By Casey Douglass
Every time I dream, I see a lone tree ahead of me. It stands on a small hill, mist caressing its spindly branches. As I walk nearer, the scale changes. What once seemed a normal tree now towers into the sky, the proverbial tree of worlds linking the realms of heaven and earth. It is usually at this point that the low sun begins to rise, straining against the horizon, its golden rays weak and tentative, but illuminating none the less. Light and shadow sway and morph, wooden fingers conducting a celestial orchestra, filling time until the bodies appear. They hang from vine nooses, their faces purple, their bodies distended. They are all me.
I reach the base of the massive trunk and begin my climb. The bark flakes and falls away as my fingers and toes struggle in the grooves. The whole thing quivers and groans, the corpses set swaying in macabre anticipation. Climbing is like going forward, along my own personal timeline. The dead meat near the bottom used to be my young selves, basically anything that had enough form to be lassoed with a final bow-tie. Yes, that means teeny tiny little mes, ill-formed little mes and even strange lumps of something that would eventually become me. It used to shock me, but now I just climb.
I climb through my childhood, my scraped knees, long summers and optimism merging with my teenage years of mental ill health, good grades and breakdown. I climb through the years of quiet hope and yet more illness, aspirations turning to the things that I believed could sustain my soul and hopefully, me financially, those periods in which I studied and prepared for being well again, a time when I might put my skills to use. Times which didn’t really come.
It is at this point that my head breaks through the rotting canopy of used-to-mes and reaches the part of the tree that is barren. A force compels me to look along one crooked branch to the side, seeing an empty noose dangling from the very tip. Another one almost complete. I gaze up the tree and wonder if it’s height hints at my longevity. The spindly branches fork high enough that they are lost in the luminous mist. I edge along to the empty slot, the bodies below reflecting all manner of things: when I shaved my head a week ago, the cut on my right hand, the deeper blackness that settled beneath my eyes yesterday.
I ease myself down, hanging from the branch with my fingertips in a manoeuvre that I could only sustain for mere moments in the other reality. I loop the noose over my head, as I have done thousands of times before. The sun reaches ever higher. As I let myself drop and feel the constriction strangling my throat, my eyes gazing out further, away into the great plain around me. The last thing I spy are the skeletal shapes of more trees, each like mine, puncturing the mist with their heavy burdens.
I wake up to find a new day has broken, memories of the tree already diluting in that special way that dreams have. It will be there again tonight, waiting for me to start its next branch. I’ve tried to fight it, to accept it, to alter it, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do to break the pattern. Until, I guess, the morning when I just won’t wake up.