For most people, sleep isn’t an addiction, or even an incredibly joyous occasion. It’s simply a chore tacked onto the ever-growing list of things that make up our lives. Most people sleep only because it is required, or because they think It’s required.
Alice Kemp, however, didn’t exactly draw from that same mindset.
Alice was an only child. She lived alone with her mother. Her father died when she was young. Too young for her to even remember his face, or the kind words he used to say when he held her in his arms. To her, he was a ghost. In her memories he possessed no real face and certainly had no emotion.
Alice also lost her only brother at a young age. He left home shortly after graduating high school and she hasn’t heard from him since.
She despised him for leaving her mother alone, but she couldn’t help but admire his drive to change his own life. To get out while he could. She just often wondered if it was the right choice, for all she knew, he was all but dead. They hadn’t received so much as a letter in 11 years.
Alice was an incredibly gifted girl; her intelligence wasn’t one that was obvious. It never came from overpriced college courses or cheaply made textbooks, it was real. The sort of thing that is engrained in your brain the day you are born. She didn’t realize it, but looking into her pale sorrow filled eyes, you could see a genius staring back at you.
Not only was she gifted with a brain; she was also a beautiful girl. Not the type that the popular football jocks and stuck up rich judgmental people could relate to, though. No, her beauty was a unique one, and if you so much as glanced at her during the right moment, you’d be captured by it.
Her long very light brown, almost crimson hair was often a mess. A few strands could often be seen hanging in front of her eyes. The most incredible eyes you would ever see. Like two pale blue stars, they begged for life and happiness. The rest of her face did the same. Desperately searching for a reason to smile.
Alice was employed at a local photo developing business, owned by a friend of her mothers. It was a job she didn’t exactly love, but realized she could be doing much worse. She would spend the entire day there, developing, with out of date equipment, the photos of the local population. In a small town like hers, she could often recognize who the owner of the photos were before she even bothered to check. She liked that; it often made her eyes shimmer when Mrs. Fern would bring in two rolls of film, both containing nothing but pictures of her six cats.
When her shift was over Alice would grab her bag, sling it over her shoulder and hop on her bike. She lived a moderate distance away, but was always home as quick as possible. Her mom was usually working late at the local diner, so she would come home to an empty house, check the fridge and see the same not everyday “Alice, I’ll be home late”. Sometimes she would make herself a quick dinner, but most often she’d be down in her room before the front door was even fully closed.
Her room was simple, but somehow elegant. A few posters of some bands she liked dotted the wall and the computer in the corner always gave off that warm glow. The most obvious thing, though, was her bed. It was place right in the center of the fairly large room, always made and always smelling of clean sheets.
Every single day was more or less the same. Alice would get off work, come home and sleep. She would set her bag down next to her computer, take off her tank top and pants and climb into bed. Always in that order, always swiftly.
You see, while most people sleep because they are tired, or because they know they should, Alice slept to forget, to pass the time, and to find herself in another world. She could barely make it through the day, all she would think about is being at home and sleeping the rest of the day away. Alone.
She did this for many, more specific reasons. It had become apparent to her that the world in which physically resided was not the one for her.
In sleep you can forget about everything. In sleep you can be another you, find the person you truly know you are, but were always afraid to be. Or In the case of Alice, be the person you want to be, and live the live you wish you could.
She didn’t always dream, but even when she didn’t, it was still a lot better than being awake. Have you ever noticed that when you sleep the very concept of time simply disappears? It flows much more smoothly and sort of lets the body shut down and get lost in it.
Alice would dream about simple things. Things many people find incredibly easy to achieve in life.
She dreamed, once, that she had a boyfriend, for instance. This man treated her with respect and loved her for who she was. He did not get drunk and hit her as her previous, brief and only boyfriend had done. She never had to be on edge or feel that terrible feeling in her stomach when she knew something was about to go horribly wrong. This one alone, she thought, to be loved, was worth it.
She dreamed and felt many things, not like other people. Most people would dream of new cars or being rich. Alice dreamed about having friends who really, truly knew her and loved her. Alice dreamed of a world where every single soul was seen as the beauty it is, inside and out. She dreamed of a world where all these people were happy, and free.
When she woke up every morning to the sound of her annoying alarm clock, she would feel that same sadness she kept within her the entire day, and then roll out of bed, sit at her desk and write. She wrote what she felt while she was sleeping, or if she could remember, what she dreamed. She had been keeping track of her sleep life for nearly four years now. She’d then get dressed, sometimes in the same clothes she had taken off the night before, make her bed, and then trudge up the steps. Her mom would still always be sleeping. It was sad, she thought. Two people living in the same house barely talk to one another, let alone see each other. Which is why, often, she’d quietly ascended the steps to her mother’s room. Usually the door would be open a crack, so she gently pushed it in.
She’d see her mom sleeping as the early daylight streamed through the curtains, her blankets all pushed over to one side. She’d often stand in the doorway and just watch for a few moments. She’d wonder what her mom might be thinking or dreaming about at that moment. She’d then walk over quietly and pull the blankets up over her mother and lean in to give her a kiss on the forehead. It was at this very moment that she always realized if it weren’t for her mother, she simply would have given up on life altogether. As she brushed her moms hair back, tears would well up in her eyes, giving them an even more incredible glossy look. And with that she would walk out the door, trying to keep her composure.
Sometimes she’d make it down the stairs, but today she collapsed right outside the closed bedroom door and wept. She hated the situations that were handed to her family. And she hated that everyday she had to find the strength from somewhere different to keep herself from falling away for good.
That morning when Alice arrived at work she felt different. The same sadness and sorrow, only multiplied. Her head was spinning.
She worked that day and every second that passed felt like an hour. When she finally arrived home, it was the same story. As her head hit the soft pillow all the feelings went away, replaced with serenity and calm. Her eyelids slowly closed.
Waking up to that alarm clock wasn’t what she needed, but it happened anyway. As soon as her bare feet hit the cold carpet she felt the fear of another day staring her down. She paused, turned, and looked at herself in the small mirror above her bed. Alice Kemp stared at herself, for, what seemed like hours. Eventually she forced herself to smile. She hated it for how fake it looked, and how fake it made her feel.
She snapped out of it and walked over to her desk. And began to write.
“Last night I dreamed I died. There was no sorrow or pain, no regrets, it was beautiful and natural. I saw the smile on my face and I know it is one I could never re-create in this lifetime. I used to wonder. Maybe if I just smile a little more and make some attempts to be happy it will all work out. I know now that it won’t. I’ve tried. I don’t think I want to pretend like that. Not ever. Besides I don’t have a great imagination, so, like everything, it wouldn’t last…I just wouldn’t last”
She left the book open, got dressed and slowly climbed the steps to the kitchen; she took a right turn down the hallway and stepped into the bathroom. She emerged, empty bottle in hand. And said to herself “I won’t last”.
Like every morning she went to check on her mom. Alice sat at the end of her bed and cried quietly. There were no words to be spoken, only feelings to be felt. Alice kissed her mother and walked out, before closing the door she looked back once more. And down the steps she walked.
Arriving in her room, Alice closed the book she had left open, thought a moment and then scribbled something on the cover.
She then climbed onto the bed and rested her head on the now cold pillow. Confident in knowing she wouldn’t be waking up again, she clutched her book of dreams and feelings tightly against her chest and smiled, her eyes lit up for a split second before closing one final time.
Her arms went limp and the book fell from her grasp. On the cover was sprawled in neat writing, “my real life”.
Written and Owned by Dan Chubaty 2004