Today I was reading a couple of Roger Ebert reviews when I came across a review of The Nightmare (2015), a top-notch documentary or so it seemed about a mysterious phenomenon called sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis? Now, wait just a minute... 'People describe lying in bed, awake, unable to move. There is a tingling sensation, like static, like nerve endings shorting out from overuse. People describe a feeling that something is approaching, from behind them, or towards them. Along with that approach comes an overwhelming sense of evil...' Reading those words stopped me right in my tracks. There's a name for it! I'm not crazy! I looked at Angie, who was sitting right next to me, watching her screen. I said, 'There's a name for it! There is a name for it! I'm not crazy!' Angie gave me a look that seemed to doubt the very thing I wanted to convince her of and, seconds later (two or three), resumed her endless fascination with online makeup shopping. Ka-ching! I didn't care. There was a name for it. And once again I was transported back to autumn 1990.
I had just been dumped by Her Whose Name We Don't Pronounce and considered myself a failure of epic proportions. I hated my life, I hated her even more, and figured hell couldn't be much worse. Not that I actually believed there was such a thing as hell. But did that stop me from writing about the hottest place in town, a place so hot it made Venus seem like a popsicle in your favorite butthole? No, it didn't, and pardon my Swedish. I must be temporarily possessed. I'm positive I was back then. All I did was write angry poetry and thumbtack each poetic outburst to the walls of my pathetic little room. The place was like a shrine devoted to the emptiness of nothing. Deep down inside I knew one of the reasons why She Whose Name We Don't Pronounce had left me was her deep-seated hatred for my unrelenting blues. I sighed. I cursed. I felt hollow. I fell asleep.
I woke up.
It was three A.M. My ceiling looked great. So peaceful and white. Life... was great. Life... And then it hit me. She is gone. Everything you thought you had you have no more. Life is different now. That ceiling looks... and then it happened. I felt a presence in my room. (I feel my eyes tear up just typing this.) I felt the hairs on my body stand up. I kept staring at the ceiling. I had no choice. I couldn't move. There was somebody. Somebody was looking at me. I tried to move my head so I could see. I couldn't. I tried to scream. I couldn't. I tried to whisper, 'Mama, there is someone in my room,' but nothing happened. I was paralyzed. The thing just stood there, looking down on me. It was big and ugly. It seemed to feed on my despair. It was black and white and grey just standing there on the left side of my bed, challenging my peripheral vision as if knowing exactly how much I could and couldn't see. I was cold. I was terrified, tears rolling down my cheeks, and it kept looking at me, staring at me, up close. I felt small and meaningless. I tried to make a sound. I could move my eyes but not my body. My legs were dead. My arms, they weighed a ton. My hands were there — I could feel them. I had to do something. I had to find a way to make a sound and wake the others. Is this me? Am I the deer that's caught in the headlights? Except there was no light. The thing was so big I had a hard time believing it could be standing there and not hit the ceiling. It just looked at me and looked at me and looked at me. If only I could move my right hand or maybe just a finger and touch the radiator and make a sound that everyone would hear. I gathered all my strength. I concentrated on my index finger. It was hard. It was surreal. How hard could it be to move that finger? Any finger? Forget he's there. Concentrate. Move that finger. Move that finger. Move it, damn it! CLANG!
And poof... it was gone, never to return. I could move again. I could speak again, and whoever I told this story of course didn't believe me.
I wiped my eyes. I tried to rationalize what I had witnessed. I knew it wasn't a dream. I just knew. That same day I called Dorothy, a friend of mine, and told her what had happened. Dorothy I knew was a spiritual woman. She was the most spiritual woman in town. Unlike me, she believed in God and angels and had told me more often than I had cared to listen that hell was very real indeed. She knew every religious song in the book and prayed on a regular basis. She was a Christian woman. Yes, sir, if there was anyone who would believe my story, it had to be Dorothy. But she didn't believe me. She assumed it had all been a dream. A nightmare. She reasoned away the likelihood of my alleged encounter and told me to forget about it. Well, more or less. I thought that was very ironic. The most religious person in town did not believe I'd been visited by an evil... something. Isn't it ironic? I said, 'You all believe in the devil, but when I of all people tell you he was standing right next to me, it had to have been a dream. That's just great.' That week I went to church, the first time in years. I cried so many tears you'd have thought I'd soon be running out of them, which, frankly, I did.
Seven years down the line I watched the movie Contact (1997) starring Jodie Foster. Toward the end of the movie, the character she played — a scientist who refused to believe in God unless there was proof — tried to convince everyone around her she had experienced something extraordinary, something she, a scientist, could not explain, something she would have consigned to the realm of fantasy and dreams had anyone told her the exact same story. She said, 'I had... an experience. I can't prove it. I can't even explain it. All I can tell you is that everything I know as a human being, everything I am — tells me that it was real.' I could relate.
Fast forward to August 2015. I realize there are more people who have been through the same thing. There's even a name for it. Sleep paralysis. I've read the scientific explanation. 'Sleep paralysis is a parasomnia resulting from dysfunctional overlap of the REM and waking stages of sleep.' That makes perfect sense to me. When we're asleep our muscles relax and when there's a problem you may end up being awake, mentally, when your body isn't yet. What it doesn't explain is the shadow man leaning over our collective bed. It doesn't tell me why everyone is seeing an evil being that stares them in the face. What if these scientists are wrong? What if all the clues are there but I'm too blind to see? I don't want to rush toward the end of my life realizing I've lived my life like a blind man playing with his stick. What makes me sick is that I smugly feel the experience has made me special in some way, but at the same time it's terrifying to relive that night all over again and to suspect there was more to it than what scientists are trying to make me believe.
This much I do know: fear should not be a reason to believe. Am I wrong?
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|'What's with the tears, you little wimp?' HERE'S the trailer if you want to know what it was like.|