I fell in love with a dream.
He came to me in my sleep — or maybe I came to him; it’s hard to say. I can’t remember how the dream itself began, but if it shared the traits common amongst many of my other dreams, its beginning had little to do with the ending.
He smelled like fall, like maple mixed with the scent of fresh-cut wood and a thread of burning leaves, with a hint of spice tying it together into a warm, heart-melting whole. His hair shone like bright copper, even in the dim light of a gray August day. When I pressed my nose into its soft waves, I caught hints of warm grass and apple blossoms. Spring and fall, all in one man.
I can’t remember his face, only the impression of looking into his eyes, which might as well have been portals into a blue, cloudless sky. That’s the hard part of dreams. Bits and pieces stick out, thorns in your memory, while the rest just fades away unless you have the presence of mind to write it all down.
I did not. I awoke holding my pillow between my arms, disappointed as the warmth of the man of my dreams faded away. I remembered, vividly, what it felt like to wrap my arms around him. The soft brush of his shirt on my skin, the slight prickle of his beard as he rested his chin on top of my head, the gentle press of his lips on my forehead…
I longed for him, immediately and fiercely, as he faded away, replaced by reality.
The rough skin of my husband’s foot pressed against my calf. His spine pressed against my back, warm not the filling, pleasant way of the man from my dream, but hot, sweaty, and uncomfortable. I groaned, displeased to have lost my dream, but also because the real world version of me lacked the energy and comfort I’d had in my dream; because I did not want to have to go to work; and because, when I rolled over to look at my husband, with his sleep-knotted hair and his scraggly beard, I felt a distinct disappointment that he wasn’t the man of whom I’d dreamt.
I went through the day as I always did, following the frustratingly familiar routine of eating, cleaning my dishes, working, eating, working more, coming home, cooking, cleaning…. I felt like life was just an endless loop of consuming and then dealing with the byproducts of that consumption.
In bed that night, as we prepared to sleep, my husband pawed at me. His hard fingers clamped onto my flesh as he tried to bring his arm around me in an embrace. I turned away to hold my pillow instead. After a time, he gave up. He settled for pressing his foot against my leg once more, which I allowed, too tired to express my irritation at the scratchy roughness.
I longed for sleep, mainly to escape what my world had become. I had no hope of meeting the dream man again. After all, the only recurring dream I’d ever had was one in which my fingers fell off from my fingers one-by-one as I typed, rolling over the keyboard as I struggled to pick them up with increasingly clumsy mitts.
He did return, though. He held me as I cried with relief at seeing him once more. I can’t remember his words. I’ve never remembered the words from a dream, even if sometimes I have the impression they’re being spoken in a language other than my own. I do remember his voice, deep and resonant, vibrating the core of my body as I pressed my head against his chest.
He took my hand in his and led me away. We moved through a shifting world — though of course, it didn’t seem shifting; our experience, our time together simply jumped about, moving from one thing to another seamlessly, without any logical progression.
We sat in a theater watching a moving, in which the characters stood beneath a grand tree in a sunlit field. Then the wind blew out from the screen, and we were sitting not in the plush seats of the movie theater, but on the grass ourselves, beneath that same tree. We laid back, my head resting in the crook of his arm, and gaze at the strips of sun falling between the leaves, dancing upon the motes of mist in the air.
I turned so that I could gaze at his face in profile, and instead of rolling fields of grass I saw roiling blue waves, crashing against the rocks of a harsh shore; yet I still felt the warmth of the sun’s rays upon me, and felt the roots of the tree beneath the grass upon which we laid.
He turned and smiled at me. The power of it drew me in. I felt my lips press against his before I even knew I had reached forward, my whole body pushing into his with the force of the kiss. I gave no thought to the fact that I had a husband, for in the dream, I did not; there was no lucidity to this dream, no realization that it was not my true existence, until I awoke from it, body wet from the mist of the sea, and realized once again that the copper-haired man did not exist.
After the peaceful crash of the waves on the shore mingling with the gentle swish of the leaves above me, the sound of my husband’s snoring and my bleating alarm seemed even more unpleasant than normal.
I rolled out of bed, dressed, and followed the unending, drab pattern of my day: eating food I hated making, working a job that I found meaningless, and cleaning up after myself even though I knew my efforts would be undone far too soon.
I hoped for him in my dreams the third night, and he came. I felt happiness bubble up within me, effervescent and uplifting. Then he unbuttoned his shirt, revealing a muscled chest covered in a blanket of copper hair, and I felt something else rise up inside me, something I hadn’t felt in years.
That morning, I awoke before my alarm, still breathless from the events of my dream. I turned over and faced my husband. In the dim glow filtering in through the window, a mix of the remnants of starlight, moonlight, and the coming dawn, I could just see the shape of his head, turned away from me. My memory filled in the rest: short hair, thinning slightly at the crown and sprinkled with bits of gray. Tense shoulders. Hands, rough and scarred by years of hard work. A beard that varied between merely unkempt and out-of-control.
I suppose I still loved him, but in comparison to the copper man with the muscled chest, my husband looked and felt plain. When had his lips last drawn me in for an impromptu kiss? When had I last craved the feeling of his arms around me, holding me until dawn? When had I last felt excited to watch him undress after work; excited in a way that compelled me, too, to undress?
The dreams continued, always different, always exciting, yet always the same in just the right ways: the beautiful man was there, caring for me, caressing me with both words and hands. He took me on journeys as mundane as a pleasant dinner and as extravagant as a mountaintop. I knew, without question, that I loved him.
In the waking world I longed for him. I ached with my desire for him to be real, because I knew he was not, even though I could remember the feeling of his bare skin pressed up against mine as surely as I could recall the touch of my husband. I wished and I pleaded and I would have prayed, had I believed in God, but none of it bought me anything, as I knew it would not.
He never came to be. I hoped, for a time, that this was some sort of psychic connection with my true soulmate, and we would see each other on the train and leave our lives behind for each other. But I had never really believed in that sort of stuff, and I knew it couldn’t be true, that it wouldn’t be true.
I wanted him so much that I cried. When my husband asked me what was wrong, I couldn’t tell him. What could I say? “I’m in love with another man, but he doesn’t exit.” No, that would only cause more pain. I had no interest in causing my husband pain, as small as he seemed in my heart, when compared with the man of my dreams.
Eventually the pain of my longing insinuated itself into my dreams, which had become a soft, warm paradise. I fought with the man, begged him to come with me from the dreams into my world, but of course he could not. He only smiled and loved me in response.
Night after night, I begged and pleaded. His smile grew smaller and smaller, and with it, his presence in my dream. The first morning I awoke having no memory of him in my dreams, I sobbed. I told my husband I’d had a nightmare, which wasn’t far from the truth.
He still comes, from time to time. He’s never there when I think he will be. I find happiness within those dreams, in the strong embrace of his arms, in the way his scent seems to fill me up and travel through my entire body. Yet when I awaken without him beside me, I can only cry.