I am lying in a comfortable double bed; obviously not mine since I sleep on a mattress on the floor in my current dwelling. Someone is curled up beside me. Our bodies do not touch, but I immediately sense a naked backside and catch a glimpse of pale pudgy skin and well-worn boxer shorts. I myself might be naked, not sure, but I am carpeted and warm in a white duvet and there is a soft pillow under my head. Laid still, with dawns light breezing through an open window and fluttering sheer curtains, I survey the environment.
Not my subsidized one room unit, located in a bedbug, cockroach, and crack infested Toronto Community Housing Corporation high-rise. Still, there is something familiar here, yet I know I have never stepped foot in this particular spot before this hazy moment of awakening. Feels like a haven of sorts! Good, because when the large middle-aged man beside me stirs, rises, opens the bedroom door and walks out pulling it partially shut behind him, I am not afraid. I pretend to sleep, assuming he has gone to pee and will crawl back in beside me soon enough, but he doesn’t and the minutes pass. I don’t feel high. No hangover either. Seemingly sober and sane I now realize who he is. A friend and not a lover. But what has brought us to wake up in a bed that belongs to neither one of us.
No time to ponder. Dreams do not stay put for long. The pace quickens. I am up and out of the apartment in a blur of movement. Down the hall I see an EXIT sign and run towards it. No longer safe. I feel the danger. Fear is the factor and the fright pushes me into flight mode.
So, I awaken. Sensory overload! However, my eyes will not stay open and I cannot raise my head. I succumb and fall back to sleep right where I left off. I will tell you something, scary or not, I do love to dream and this one is going to be a doozy.
The back of the building now. Flashback to the mid-80’s. Late night prowling through the downtown core. A recollection of Regent Park in its seedy past. But this is no longer my stomping grounds, so I stand for a moment, holding the heavy door open behind me, observing the maze of buildings and twists and turns ahead. A light here and there, evidence of life shining through small windows shut with dingy blinds. I let it slam and run from the brightness of the building, the warmth of that bed, and my one companion. I realize I am going to get lost, quickly too with each footstep I take. Regardless, I dive into the darkness of the alleys ahead.
Big mistake girlfriend! Talking to myself now! Panic is setting in. Paranoia could come next.
I am aware that I am clothed and groping my garments as I move along. Empty pockets! No money or cellphone! If I recollect correctly there was a knapsack beside that bed I awoke in. That was a stupid move; leaving things behind. Should have stayed there, searched for my associate, gone into that other room and found out what’s up. I think I did see people; others in that place where I was, down the hall, just past the front door, out of the corner of my eye. They must have known me and might have helped me. I turn to look back but the building is gone. Deep fog clouds my sight and I know I will not be able to find my way inside again.
Up ahead…is that an old Bell Canada telephone booth? Virtually obsolete nowadays! I step inside and lift the receiver. A dial tone greets me and I observe that it takes only twenty-five cents to make a call. I push zero but nothing happens, no operator answers. Loud buzzing piercing my eardrum. I check my pockets again. Just in case. No point staying. I cannot call anyone for assistance. I have no quarters and there is no one about to bum change from, besides, thanks to modern technology my contact numbers are not stored in my memory. Even if I was to reach someone on the other end of the line the connection would be futile. I do not know where I am. Only that I’m lost in a freaky dream; a frequent occurrence for me.
All the while as I flee there is not another soul in sight, neither foe nor friend. Am I alone? This cannot be. There must be someone somewhere? Seeking refuge I run past time-stained and gang-tagged concrete walls, through long dismal walkways between eerily silent high-rises. Finally, an entrance and I rush to open it!
THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS
I enter a shelter of sorts, like a dorm for adolescents. Am I one of them? Do I fit in? The mean looking matron directs me to a room at the top of the stairs and round a bend. A whole lot of girls, just mingling about, and no space on the littered beds; similar to a scene from an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist only the main characters are opposite in gender. One or two acknowledge me. Another moves over, lets me sit on the edge of her sacred spot, whilst assuring me it is okay.
It is not! More stairs, more girls, and mean ones too. No sanctuary for me and they make it known, “Get the Fuck out. You don’t belong here little Bitch!”
I discover I am carrying something after all. Holding tight to an old and tattered phone-book, bound in brown leather, from years gone by. Numbers no longer available; addresses of people I no longer know. Stuffed inside are a handful of loose papers and one childhood photograph. Reaching the top floor I head into an alcove of unopened doors to enter an empty room, closing and locking that door behind me with a key I have never seen, before placing the relic onto a polished rosewood dresser. Immediately I pick it up again. Is it all I have? Could be scripts from the book I am writing, handwritten and so few of them. Did I lose the rest? Please God, I hope not! I hold tight to what is mine and retreat from the silent spot back into another chaotic scene. I see an open window, out and up onto the rooftop I climb and no one chases me.
Stirring again, with tee-shirt soaked in sweat and shivering on my mattress. Cold terror grips me as I slip back into the nightmare. With the girls cursing and shoving for a split second and then I am somewhere else.
Whoa, wait now, there is an obscure figure approaching, a man hovers before passing without acknowledging my presence. What the Devil is going on? Where the Heck am I? Still unobstructed I race forward, speeding past blurred bodies behind bars, females encased in tiny cells. Crying and reaching out to me, I am compelled to stop abruptly to stare at a beautiful face just inches from mine. The second last woman in the line on the left. An image of blue eyes and blond hair, so clear and familiar it freaks me out. Who is she? Does she know me? My heart bleeds for her, but I am in no position to stay and help. Moving on…
More guards just letting me pass. No doubt, this is one delusion that I have not dealt with before. This time while sleeping I have stepped straight into the loony bin, right out of an 19th century author’s facetious appellation of a lunatic asylum. Pale skeletal arms stretching and hands flapping, babbling visages, more pleas for help. Encountering a patient, then two, inmates they are, sad and shattered individuals wandering aimlessly in the halls, fingers tugging on open robes and flimsy dresses. I skirt to avoid collisions. Eyes vacant and no-one seem to see me.
Nurses too, sturdy hard-hitting ones with permanent scowls dressed in severe outfits. Blue aprons and matching caps carrying handcuffs and black batons. Not hostile, but not friendly either. Frozen smiles, hair pulled back tight under a badge of authority, similar to one of the female police officers who frequently ticketed me for panhandling on the Ramp when I was homeless.
“I want to get back to where the juveniles are,” I implore over and over, “I was innocent.” One by one they glare and label me a “Bad Girl”, “Liar”, and a “Deviant” too, before disappearing. No one cares about my concerns! Must be impossible to go backwards; it is too late and I’m too old for that escape.
The workers are busy and few and I am sure there are cameras too, watching my every move. I am shuffling now like a convict with nowhere to go, creeping like a C.S.I. agent without a gun or a partner. Doors slamming around me, clamoring and bolting shut. It seems that I have tripped over the edge, dropped off that thin marginal line once again. Been there before. If you do not experience nightmares I feel sorry for you. It’s a riot don’t you know?
I enter into a wide ward filled with makeshift rooms; hospital beds behind privacy screens. In my haste I stumble and crash up against a cot where a frail greasy haired old woman is bound and immobile. Stepping back before I tumble upon her, reaching to stabilize myself as she peers deep into my soul. Something is stuck to my shoe and then I accidentally pull down the track and drapery drags behind me as I recoil. Wait, no, it is not a curtain, it is a hospital gown and I shake it off violently while a passing nurse regards me with sudden interest. Do not want anyone to mistake me for a resident and house me here indefinitely.
I see something on the wall above my head. A chute of sorts. Climb up and shimmy down easily. Suspicious. Don’t you think it should have been more of a struggle? Must be a trap!
Down a short ladder and land in the middle of an enormous empty warehouse.
Wait! Looks like the way out is straight ahead….But the sign says ‘ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK – Advance & Proceed WITH caution!’ (Fun Fact: that is the message written graffiti style with purple paint upon my hallway wall at home.)
Real time now… There is an industrial garage door right in front of my eyes, wide-open, leading from inside out. I can see the street, the straggles of early morning traffic and the brightness of a blossoming day. Suddenly it starts to close. I am so exhausted and it really is a long way and has been a torturous journey. Futile to try to make it. No way, no how, but this is a dream and by George I do give it that last attempt before the metal rolls down and shuts out all signs of freedom with an unexpectedly soft clang. Lost and alone, sobbing and broken, slumping to the cold floor with my back up against the wall I am imprisoned and once again under control of an institution. Utter anguish takes over my mind and body and I force myself to wake and stay awake too.