I keep having the same dream. I jerk awake, and the world slowly reveals itself to me. A modicum of relief fills me briefly, but the fear inevitably comes rushing back.
Before, this recurring nightmare would dissipate the second my eyes opened. Now, I know there is no escaping it, even in my waking life.
I lay in bed. My thoughts race.
My nightly visitations used to be welcome, but now I am plagued by my talks with Aaron.
Whether awake or asleep, his ghost continues to haunt me.
The dream always begins the same. I find myself on the last day of college. I am nervous, because graduation looms large, and I am petrified about walking across that stage. As I contemplate all of this in my apartment, I check my course schedule online. The horrifying realization hits me that I have neglected to go to a class all semester. That one class, which changes with every permutation of this dream, is crucial, and my absence will bar me from graduating.
I will never be able to move on.
As the harshness of this sinks in, I become acutely aware that I am not alone. All of my anxiety is compounded by the fact that I can now hear faint breaths escaping the depths of my closet. I turn to my right as the door swings open. Aaron Chase comes walking out.
Initially, I was so happy and surprised to see my old friend. As he spoke, a smile would crack across my incredulous face.
Our conversations were amicable at first. He would just ask how I’ve been, and I would gleefully inform him about the current state of my life. I would awake from the dream and look fondly upon the picture of us I keep on the shelf in my room. However, he has gotten more inquisitive lately about the past. Because of that, naturally, things have gone south.
I met Aaron my freshman year of college. I joined a frat out of a desperation to connect to others. Without hesitation, he welcomed me in with open arms. His eyes were large and baby blue. They sat atop his large frame as these great beacons of warmth. Though he was a junior, he was more than willing to show me the ropes. He made me feel at home. He took me under his wing and invited me to the craziest parties I have ever been to. When he would throw these massive get-togethers, I would watch him closely as the night reached a crescendo of hedonism. He always smiled contentedly and basked in the madness he created. His welcoming personality was infectious. Before long, he was my best friend, unequivocally.
We remained very close, truly inseparable, until we graduated (me in 4 years, him in 6). But as the passion within me to party waned with the impending responsibility of adulthood, I left him behind. Sadly, after graduation, his massive consumption of booze continued. Alcoholism truly began to dictate his life.
With those same kind eyes, he said to me one night after a solid year of this dream.
“Why don’t we hang out anymore?”
“Well, Aaron, because you’re dead,” I said with tears welling up in my eyes.
You see, Aaron died six years ago now. One night in a drunken stupor, he put a gun to his temple and blew his brains out.
Believe it or not, he was content with the knowledge that he was dead. We would talk about mundane shit, and I would wake up and take another look at the picture of us on my shelf and choke back tears. Sad, truly heartbroken, but firmly grounded in reality. However, things started to change one night.
He asked, “Where were you when it happened?”
“Well, Aaron, we stopped hanging out after college.”
The last time I saw Aaron, he was a mess. I ran into him at an acquaintance’s house. He was beyond wasted and clearly having a difficult time with life. Rather than being a friend and talking, I avoided him. I was repulsed by the drunk he had become.
“Well, why didn’t you help me?” he asked. His warm eyes giving way to anger.
“I was a coward I guess.”
“…You could have saved me.”
He’s right, so goddamn right. One night I was hanging out with mutual friends. The subject of Aaron came up. We talked about how he needed help. The idea of having an intervention was brought forth. Since we were so close in the past, the burden to set it up fell upon my shoulders. However, I was so self-absorbed with my own life. I never got the ball rolling.
He died five weeks later.
After I saw anger fill his amiable eyes that night, I would dread going to sleep. When I found myself in the dream checking my schedule, fear would course through me knowing Aaron would show up shortly.
His kind demeanor is all but erased. With cold eyes now red with rage, he has but one thing to say. It reaches my ears in a deep and forceful voice that completely betrays his formerly magnanimous nature.
“You should have saved me.”
All I can say in response is the mantra I repeat to him night after night. I try so hard to calm him with these words, but it doesn’t work.
It never does. His anger grows.
Now, I am sitting in my apartment looking at the picture of Aaron and I on my shelf. The initial horror of seeing my face furiously scratched out is replaced with an even more visceral emotion,.all-consuming guilt.
I look to my closet door. It is ajar when I could swear I shut it securely earlier tonight. I literally pinch myself as the horrifying realization seizes me.
I am no longer dreaming.
I repeat the mantra out loud, the mantra that I say in my dreams. It sounds awkward in the still darkness of this room. My prayer of contrition echoes throughout the emptiness of my apartment. However, it remains unheeded. It is unanswered. I still repeat it as the door shuts behind him, and I feel his presence move closer.
Aaron, I’m sorry.
Aaron, I’m so, so sorry.
Please… forgive me.