18 September 1993From the moment I wake up, my eyes still firmly closed, I know something has changed. While my mind struggles to pin down what it might be, a crazy thought flits through it: maybe this has all been a terrible nightmare, and Ed isn’t dead after all. Then I remember all over again and my stomach contracts, my muscles tighten and I feel as though the delicate string keeping me tethered to the earth, to my life, is in danger of breaking forever.
So what, then, is so different about today?
I can tell even with my eyes still closed that the room is flooded with light, which is odd for a start. I like my room dark. Could I just have forgotten to shut my blackout blinds last night? Maybe. But it definitely feels like more than that.
And then something drifts into my mind. It’s not clear, but there’s a vague memory there, lurking in the shadows trying to elude me. I was in the garden. It was raining and I was pulling up weeds, wildly; I remember that. But then I can’t remember much else. There’s just a blank space dotted with the occasional clear image: falling, a pain in my head, roses, Jane’s face, bright strip lights . . . and then nothing.
Could I be in hospital? Perhaps that’s it. I fell, hit my head and now I’m here, in a hospital bed, safe.
It makes sense, but somehow I don’t think that’s what’s so different about today either.
I keep my eyes shut a minute longer and listen carefully to the sounds around me. I can hear a radiator banging as though the heating has just come on. I can make out the distant rumble of a radio and noises like someone clattering around in a kitchen, the hum of an electric shower, someone whistling. It’s familiar, and yet not quite, and it certainly doesn’t sound like a hospital.
Finally, I try to open my eyes and a blurry world slowly swims into focus. I can make out a white ceiling, covered with the same swirls and semicircles as the ceiling in my childhood bedroom. Odd, I haven’t seen that pattern for years. There’s even a small pink mark just the same as the one I made on my bedroom ceiling at home when I’d thrown a lipstick at my sister and missed. I shake my head, confused by the memory. The grey lampshade hanging from the middle is familiar too, tugging at my mind like a child pulling at my coat, desperate for my attention, desperate for the memory to fall into place.
I flick my eyes to the right. There’s a chest of drawers there, pine, with stickers covering it and a mirror on top, surrounded by bulbs. It’s empty of toiletries, but it’s still so familiar.
I sit bolt upright in bed, my heart pounding. I can hardly catch my breath.
I’m scared to look round any more, but I have to. Twisting my head I see the pine wardrobe that I knew I’d see, one door open, a row of empty coat hangers inside. In front of it sits a black suitcase, and a cardboard box with Zoe’s stuff! scrawled on it in black marker pen, and a smiley face sticking out its tongue. On top of that is a wine box with Threshers printed on it, stuck down with white tape with the word Warning repeating all the way along it in bright red letters. I know without looking that it’s packed with my precious CDs, all lovingly sorted the night before.
I move my eyes around the room. An empty hook on the back of the door where a dressing gown would normally be; my old CD player on the floor, wrapped in bubble wrap; a desk stripped of papers and pens, just one lonely pot with a couple of blunt pencils and a marker pen sticking out of the top. It’s my old bedroom, and it looks exactly as it did on the day I left for university.
My heart’s still hammering and I take a few deep breaths, trying to calm it down. This is nothing to worry about, it’s just a dream. Your mind is playing tricks. Go back to sleep and when you wake up everything will be back to normal, whatever normal is.
I settle my head back down on the pillow and close my eyes. But I can’t resist, and when I peek again, nothing has changed.
What the hell is going on?
I yank my duvet off and swing my legs over the side of the bed and pad cautiously towards the mirror. It’s about waist height, and I can already see my short pyjamas and vest top reflected back at me as I approach – pyjamas I haven’t worn for about eighteen years. I’m not sure I’m ready for what I’m about to see, but I sit down carefully on the edge of the stool anyway, and peer into the mirror.
I gasp. Not because it’s awful. It’s me. But it’s not the thirty-eight-year-old me, with dark circles and fine lines under my eyes and a deep V etched into my forehead, that I’m used to seeing. It’s an eighteen-year-old me, with flushed cheeks and no lines – and black make-up smudged under my eyes that makes me look like Alice Cooper. My hair is dyed a strange reddy-purple colour and sticks out all around my head like a halo. Hand shaking, I reach up and pat it down, then squint at my reflection and pull a face. My forehead doesn’t wrinkle and pucker like it usually does, but stays smooth and strangely springy.
I laugh out loud. The sound is unexpected and makes me jump. It’s a sound I’ve not heard for a while. But it seems appropriate because this is utterly ridiculous.
How can this be happening?
I consider going back to bed, burying my head under the pillow and pretending none of this is happening. But I’m curious. Terrified and confused, but curious to see what might happen too. Because the truth is I know this is more than just a dream. I don’t know how I know, but I can just tell. It feels – real. It feels as though I’m really here, however insane that might sound.
I’m clueless as to what to do next, though. What do you do when you wake up in your old life? Is there an instruction leaflet, a set of rules to follow? And how long will it be until it ends and I’m back in real life again? A day, a week, a month? Forever? I shudder at the thought.