S. L. Garber-Ortiz


June 1, 2007


Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.

–Edgar Allen Poe


Anxiety, the bedfellow of insomnia, awakens me from my twisted dream right on schedule. I don’t need to look at the clock to know it’s 2 AM, too early to get up and too late to take another sleeping pill.

That little girl from my nightmare not only haunts my nights, she torments my days as well. Like the little girl wearing the red coat in Schindler’s List, omnipresent. Yesterday, I saw her in line at the market. Those eyes, those soulless eyes.

Why won’t she leave me alone?

Daytime is my alternate reality. Work is manageable. I don’t have to be personal, only personable. I’m good at that. After all, it’s easier solving other people’s problems, making them feel special, than focusing on my own. When I’m not working, I’m a recluse. Social interaction makes me uncomfortable. I’m good for an hour, tops. Beyond that, my veneer wears off.

My polite, sociable cover is blown, and I have to leave. There’s always an excuse, some emergency I have to attend to.

Worse still is the reflecting pool of intimacy, into-me-see; I can’t allow it. I can’t even bear to look at my own reflection. I only look in the mirror once a day, long enough to don my mask for work. Under eye concealer, a thick shellac of foundation and a broad stroke of blush does little to hide the ravages of sleep deprivation. I had beautiful skin once —porcelain smooth as a Dresden doll, like my mother’s.

Wearing two faces requires rising early, which isn’t a problem, given my insomnia. I turn on the shower.  With my every nerve ending frayed, the water could be scalding and I wouldn’t know. All I feel is the pelting water on my head, cooling the fried synapses of my brain.

I rely on a muted palette to paint my wardrobe: black, grey, khaki, and beige—lots of beige—nothing too bright that would draw attention. I want to fade, disappear into the background.

My mind has been spinning out of control so long I can’t remember what normal feels like. This is my new normal, a virtual existence: The underworld of the night and the waking world of the day. As if at some point, while I was asleep, the real me got replaced with an alien pod to fool others. It won’t be long before I’m found out.

I want the real me back. I want to be her again. I used to have a wonderful life with beautiful dreams, but not anymore. Now there is only the nightmare. Like a parasitic earwig devouring my brain, it’s sucking the life out of me.

I made an appointment with a psychotherapist for 9:30 this morning. How do I explain what’s wrong with me when I don’t have a clue?

I reheat another cup of coffee in the microwave, my third thus far. I hear the beep—that confounded annoying beep, pushing on my last nerve. My body wants to jump out of its skin. I don’t blame it. I want to jump out of the nearest window. The digital clock alerts me, 8:30. I’d better leave now, or I’ll get stuck in morning traffic.

My hands shake like a detoxing addict’s as I push open the door to the therapist’s office suite. The receptionist, a young woman in her mid-twenties, smiles. She swirls the sign-in sheet around for me to register.

The lighting at the reception desk reminds me of an operating room. The way it gleams to catch the glint of delicate instruments; the kind for probing and dissecting.

I stiffen my posture to appear indifferent and scrawl my signature. It isn’t too late to run. There’s still time; my appointment isn’t for another half-hour.

No! The inner voice demands. I’m tired of running!

I take a seat and pretend to read one of the magazines provided. I can’t focus. My eyes jump from page to page with the attention span of a gnat.

 “Hello.”   A soft voice calls my name. “I’m Dr. Metcalf.” I nod. “I’m pleased to meet you. Right this way.”

She’s attractive, late thirties, early forties. Only her dermatologist knows for sure. There comes a time when we all become “women of a certain age.” When bartenders stop carding us and men no longer ogle and whistle at us.

We’re expired goods.

I expected a type-A personality. Anxious to examine her newest lab rat, but her serene demeanor reassures. She’s not going to judge me.

“Now, Lynn, where would you like to start? What brings you here today?”

“A recurring nightmare.”  I fidget.

“How long has this been going on?”

“At least ten years. I don’t remember exactly when it started.”

“How often do you experience it?  Every night, weekly, monthly?”

“It comes and goes. Most recently was last night.”

“Tell me about it…”

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