Dreamworld Visitations

My best friend travels every night. Just before bed, between the demands of their preschooler and hard-won sleep, they close their eyes and open them again on a different, internal landscape.

“I’ve had it since I was a kid,” they told me once, describing the layout of their area. It’s a big place, set in stone and unmoving in its boundaries, but the boundaries sometimes shift. “I only started going off the land recently, and I’m never sure what I’ll find. It’s like they open up to different places.”

If I’m lucky, they’ll tell stories of the journeys they take across landscapes as alien as anything in Oz. “I ended up in someone’s garden,” they explain. “Only they were a sort of – scarecrow accordion? I apologized, and they let me cut through their house.”

“Why did you need to go through their house?” I ask.

They pause, thoughtful.

“Because that was the easiest way to get to you.”

An entire world within the pages of a book [Pixabay]

When I remember the story, I’m the one who came up with the idea. Both of us have established landscapes that we call our own, for all that we think of them differently. Theirs is firmly internal, a map that they have made of themself and a place of rest and solitude after a long day. Mine is loose and metaphorical, a jumble of rooms and ideas that shift like a reflection on water. Still, both are knowable places, places that we can return to and communicate about, and I wondered whether there might be a path between them.

“Come visit,” I said, half joking. “If I can’t see you in person, maybe you can visit in another way.”

Their voice on the other end of the line was amused and half-believing, willing to play along. “How would I even find you? I don’t know what’s past my borders on a good day.”

“Well, no,” I agreed, thoughtful. “But you know me. And you’ve got someone who can sniff me out. I bet you could do it.”

“She’s not a working girl,” they said, referring to their fetch, the beast that is their other half. She is solid and large, over there, a bulk of instincts and mostly-good humor.

“Now, who’s asking her to work?” I asked, grinning, knowing that it was only a matter of time at this point. “You could try it. No pressure, no harm if you don’t make it. I’m just curious.”

“You’re always curious,” they said with a thoughtful tone. “I guess if I – yeah. I know the direction you’re in, anyway.”

“Well, then.”

There is something profoundly funny, to me, about having an internal space. For a while there, when I was in grad school, I was on the periphery of a very academic argument about when and whether humans developed a sense of “interiority,” and how that was shown in writing. The focus on internal thoughts and emotions as a driver of a character’s actions is, according to some arguments, a modern invention of fiction. Before the focus on the interior, people were written as actors, first, in the world around them. Someone had to invent the idea that the world inside was just as important.

I don’t entirely buy that stance, but sometimes I think about responding to it. “Oh, sure,” I’d say, smirking. “I must be pretty modern, then – I’ve got rooms, and hallways, and at least part of a forest in here.”

The details of the place are a little hazy, for me, not least because it keeps changing when I’m not looking. Doors are vague connections between spaces that could not possibly fit into the same physical structure. The backyard is tundra and forest – unless it’s a walled fortress courtyard with an iron gate. When I tried to walk the boundaries, in preparation for my friend’s visit, I kept stumbling onto borders I didn’t expect. Even with intention and my own sense, guiding me, the space I take up is not contiguous.

“You should probably try for the river,” I told my friend . “It’s the front door, but it’s got the most wards on it. I can let them know you’re coming.”

“You’re giving me a lot of credit,” they said, sounding slightly put upon this time. “I’ve been walking for three weeks, and now I’m in a marsh of some sort? It’s taking us forever to find our way through.”

“No hurry.” I thought about the careful camouflage and the layers of guardians and gates I’d left between myself and the easiest way to find me. “I’ve got some dismantling to do.”

A doorway to another world [Pixabay]

Sometimes I wonder how metaphorical all of this is. There is an easy lesson available to skim off of the surface, something about being known, about the layers of protections I put up between myself and everyone else, even the people who are closest to me. There is something telling about the labyrinth of shifting rooms that I call my home base, and the struggle I sometimes feel in trying to know myself. Would leaving my own land be so difficult, so prone to dead ends and switchbacks, if I felt more connected to my community? If I was satisfied with my life, would I be forever building and redecorating the labyrinth I think of as mine?

Then again, sometimes it seems very literal. I often wonder about the time when I, accompanied by my own fetchmate, ventured far enough past my borders to see a great machine bent on the work of deforesting. The machine was swarming with small and toothy creatures operating its levers, and each time it cut into a tree its blade was stained with a thick dark substance that I took for blood. We set out to stop the work, cleaving through the mass of foresters and sabotaging the machine in true, heroic, Miyazaki fashion.

Later, when I told one of my partners about it, she frowned at me. “Did you know them?” she asked. “Did you know anything about what was happening?”

I stopped in the story, startled, and shook my head. “I mean, they were pretty obviously bad-”

“According to who?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at me. “Sounds like you got involved in something that didn’t have anything to do with you.”

The idea hadn’t crossed my mind – and that, in itself, was telling. “I guess I thought I wouldn’t have seen it, if it didn’t have something to do with me.”

Her mouth quirked. “Sounds like you need to make up your mind whether anything you’re doing is real.”

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When my friend found me, after weeks of travel, they didn’t have much to report.

“It’s hard to see anything,” they said. “There’s something like a fog. I think something big came up and sniffed me, but-”

“Oh, I know who that is,” I agreed. “Can you leave a sign that I can check, to see if you’re really here?”

“I can try,” they agreed, and we went back and forth for days, describing what we left and what we found, the symbols we used to know each other. Every one of them was a struggle.

It came as some surprise that the characters we write don’t seem to have the same problems.

“Guess who showed up the other day,” they said, apropos of nothing, a few months later. “He was hanging out on the western property line, just waiting for me to come say hi.”

“I met Herself, last time I went walking,” I admitted in return. “You never mentioned the scar on her knuckles.”

“Oh, that’s from the fight she got into when she was a kid. She doesn’t think about it much.”

Travel has always been hard for us. They have a husband and a kid, a life that grounds them firmly on a coast I’ve visited only a handful of times in all the years we have known each other. Most of our friendship has been through writing – messages back and forth, stories that we’ve built and broken and played with across real life heartbreak and healing. It makes sense, in a way, that the people who feature in those stories are more familiar to us than we are to each other.

So now we send each other emissaries, visitors by proxy, across lands that we struggle to travel ourselves. We arrange for meetings and adventures, stumble over unexpected revelations, tell stories of their experiences when other words fail.

Sometimes I wonder how metaphorical this all is.

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