A City Surrounded by Forests – n mack
August 4, 2021
There is a place I go when I dream. It is a city surrounded by forests. The city is similar in many ways to other cities I’ve lived in. Not like any one place but like all of them at once. There are distinct neighborhoods that I visit again and again over many years. I continue to discover new aspects each time I visit but I know they are all dimensions of the same place. Though I collect new data I find that it does not replace what is already established, it is only added so that the city grows and grows until it is as large as the waking world. Having known the city for so long I begin to love and treasure it. It is a place for me only, though I am not alone there. The city is filled with other people but I know they exist only for me.
I can never make sense of the city’s geography. Though many areas are familiar, how they connect to one another remains a mystery. And so I walk aimlessly from one place to another. I discover that most places are either good or bad. The in-between places are not good or bad but also do not truly exist. They are just sets, creating a sense of place and dimension. Nothing happens there. When walking in familiar places I sometimes talk to people that are themselves not familiar. They say things to me that do not seem scripted but I think later must be, in order to move the narrative forward. Narrative is the wrong word probably. These people are almost always antagonistic. Combative. Their presence makes a place bad. Their absence makes a place good. Sometimes there are familiar people, friends and partners, people I’ve known or seen. When I talk to these people I don’t know whether they realize they are in the dream with me. In the amalgamated place where everything is extant and everything is real and also not real. My parents do not exist here or at least they exist at a remove. I have never seen them here. This fact doesn’t mean anything to me particularly.
Lately I have been thinking about the city after waking up. I worry more and more that there are things happening there after I leave, that there is an opposition to my being there or my being there and then leaving. I don’t know what they want from me but I know they want something. I begin to worry that I am insufficient. What would happen to the city if I am unable to play host to it? What would these people do without me? What would I do without this place- this place I’ve built brick by brick over so many nights? I decide I need to dream more- as often as I can. But it is hard to deliver myself to the city. I try using techniques I read about online- lucid dreaming, astral projection. I eat a large meal or drink a tall glass of whiskey just before falling asleep. I begin to keep a journal. Still it is too distant. Most of the time I can’t find the city. The city must find me.
I am growing impatient waiting to be found. I decide that the solution is to sleep as much as possible. This creates more opportunity for dreaming. Dreaming creates the possibility of finding the city. I start sleeping in the middle of the day. Instead of walking places I instead take the train. In that oppressive churning warmth I fall asleep immediately. But the sleep is shallow and I am just as suddenly bounced back to the bleak reality of a train moving slowly towards nothing. I begin self medicating. I take cold and cough medicine, benadryl, melatonin- whatever I can get quickly and cheaply. It works, mostly, but my dreams begin to shift, to tilt according to new directives. The geography begins to resituate itself. I discover more and more unknown places in neighborhoods that used to be familiar. I worry that the new and unknown is not building on but is replacing what was. The process that was additive has become subtractive. The human architecture of the city is changing too. I try to approach people that are recognizable only to find that they are no longer- the figures are unmistakable from behind but as I get near and they turn; it’s as though some foreign face has been grafted on a body known well. Like someone is being hidden from you in plain sight. Disappeared from you. Each time it feels like losing something vital, like each possibility of recognition is also a possibility for existence. As they disappear, so do you. Even in these moments I think that there is still a possibility that I might resolve my separation from the city as it once was. As it was when I loved it. I am hopeful and desperate. But it isn’t enough. Everything is being rebuilt according to some new hateful logic. The city is rebuilding itself.
Still I dream. I dream I am walking into a marketplace. It is a kind of flea market maybe. It is full of people. No one is talking. Everyone looks at me as I enter. There is disgust in their eyes. This is a bad place. I keep my head down and walk quickly through the crowd into a hallway. Everything is heavy and gray even though it is empty. It is the longest hallway I have ever seen. I decide it is a trick and I start to walk down the passage. I begin to feel like I am walking in rising water, moving upstream. My movements become slow and clumsy. I start to feel myself pushed back by the invisible current and reach out desperately toward a door frame just within reach. My fingers grip the jamb. I feel my nails digging into the wood. With all my strength I wrench my body forward. My arms ache with effort. I pull as hard as I can and reach out to the handle. It is unlocked and I throw the door open to reveal a small conference room. I pull myself inside and close the door quickly behind me. The flood is held at bay. Leaning against the door I reinforce my barricade against the forces just outside. I wait for my pulse to fall. When it does I walk, now weightless, towards a large table. It is perfectly round and there is a phone at its center. The phone looks out of place. It looks like it belongs in a museum. It looks like it is made of stone. It starts to ring. I pick up the receiver. It is impossibly heavy. I lift it, my arms still aching, to my ear. Stay, a voice says. I try to respond but I am completely out of breath. My vision narrows and I am growing dizzy. The room gets darker and darker. I reach out with one hand and find that the table is gone. Stay, the voice says again. I stumble around trying to find something, anything to hold onto. I mean to disconnect the call but realize the phone too is gone. I collapse as though it is my only recourse, as if the strings holding me upright had been cut. I fall down and into the floor which opens beneath me. I keep falling as though there is nothing but distance. Stay. Blackness. Darkness. Somehow I discover that I am no longer dreaming. I am awake and my eyes are closed but still I am falling. Stay.
It was a trap. I know that now. Now that it doesn’t matter. What a joke. For the longest time I thought I was dead. Wanted to be dead. I am bound. Paralyzed maybe. They have drugged me or I don’t know what. I cannot move. I cannot see anything. A voice tells me that this was the only way. I left no other option available. I think that this is all wrong. Impossible. But the pain in my limbs and in my head tells me otherwise. The voice tells me that they no longer exist only for me, if they ever did. Neither do they exist unto themselves. Just as I used them they will use me.
You have made the city, they tell me again and again. You have made the city and it is beautiful. It is necessary. It cannot be undone. The city is all that is. For us. For you. There is only the city. The dream must be eternal.