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I’m not safe in my bed because when I close my eyes, I see my body being torn apart

My latest, most visceral dream is one in which I am running across the Brooklyn Bridge, trying desperately to get back to Manhattan. But the bridge is made of thinly-bundled copper wire and the burly, umbral men behind me are reaching for my legs to knock me into the East River. When I finally take my first step onto solid ground, the scenery changes, and I fall face-first into the open maw of a factory that appears out of nowhere.

I slide down a vertical tunnel, landing on a mechanical belt moving infinitely closer to a painful-looking collection of gears and cranks with one small chute at the end. I can’t move fast enough and the belt slides me effortlessly into it, my final resting place: a small metal container whose walls close in. I can feel the outside of my shoulders pressing inward, inward, my spine folds in half, the bottom row of my teeth crunch upward into the roof of my mouth and then keep going, my neck gets pushed toward my chest until I feel every one of my nerves snap like rubber bands stretched too far.

This dream plays on repeat until my 6:55 alarm peels me out of bed. I reach for the pair of unwashed scrubs dumped unceremoniously next to my pillow and stretch them over me, vacuum-packed flesh threatening to spill out of the neckline and sleeves. Eight years of training and three years of residency under my belt but this entry-level receptionist gig has given me the most crippling sleep of my life. I spend my cross-borough subway commute to work shifting uncomfortably, thinking about myself reliving that scene eight times last night and it’s no wonder my heart is so tired. I am stripped of my ability to rest; my REM sleep takes the worst possible thoughts from my waking life and contorts them in my dreams to make them worse.

He asks me why I look worn out as he leans against my desk, sorting through today’s mail, looking especially healthy in his white lab coat, and I tell Medical Director Matt I had a nightmare. He tells me an overactive amygdala is likely to blame. Then he tells me that last night, he dreamt he was in an airport, flying home to visit his family, but his wife was too busy flirting with a pilot at the bar and they ended up missing their flight. He drops the short stack of letters on my desk and asks me about my nightmare. I’m almost embarrassed for him. I feel my face heat up and I’m probably blushing. I tell him I don’t know, I don’t remember. I wonder what Matt’s wife dreams about.

That night, I try some deep-breathing exercises my therapist gave me. I spend a second reading the pamphlet and then arrange myself on my bed. I wiggle around on my back and face my palms toward the ceiling. I breathe in and then out, pushing my exhale longer and longer. I imagine my lungs like little pink skin balloons, and the air they take in is feeding my brain. Her voice rings between my ears: Feed your brain. Get fresh air in those lungs. Let go of today’s thoughts; let them pass by without judgment. She makes peace seem attainable and non-threatening. I make a mental note to schedule another appointment before letting go of that thought.

Then I am back at the clinic, 23rd and Lexington, surrounded by surgical instruments. I recognize myself, dreaming—for once, a normal dream in a normal, workplace setting. I wonder if I’ll tell Matt about this one.

The light is an unsettling pinkish-gray, poisoning the empty waiting room through half-open blinds. It makes it hard to see exactly what I’m doing, and I don’t remember how I got here. It feels like I am fighting a heavy fog; each second passes slower than the last, and sensory information reaches me in tiny drops. I look down to see a bone chisel in my left hand, a lancet in my right. They are heavier than normal.

Something warm slides down the side of my forehead and into my ear. It drips down my neck. It feels good and light, like a summer rain. I drop the tools and reach up to the side of my head. My fingertips touch soft, squishy skin, an open wound. Blood pulses out of it like a broken yolk. A slapdash hole in the skull hides behind it and my hand pushes in deeper, reaching past grey matter, squirming my way in using my fingernail as force. I’m having a surprisingly good time getting to the white matter, ripping out my amygdala piece by piece.

Matt walks into the office wearing street clothes. He carries his white coat in one hand and a helmet in the other, leather shoulder strap splitting his divinely-sculpted chest diagonally. Did he bike here? He totally did. I feel my body heating up again in his presence. It takes him a second before he looks up and sees me there, sitting in my reception desk, silver tools scattered around me like offerings.

His initial reaction makes me think this is going to be another bad dream, but I might be able to turn it around. I pull my fingers out of my head and give him my most coy smile, pursing my lips and tucking my chin slightly, slipping my hair behind my ear. It gets stuck to my wet fingers and I shake my hand to get it off.

When I do, Matt is beside me, hands on my shoulders. He isn’t gentle with me. He drags me off the chair and my body falls limp, preparing itself for the best dream-fuck ever. Just his touch on my cold skin makes my nerves explode like a dozen sparklers in the hands of children, bursting in stark contrast to the darkness that blankets everything else. My eyes roll back into my head and my mouth starts filling with the blood that flows from my skull like runoff. Matt is screaming something hysterically. I can’t hear anything anymore.

I drift out of my dream but my eyes haven’t yet opened, so I settle for some kind of state in-between. For all the gore of this latest nightmare, I feel a surprising tranquility. As though I might never have another nightmare again. So maybe I will tell Matt about this one. When I wake up.

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