Have you ever had a dream that’s so real you’re not sure if you’re awake or asleep?
I have a recurring dream about myself and a man inside a Baroque opera house (and no, it’s not a sex dream).
I arrive, walk down the aisle and take my seat in one of the back rows with an elevated view of everyone sitting in front. About 20 minutes into the production, I notice an amorous couple a few rows in front of me, holding hands and whispering to each other. As the man leans in to kiss the woman’s neck, I catch a glimpse of his face – and it’s a face I know and apparently love. I cannot look away, and as his lips move closer to her ear, his eyes meet mine. There is recognition in them, too. And something else – a mixture of surprise, warmth, and underlying pain. He holds my gaze and I am overwhelmed with emotion – no particular feeling stands out, but there’s just this rush of anything and everything, like he’s untied the rope holding me steady and I’m adrift, floating outside myself. He halts his caresses and speaks to her, she nods, and he gets up from his seat. I’m paralysed as he navigates his way through the patrons sitting in his row, walks slowly up the aisle and finally takes the empty seat next to mine. He doesn’t say anything at first – he just takes my hand and looks into my eyes, searching for something. When he does speak, the conversation goes like this:
Him: What’s the worst thing we could ever do to each other?
Him: What’s the worst thing we’ve ever done to each other?
Him: You’re alone.
Me: You’re not.
Him: So, you’re in love with me again?
Me: Always. That’s the problem. Do you love her?
Him: She’s not you.
Me: That’s not what I asked.
Then he kisses me. It’s a chaste kiss, but his warm lips are devastatingly familiar and I find that my whole body is leaning towards his mouth. His hands come up to my cheeks and he holds my face between them. He pulls his lips away – slowly – but his eyes are full of questions. “I have to go back,” he says quietly, and gets up. I watch as he returns to his lady, his eyes on the stage. I leave.
I go into the reception hall, find my winter coat and head out into the streets of the city, which feels distinctly European. It’s cold and the roads are covered in sleet. I make my way through the crowds as fireworks colour the sky overhead. There is some kind of celebration going on, but I’m oblivious to the atmosphere and the excitement. My mind is a mess of mixed memories and my stomach is in knots. A few minutes later, I enter the lobby of my hotel, ask the front desk if there are any messages, and retreat to my room. I run a deep bath and pour a glass of red wine. I lie there for a long time. When I get out, the city has become quiet again, the light has changed and there’s a breeze. I go to the balcony and survey the deserted square below, where the remnants of the evening’s revelry are being blown around in circles. Then I hear someone knocking on my door. I go to answer it, hoping against hope that it’s him. It is. He is alone. And he is smiling. And then I wake up.
I have this dream often. It’s the same every time – down to the smallest detail. And although I can’t tell you what opera was playing, or where I was, it’s the evocative nature of the dream that I always remember so vividly… The hurt, the pain, the love – the intense bond between this man and me, forged during a long and apparently complicated history. When I wake up I find myself pondering the same questions… What happened between us? Who betrayed whom? How did it happen? What brought us together? What tore us apart? And what would have happened if I hadn’t woken up?
My New Age friend (she of scented candles and Bohemian sensibilities) thinks it’s a memory from another life. She believes in reincarnation and says that I must’ve had a grand love affair which marked my soul forever. And that’s why the dream is always exactly the same – because it’s not a dream, it’s an experience that I’m remembering while in the depths of sleep.
I’m a realist, but I know that the mind is a funny thing. I also know that every time I wake up from this dream, I’m filled with a sense of hope and oddly, peace. And when I rehash the surreal encounter during the day (as I inevitably do), I find myself thinking about the power of love – how it can hurt, and how it can heal.
The title of this post is borrowed from the lyrics of Dreams by The Cranberries.
Janine Papendorf likes coffee, chocolate and wine. Not necessarily in that order. She’s married to a nerdy biker and they’re raising Cape Town’s cleverest child. When she’s not building Lego castles or watching old movies, Janine likes to send words into cyberspace. She’s a freelance writer and content strategist based in South Africa’s beautiful Mother City. Witness her obsession with pink flowers on Instagram, or contact her to collaborate on a project.