on impact. John’s ribs had punctured his lungs, so the groggy voices I was hearing were his attempts at trying to tell me what had happened, while his lungs filled with blood, drowning him from the inside. But what I find most terrifying is that a part of me knew it would happen before it happened. And I didn’t even know I knew. Maybe I was supposed to be with them that night. Maybe I was with them, but in some other world, and we died together in this weird world I know nothing of, only to dream it in this realm. I know, I warned you earlier that I’d sound like a crackhead on mushrooms. Still, a small part of me wonders why John chose to call me, of all the people he had on his contact list. I guess we’ll never know.