I was falling.
But there was no sense of motion, no fear, nothing. I didn’t even know there was anything to be falling from. When I hit the ground, though, I was jarred right out of my body.
I sat up, jolted awake from a fitful sleep. It was early morning and my thoughts swam manically in my head, my heart thumped, and my skin crawled with a cold that seeped right through my flesh and into my bones.
My brother slept in the adjacent bed, his breathing deep and regular. I considered waking him, or my parents. That’s what you do when you’re in trouble. But I was eighteen. It was stupid to wake any of them because I was scared, like I was a child. Nor did we have that sort of relationship. That’s just not the way things were with us.
I was reminded of my broken arm a couple of years earlier , the way it dangled a quarter of the way up the forearm, the way I’d thought, They’re not going to be able to fix that. That’s what I felt now – something unfixable had broken inside me.
My ears rang – a single uninterrupted frequency. That had always been with me, although sometimes worse than others. My sight was pixelated, something else that always been with me, although now it was like peering through a spray of colour. Nervous energy seethed through my body.
I got out of bed, went to the lounge room and turned on the light. The gas heater had broken down and all we had was a little fan job – hardly bigger than a toaster – as substitute while the gas heater was getting fixed.
I turned it to HI, sat in front of it, and cradled my knees to my chest, thinking if I could get warm, things might be okay.
The book I’d been reading sat on the coffee table – a detective mystery. Reading would be good. Reading would distract me. I grabbed the book, flipped it open. The words meant nothing. Sentences unfolded meaninglessly.
I’d felt similarly a couple of other times – while holidaying in Greece a couple of years earlier, I’d awoken, feverish (I’d had a bad flu) and certain that the little village we were staying was about to be attacked by 427 million Arabs. About six months later, I’d awoken with the belief that myself and a passing friend, Con, had to wallpaper 349 million houses. On that occasion, I’d woken my brother and as I’d told him what Con wanted us to do, my head started punching holes through what I was saying. On each occasion, I went back to bed, was asleep shortly afterward, and barely had recollection of the incidents when I woke – with the wallpapering, my brother actually had to remind me the following night, and thought I was drunk. I put it down to some form of sleepwalking. Twenty years later I’d learn they were Night Terrors.
Now there was the terror without a cause.
It was everywhere – in my head, pulsing through my body, like a bubble like a bubble around me. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to not be scared. Those other times, I’d been able to get back to sleep and wake up in the morning feeling fine.
It was a hope to hold onto.
I put my book on the coffee table, turned off the heater, and went back to bed.
I had to sleep.
There was escape in sleep.
There had to be.