This morning I was drowning.
After my alarm woke me I had hit it off, rolled over and briefly fallen back asleep. According to my clock, it was only for ten minutes, but in that small amount of time I was suddenly under water, under waves, held below, straining for air. Lost between sleeping, waking and surfing.
Somewhere, I knew I was dreaming. But I was mixed and confused and refusing to let go of it all. Somewhere, I was calming myself;
Just. Breathe. In.
But my dreaming mind and body was under water and flailing.
I never caught a wave, I never fell, but was simply under. The water was clear and white and fizzing around me. I was waiting for the pull of a leash on my leg, but it never came. I was waiting to hit the bottom to recoil and push towards the surface, but I never reached it. I was fighting against water that provided no resistance, no potential for power. In that irritating way of dreams, I was both doing and watching, drowning and observing, sinking and floating. I felt the water warm and swirling on my skin, against my muscles, painting oceanic stories with my limbs. My knee hit my jaw, my arm scraped a rock, and then, I was simply suspended, panic rising in my chest as my lungs emptied and began to feel as though they were becoming a vacuum of themselves. The water continued to thrash and spin around me, but I was still. Echoes of rational thought creeping in – You’re only dreaming. Breathe in, breathe in! But I didn’t, I couldn’t. I wanted to be under water, I wanted to be submerged and spinning and straining and still. I wanted my lungs to empty, to burn. I yearned for the panic to rise in my chest, to sink, helpless, into darkness and cold. I looked for shapes above me – waves, bodies, boards, light – but there were none. There was only what was beneath.
It was a dream. I knew it was a dream. Somewhere. I knew I could wake up, I would wake up. But then my chest was tighter, and tighter, I was fighting the drift into the depths. Breathe, breathe! But I was still under water. Breathe! But my lungs will flood, I’ll be dead! Breathe, you must breathe in! My still-dreaming body would not respond, sucked under, held below.
And I woke, gasping and retching. I can’t remember if I sat quickly upright and clutched at my chest, or if my mind followed my panicked inhalations more slowly, easing itself dry, but I remember the white clouds of pillows, sheets and quilts surrounding me, wrapping me, holding me safe and warm in my bed. I remember wanting to lean over and cough watery vomit into the mug on the table beside me. I remember panting and catching my breath. I remember hearing the rain outside and I know I sat still and silent for some time after regaining consciousness. I don’t know in what order or whether this all happened, but these are my memories of waking.
Even now, in the retelling, I barely remember any of that, but I can still feel in my chest and my stomach, echoes of the panic and vacuum and burn that consumed me as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I can still see myself motionless and suspended in the water; a collage of bubbling white momentum and clear blue glass. But I wonder… I wonder if I was safely breathing the whole time, cosy in bed with winter rain falling outside? I wonder if I was panting, if I was gasping and flailing in amongst the sheets and pillows? I wonder if, perhaps, I was still and submerged, slowly drowning in my dreams, in my memories, fears and futures? Drowning in those briefly stolen moments between sleep and waking?