It isn’t often a person can pinpoint the exact time their world started to crumble around them. As for me, however, I can tell you that it was precisely nine days ago at 10 AM when I began to feel my reality becoming unsettled.
I was getting ready to go to work at Piper’s, a clothing store located just a few blocks from our apartment. The “our” in this case stands for me and my boyfriend of seven years, Jeremy. I was rooting through my closet, looking for something cute to wear when one of my favorite dresses caught my eye: it was a simple red number with a white collar and matching white trim. Jeremy had bought it for my birthday last year (after I’d pointed it out in the store and subtly told him my dress size, of course).
As I slipped it on, I began to feel a little uneasy, as though something was wrong. I puzzled about it as I pulled out my makeup bag and looked at my rich black skin in the mirror, trying to decide if I needed foundation today or not. I was pulling back my hair when it hit me.
Red. This dress was red.
Except it wasn’t.
Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. It should be blue. Of course, how had I forgotten about that? Blue was my favorite color and Jeremy always bought me everything in blue – my closet was practically a sea of jewel blue fabric.
And yet here I was, standing in front of my mirror in a ruby red dress that really, very much should be blue.
I was already late for work and didn’t really have time to ponder this little riddle, so I threw on some heels and headed for work, trying to put the dress out of my mind.
Work itself was incredibly normal. I actually really enjoyed my job: It’s a nice little shop that sees a lot of quirky customers. There’s never a dull moment and I am often asked for my fashion expertise. What could be more fun than that? That day should have been fun, too. I got tons of compliments on my dress and convinced a bunch of customers to register for store cards, meaning I’d be getting a nice little commission at the end of the month. But I couldn’t forget that morning’s surprise. It weighed on my mind even as I walked home after work.
I had a brief moment of relief as I walked in the door and Jeremy swept me up in his arms, twirling me around as he was apt to do whenever he’d had a particularly productive day at work.
“How’s my beautiful princess today?” he cooed in my ear as he set me back on my feet and gave me a little peck on the cheek.
For a moment I forgot about my trouble and all the good parts of the day came flooding back to me. I was excitedly telling him about my success with the store cards when he stopped me and asked me to spin around.
“Just as I thought,” he breathed in awe as I twirled across the living room floor, the dress flaring out like fire around me. “I knew red was a good choice!” He gave me a little tiger growl and pulled me into his arms, his eyes heavy with suggestion.
I froze. “What do you mean?” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I only knew that I needed to say something.
“I knew that red would look good on you! Of course, blue looks great, too,” he added, “but I couldn’t resist this red dress when you pointed it out to me!”
My blood felt cold and heavy in my veins. Was he playing a prank on me? Had he somehow managed to buy another dress and replace my old one? No, that didn’t seem like something he’d do…he’d never been much of a practical joker, after all…but I knew for certain that the dress had been blue.
“Jeremy, you know, it was really strange this morning,” I began. “I was pretty certain this dress…well, this is going to sound crazy, but I was positive this dress was blue.”
Jeremy gave me a confused look. “What do you mean? Don’t you remember, your friend Anise gave you that red necklace to go with it. How could it be blue?”
I thought back to the girls’ night that Anise and I had shared just a few months ago. That’s right, I’d been wearing this dress…but the necklace she gave me had been blue.
As Jeremy finished fixing dinner (he was always the cook, not me) I ran upstairs and searched madly through my jewelry box. For a moment, I saw that rich blue gleaming out at me from the back of the box. But as I reached back, it seemed to…vanish. I took out every piece of jewelry but it was gone.
That damn dress was the beginning of my troubles.
In the end, I let the matter of the dress drop. Sometimes our minds play funny tricks on us. I figured it was just a case of me being a little too stressed, that’s all.
Of course, I had been pretty tense and excitable the last few weeks. See, three days ago, Jeremy and I were officially sharing our seven-year anniversary. Things had been going amazing between us lately. He was due for a promotion in a few weeks, I’d just gotten a raise at my job, our apartment was surprisingly spacious for New York, and Jeremy had been in ridiculously good spirits lately.
I was almost certain he’d be asking me to marry him.
As the day neared, I tried to forget about my moment of insanity, instead focusing my efforts on psyching myself up for our anniversary dinner. Jeremy wouldn’t tell me what he had planned, but he told me that I’d definitely be in for a treat. I’d never been more excited in my life.
The day before our anniversary, that gnawing feeling of unease returned.
I was at work again, stocking some new summer dresses when I noticed my mother standing outside the store window.
I have to admit, I was incredibly confused. I hadn’t talked to my mother in years – she had never liked Jeremy and I don’t think she ever forgave me for running off with him after high school rather than going to college. And yet there she was, just standing and staring at me with these cold, expressionless eyes.
I could smell the trouble in the air. I asked my coworker, Elli, to cover for me as I stepped outside and approached my mother.
“Hi, ma,” I said awkwardly. I didn’t really know how to interact with her after all this time: half of me wanted to run into her arms and beg for forgiveness while the other half wanted to scream at her for disowning her only daughter.
My mother didn’t respond to my greeting. She just looked at me with those cardboard-like eyes, betraying no emotion or thought.
I was starting to feel awkward. “Um… ma? Is everything ok?”
Without blinking those still eyes, her lips started to move. “Can you hear me?”
My mouth hung open and I sat there in shock, unable to will myself to say anything. Without another word, she turned away and stalked off down the street.
I ended up taking the rest of the day off of work. My manager is a pretty nice woman and she could tell how shaken up I was by the incident: My skin had gone a sickly gray color and I probably looked like I was about to throw up.
I know it’s crazy, but I had an awful moment where I thought for sure my mother had died. I’m a little superstitious and I felt absolutely certain that my mother’s ghost had come searching for me. As soon as I got home I tried calling the house but got no answer. I ended up calling my brother, Samuel, who told me that of course mom was fine, why wouldn’t she be?
That made me feel a little better, but I was still confused as hell. That whole interaction had been wrong, just wrong. Something was very off about these last few days and I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out what it was.
When Jeremy got home, I ended up running into his arms in a mess of tears, spilling out all the ideas and craziness that had been simmering in my head. I could tell he was worried: it wasn’t like me to break down like that. He sat with me and held me until I calmed down. He sent me to bed early and brought me supper in bed. We sat and watched my favorite TV show – What Not to Wear – as I slowly began to relax.
Finally he told me, “It’s okay, I know you’ve been really stressed lately. But don’t worry, because soon you won’t have to worry about anything. Let’s just focus on having a good day tomorrow, okay?” I perked up a little bit as he grinned at me. As long as Jeremy was by my side, I’d be all right.
That was the end of our last happy day together.
I woke up on the day of our anniversary and somehow I just knew. I had this awful feeling of time running out…of something I had to change, and it had to be done soon.
I tried to push the unease to the back of my mind as I prepared for that night’s date. I went out and got my favorite breakfast, got a manicure and pedicure, bought some frilly new lingerie, and put on one of my most elegant dresses. But all through my preparations, that unease grew stronger and stronger.
Finally, I found myself sitting in one of the nicest restaurants in our little corner of NYC, the kind of restaurant that normally we couldn’t afford, with Jeremy sitting across from me, his bright eyes dancing with excitement. I felt my panic growing and I tried to etch those eyes into my memory – for whatever reason, I felt that very soon I wouldn’t be seeing them anymore.
He knelt down on one knee as my right arm lit up with a burning sensation…
“Alexis, you’ve been my sweetheart since our freshman year of high school. We’ve had our ups and downs…” as soon as he said this, I saw a milky blackness exploding at the end of the restaurant. “…but now I know that you’re the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. So, Alexis…” I whipped my head around and saw that the world seemed to be melting, with the blackness dripping and oozing towards me. I stood up and screamed, stumbling backwards, but Jeremy didn’t seem to notice.
“…will you marry me?” I looked over at Jeremy. His face was melting away, with no eyes, lips, or discernible features of any sort. As that melting facelessness turned towards me, he opened a ring box to reveal the blue promise ring he’d bought me when we were sophomores.
I screamed again and turned to run out the door. Instead, I saw the blackness melting and oozing in through that door as well. In the back of my head, I heard my name being chanted over and over.
Alexis… Alexis… Alexis…
I ran around the restaurant, desperately trying to find some window or emergency exit. I turned and watched, horrified, as Jeremy was swallowed up by the blackness. I was still frantically searching when the blackness finally surrounded me. I let out one more scream as that suffocating ooze enveloped me, pouring into my lungs and stomach.
I became one with the blackness and lost all semblance of consciousness.
When I woke up, I was in the hospital. My eyes rolled around the room – no blackness, no melty ooze, nothing. I breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps my nightmare was over.
“She’s awake!” I turned my head to the side and saw my mother, her hair now showing threads of gray, her skin pressed with more wrinkles than the last time I’d seen her. “Oh, Alexis, we thought you’d never wake up!”
“How long…” My voice crackled and failed. It shocked me how difficult it was to speak. I took a few moments to prepare before I tried again. This time my voice was gravelly but reliable. “How long was I out?”
My mom gave me a sad look. “Sweetie, try not to panic…”
That’s the one phrase guaranteed to make someone panic.
“How long was I out, ma?”
She took a deep breath.
“You were in a coma for three years.”
My heart began to race and I felt faint. My mother called for the nurse as I began to hyperventilate.
The nurse came in and squeezed a sedative into the IV that was connected at my right elbow. A liquid that was so cold it felt like fire spread down my arm. The feeling felt so familiar, but…
“Ma, where is Jeremy?” I felt my words slurring just a little. The sedative was strong. I ignored the nurse checking my vitals as my mother gave me a strange look.
“Jeremy? Alexis…don’t you remember what happened?”
I gave her a blank stare.
“Just after your senior year of high school…”
At that point the sedative really took effect and I began to drift to sleep, but a deep tension followed me into the darkness, and a premonition that my life was about to unravel.
When I woke up, my mother handed me a letter, one that I had written myself, and explained what had happened. I didn’t believe her until I opened it and read it for myself.
It was dated June 25th, 2012.
To my mother,
I’m sorry for what I’m about to do. You know I love you very much, but I can’t bear this pain anymore. I’ll always love Jeremy, even if he doesn’t love me anymore. Maybe if I do this, I can forget, maybe I’ll find myself in a better place. Please don’t cry for me, because I’m going to be happy, I promise. I love you so much. Please take care of Samuel. I love him, too. And I’m really sorry.
Your baby, Alexis
As I read my suicide note, my memories came flooding back all too quickly. I remembered Jeremy saying goodbye as he went off to college, telling me, “It’s been fun, hun, but let’s end this now, long distance isn’t really my thing.” I remembered all the nights I spent crying and wishing he’d come back for me.
I remembered standing on the house roof, the wind whipping through my hair and my toes grabbing the nothingness as I tipped myself forward.
“You hit your head so hard,” my mother’s eyes filled with tears as she continued, “they weren’t sure if you were going to make it. They managed to save you, but you were in a coma and you just wouldn’t wake up. I was so worried you’d never wake up.”
There was still a part of me that didn’t believe it, not until I demanded my mother turn on the TV so I could see for myself.
The news station told me it was 2015.
Just like it had been the day before.
Now it all made sense. The little continuity errors, the strange encounter with my mother, the feeling that it was all coming to an end.
It had been the unraveling of a coma dream.
I’ve learned a lot in the past few days.
For example, I learned that What Not To Wear has been off the air for quite some time now. I learned that Jeremy has a fiancé, and that they’ll be marrying just as soon as he graduates college. I learned that my older brother drank himself to unemployment after my suicide attempt.
But there’s one other thing I’ve learned, something more important than anything else.
The reality that I created…I like it far better than this reality. I belong in that reality.
And as soon as I get out of this hospital, I’m going to find a way back.