If I had to think about the nightmares I’ve had in my life, I’d say I’ve seen it all; from being chased by an unknown entity determined to kill me to the sight of the world ending right before my eyes. Those dreams are frightening and over the top because of their supernatural elements and so we rarely stop and make sense of them. Then there’s the other kind; the kind that’s more mundane and based on real life anxieties; like losing a loved one, or reliving a traumatic event. Once we’re awake though, the images gradually start to fade as we readjust to the face of reality.
It’s common sense to be able to separate dreams from reality, but what if those two worlds collide and become one? What if our biggest nightmare creeps its way into our reality? Will we be strong enough to face it then? Because our deepest fears are often so repressed they become almost nonexistent in our view. Little do we know that when the nightmare actually happens, reality becomes much murkier.
I’ve never quite understood where my fear of spiders came from; I was never able to track down its main source. What I know is that the conditioning view of this phobia isn’t the reason I suffer from it; I was never bitten by a spider, but then again, I can’t confirm that since the trauma could’ve occurred during my early childhood and the event could be buried deep inside my subconscious. Regardless of that, I consider this fear one that’s here to stay. So what makes those morbid creatures so terrifying? Is it their erratic and sudden movements? Their legginess? Their hairiness?
It’s all of the above, and much more than that.
Waking up from unpleasant dreams often results in flashing hallucinations of spiders crawling all over my room even if the dream doesn’t involve any kind of arachnids; I’d squeeze my eyes shut and avoid getting out of bed, worried a gigantic spider hiding under it would wrap its legs around mine and drag me underneath it. The hallucinations go away eventually and my fast heartbeats subside. Reality never seizes to surprise me, though. I woke up today after a deep, relaxing night of sleep to the trivializing sight of a spider on the pillow beside mine. I kept staring at it, daring myself not to being thrown into a panic. I tried to breathe and work my way through this irrational fear; I convinced myself that it wouldn’t attack me, that it wasn’t harmful, but I couldn’t be entirely sure because my arachnophobia has kept me away from reading, watching or even hearing anything related to them.
The spider was a violin-shaped brown recluse; it had yellowish legs and a grayish to dark brown color covering the entire upper surface of the main section of its body. It didn’t look like it was threatened, but seemed to have its six-pair of eyes set on me. I tried to stay composed so I don’t startle it and stared back at it almost impersonally, forcing myself to let go and face my fear in the process. I stayed in bed motionless and prevented myself from letting it out of my sight for almost an hour. I tried not to think, because every time I did, my extreme self-awareness controlled by my hunch told me to jump out of bed, grab the largest object and smash it. A lot of patience and willingness was required of me to just stay still and see what happens. Outside, the biting winter and brisk air created a unique and perpetual ambiance emphasized by spectacular ferric and steely colors of gray and blue.
My body eventually felt too stiff, almost paralyzed that I had to get up, and I did – very slowly. The spider immediately sensed my movement and retreated behind my pillow causing me to freak out, knowing that if I lose it, I’ll be tormented for days wondering where it went, scared it might resurface at any given moment without me noticing it. I ran out of my bedroom twitching on my toes and slammed the door shut. The rational thing for me to do was, as predicted, to kill it with either a mop or a pesticide spray. I really wanted it out of my apartment by any means necessary; however, I also resented the idea of getting close to it or having to even pick it remains after squishing it. The worst idea then popped into my head; I decided I was going to trap – and keep it. That way, I’ll securely familiarize myself with the creature and maybe overcome my arachnophobia.
I hurried to the kitchen, grabbed a mason jar and a vacuum cleaner to scare it off. Before going back to my room, I put on my high winter boots and raincoat to protect myself against incoming attacks. I opened my bedroom door and remained by the doorframe. I looked everywhere, and I couldn’t see it. I set the opened mason jar on the floor and gave it a slight kick and watched it roll over to the other side until it hit the wall facing the door. Once it completely set, I activated the vacuum and shoved its head in every crevice of the room, covering every single spot before pushing it under my bed. Soon enough, the spider appeared, running as fast as it could as it feared for its life and I managed to direct it toward the mason jar where it ended up finding shelter. I immediately shut down the vacuum cleaner to prevent the machine from sucking it in, took the lid out of my pocket and slowly walked to it. I kept a clear view of the recluse as I slowly kneeled down and covered the jar. I sealed it tight and moved away. It took it a while before it moved again, and that’s when I reassuringly grabbed the container and set it by the kitchen window; I poked some holes in it to give it some oxygen and finally relaxed as I stared at it laying inside. Acquainting myself with it is proving to be somewhat cathartic day after day although I’m not sure whether or not I’ll end up feeling the same about other types of spiders; I feel like this was a good start regardless.
The second nightmare-turned-reality was a recent event that, although wasn’t quite as threatening, was derived from the Aurora incident which in itself is a looming menace and a threat to my ongoing psychological recovery. It all started a few days ago when I got a call from an unknown number; I always hang up on those due to the harassment and waste of time brought by spam calls, but the number’s area code was local, so I picked up. I wasn’t familiar with Heather’s soft- spoken voice which is why it took me a while to identify her as the caller; I was only used to her raspy voice often followed by gasps and shuddering sobs. This time, she was conveniently at ease; she asked about my state and health before proceeding to the actual reason for her call which was to meet with me to discuss a project. I wasn’t sure how she got my number, and I couldn’t possibly imagine what kind of project she’d be referring to since we had nothing in common with each other besides the kidnapping, and I wasn’t sure being around her was such a good idea since the incident was still fresh. When I expressed to her my concern, she became deeply emotional and relentlessly asked me to do her that one favor, so I accepted.
The next day, we met at Java House, the campus’ most popular coffeehouse and usual to-go-to for locals. I made my way there and walked in to the startling sight of large crowds of students congregated inside in their large coats and jackets; some of them were studying while others socialized while playing a game of chess. It was a Friday evening which explained why the place was so busy; the heartwarming, safe ambiance created a very distinctive contrast to James’ cold and hostile basement. Heather was sitting at a table in the corner of the room; she stood up, fixing her skirt’s hemline as she did so, and waved so I could see her. She looked clean; fresh-faced, her long blonde hair glistening underneath the fairy lights hanging overhead. I didn’t waste any minute and asked her about the reason she wanted to see me as soon as we sat down. She delayed her answer until after we got our coffees.
“I’ve been seeing a therapist, and he thinks it’ll be a good and therapeutical idea for me to write a book about my abduction. You’re here because I wanted to personally request for your approval to write about it”, she clearly stated.
Heather thought sharing her traumatic experience with the world would be beneficial since her story contained all the triumphant elements of a girl taking matters into her own hands and fighting her way through hell to survive; all of which makes for good and exciting storytelling material. People will undoubtedly sympathize with her and find extreme pleasure digging into her horrific experience. She said that she felt so isolated after she made it back home and expressed her resentment towards herself for having to keep the promise she made to me regarding my lack of involvement in the incident, expressing to me how hard it was for her to lie and tell the police what happened without mentioning my name; she bitterly castigated me for abandoning her. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t just let it go and be happy she made it home safe and sound.
Kidnapping, rape and murder are things we see and hear about almost every single day, and although I’m not trying to discredit her pain and her own personal experience, I can’t quite grasp her desperate need to get the recognition and acknowledgment from the general public. In today’s day and age, everyone seems to be looking for fame; every tragedy needs to be documented and broadcasted; victims think it’s necessary to heal and rebuild their sense of order. Little do they know that after the initial and fulfilling feeling of being seen and heard comes an epic comedown. Is it really worth the fifteen minutes of fame?
Fame has become people’s only way to gain the recognition they so long for; they don’t care whether the attention is genuine or disingenuous, it’s all about reaching the widest audience possible; it’s all about the number of people watching. Ultimately, I’ve come to realize that Heather was using the one major event in her life to launch her status of becoming a prominent public figure instead of focusing on what she claimed was her road to mental recovery. She wants to proclaim her worth and allow herself to be seen using her tragedy as a tool. I certainly wasn’t going to allow that to happen; especially since we both knew she wouldn’t have made it out of that basement without my help. I was her voice of reason in her darkest times. If it weren’t for me, she would’ve given up; I’ve pushed her to act and thrive for survival. She would’ve been dead without me. Yet, she wants to lie and announce to the world that she was the hero, all of that for the wrong reasons; I’m not allowing that to happen.
During the first few hours of our meeting, I almost felt guilty hearing about her psychological struggle and appreciated her reaching out to me to seek assistance and come to peace with what she’s been through to regain her emotional balance, but that feeling quickly disappeared and my perception of her totally switched after sensing her hidden underlying motive. I expressed to her that writing a book wasn’t a good idea since we agreed I wouldn’t be in it hence it becoming an inaccurate and unauthentic work of fiction. I didn’t point out the other reasons because I didn’t want to offend her or start an argument, but emphatically told her that if she was determined to write her story in order to deal and overcome her personal trauma, she could do it privately and on a smaller scale, but of course that wasn’t what she wanted.
“I thought you’d encourage me to do it,” she said with a downbeat tone.
I starred at her for a while and could tell she was going to do it whether I agreed to it or not, and there was nothing I could do about it. We were past the main event and nothing was connecting me to it. Heather could easily write her version of the story and if her book does well, her truth would prevail.
By the end of the night, I was so emotionally distraught I hoped to distance myself from her and forget the Aurora incident ever happened. Once I got home though, I changed my mind when I finally faced reality; Heather was going to write her book whether I liked it or not. Mindfulness took over as I paced around my apartment and thought about how I still had a long way to go to recover from what James had done to me. While I was choosing to suffer alone, Heather wasn’t going to. The more and more I thought about it, I became convinced the book will have a devastating effect on me; it was going to isolate me and add to to my suffering while it freed and triumphed her. Then, an insane idea popped into my head, and my recluse was going to help me execute it. I grabbed my phone and dialed Heather’s number; she picked up and I told her I’ve reconsidered and offered to help her recount the incidents as accurately as I could to make her story plausible, and she expressed her appreciation and scheduled a brainstorming seance at her apartment next week.