– Edgar Allan Poe
I haven’t been sleeping so good lately. Of course, insomnia is hardly anything new for me after going to bed for so many years in various stages of inebriation, since alcohol deprives the brain of normal sleep cycles. And when it would wear off and leave my system, I would invariably wake up at around three a.m., covered in sweat and unable to fall back asleep. Since I’ve given up the sauce, however, I’ve begun to enjoy a restorative, peaceful night’s sleep on a regular basis, in spite of the fact that it now takes me a while to doze off. The only problem is, I dream too much now, as though my brain is trying to make up for time that was lost when it couldn’t dream because it was being constantly awakened. Because that’s what alcohol does – it robs us of our dreams, both figuratively and literally.
The problem now is, I have been waking up from a couple of recurring bad dreams that have come around four or five in the morning the past few nights in a row, including this one. My heart is still racing, and I’m pretty sure I was talking in my sleep. The dream is still vivid and clear in my mind, to the point that I am still working on convincing myself that it was just a dream and I’m really awake now. I’m so groggy, it would be hard to tell the difference if I wasn’t sitting upright and typing away at this moment. In fact, that is why I am typing – to make sure it didn’t really happen.
Last night, I dreamed a horrific dream that someone stole my idea for my book, and got theirs published right before I wrapped up a deal for selling mine with my agent. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Only if you’re not a writer…
This dream I had just now was much, much worse. I dreamed that I was sitting at a bar with some friends I hadn’t seen in years. Someone bought a round of martinis, and I absent-mindedly picked up the one that was set down in front of me and quaffed it in a few large sips before I remembered that I don’t do that anymore. What were you thinking?? I yelled at myself just before I woke up, feeling inconsolably full of remorse, as though all was lost.
These bad dreams are actually good for me. One serves as a much needed kick in the ass that drives me out of bed to get to work, doing what I need to be doing. The other serves as an intense reminder of how miserably degrading it would feel to backslide after coming so far in my sobriety. Because the truth is, there has not been a single white-knuckle moment or occasion in nearly four months since I quit that I’ve been even remotely tempted to just say screw it and have a taste. The thought couldn’t be further from my mind – except in my dreams, apparently.
But as I’ve woken up these past few mornings and thanked God that I was only dreaming, a terrible reality sinks in as I reach over and look at the other half of my bed that is cold and empty, and has been that way for over two months. My decision to get permanently sober came as too little, too late. Alcohol had left a permanent stain on my relationship with a woman who will own my heart forever. It is impossible to silence my mind once I begin thinking of her, particularly when I first wake up, at any hour.
And then other thoughts begin to careen around in my head. To sum them up in a word, I am bereft. I am bereft of love, bereft of companionship, and bereft of employment, although I keep expecting to hear back any day now about a couple of jobs for which I’ve interviewed. I own very little, and have less than no money to my name. I am not panicking, though – at least, not yet.
As pathetic as it may sound, there is only one possession I really have left that could even be considered valuable, but it is precious to me and I feel like a rich man compared to most. I still have my dreams. In fact, I came across them the other day in a couple of boxes that I have not opened since I packed up and moved from California to New Hampshire back in 1999. Before that, they had hardly been touched since 1992, when I first got married and my daily writing habit all but came to a stop.
New dreams are important, of course. One should never stop dreaming and inventing the future. But sometimes this is impossible to do when old dreams have lain dormant and neglected that are just too important to forget about. Such is the case with mine, and now I have the evidence in front of me that my ambition to become a writer wasn’t just a silly dream, after all.
One of these overstuffed boxes contains what was originally a ream and a half of blank typing paper. The yellowed pages inside are now filled with several ribbons worth of ink from an electric Brother typewriter that I owned back in the day, before I bought my first Macintosh computer. I marvel as I hold their combined weight in my hands, and recall the hours spent working on this novel that I set out to write at the young age of twenty-two, pecking away at all hours of the night. Despite their heft, however, these pages comprise less than half of that story. I begin to read, and it is very good – and also, very, very bad. I was, after all, only a kid, but that kid apparently believed pretty strongly in himself to put so much work into this. The writing may very well need to be thrown out and rewritten from scratch, but it is still a damn good story, even today. In fact, especially today.
Digging through the other box, I find a long forgotten love poem that I once wrote for nobody in particular, but always hoped to find the right woman to give it to someday. (I did finally find her, but as I mentioned before, she is no longer here.) There is also a manuscript for a short story, and a rejection note that was sent back with it from The Atlantic Monthly, back in 1985. There were many others, but very foolishly, I was embarrassed by them and threw them all out, since I was unable to see them as the badges of honor that they really were. I probably didn’t mean to save this one, but I’m very glad I have it. It is proof positive that I was once worthy of calling myself a writer. I tried, and I really put myself out there back in those days. I would give anything to get back that young man’s confidence.
Looking through these packages that he left for me, and knowing what I know today, I just might yet…