The other night at four a.m., I awakened from a dream so vivid, that even after I’d gotten up and gone to the bathroom, and crawled back into bed, I felt myself still in that dream reality. Even now, I can close my eyes and be there again. Normally, for me, dreams evaporate quickly upon awakening unless I write them down or tell them to my husband. But not this one. It’s as if it actually happened. And dreams usually have that fuzzy quality to them. Not this one.
The entire thing unfolded from my perspective, viewed through my eyes, with me feeling the feelings, but it wasn’t actually me.
I am in my apartment in dreamland (which is nothing like my actual apartment.) In the dream, it was also about four a.m. I am sleeping I think on a pull-out sofa because I’m close to the door. I hear something outside in the hallway. I look through the keyhole. My neighbor, a young man — younger than me by at least a decade or two — is sitting with his back against the wall, caddy-corner to my entrance. His knees are drawn up to his chest, his arms are wrapped around his legs, his face is resting between his knees. He is absolutely still.
He often goes out in the evenings and comes home late, having partied himself into oblivion. Tonight, he’s either drunk or high. I can’t quite tell. I’m getting no emotional reading from him. He seems completely inert.
He is a veteran and he suffers from PTSD. In the time that we’ve been neighbors, I have been kind to him. Occasionally we have had some serious conversations about a variety of things, but I would not say we are friends. We hardly have anything in common.
He says nothing. Doesn’t move. But I know he wants me to open my door so he can cry on my shoulder, otherwise why would he be sitting there? But it’s the middle of the night. I am not his therapist. His problems are way above my pay grade. I don’t know how to help him or that I even could. I feel compassion for him but he’s my neighbor, a virtual stranger. I am not willing let him become accustomed to leaning on me emotionally. He’s not my patient, not my child, not my family member. He needs professional help which I cannot provide.
Through the door, I speak to him sternly but kindly. “Go home. It’s late.”
Eventually I hear him shuffling off to his apartment, which is diagonally across from mine. There are just two apartments on the landing with a staircase up the middle.
I go back to bed, waiting for the click of his door but I don’t hear it. I return to the key hole and look again. It’s hard to see his door from mine as the staircase is in the way, but I can see him leaning, with his head against his own door, standing only from inertia, not moving. I really do not want to get involved with him now but I cannot let him stand there all night. I just want him to go into his own apartment and sleep it off.
I open my door and go over to him. He is almost in a fugue state. Barely there. “Give me your key” I say, and he does. I open the door for him and push him inside towards his couch. “Sleep. You will feel better in the morning.” I’m doing the bare minimum to keep him safe, without getting sucked into one of his crying jags. It’s the middle of the night! I’m not on call! This is not my job.
I close the door after him and go back to my apartment, any vague sense of responsibility assuaged. I’m just dozing off when I hear his door open again. I look out through the peep hole and I see him leaving. He is wearing rubber gloves and carrying what appears to be cleaning supplies. This makes no sense to me.
I am afraid he’s going to get into trouble out there in his condition. Even for him, his behavior this evening has been bizarre.
I call the police. Tell them what’s happened. I ask them to go find him before he hurts himself or someone else. They ask me for the make of his car. I tell him I have no idea. I’ve seen him in it a few times; it’s a nondescript midsize vehicle. I can’t give them any more than that. They seem to be blowing me off. I get angry and ask them if they can’t look up the vehicle based on his name and address. I am seriously concerned that he’s going to do something bad. While I do not feel personally responsible for him, I cannot ignore this. If he caused an accident or got himself into serious trouble, I would feel guilty.
The dream ended there, with me trying to get the police to go after him. But because it was so vivid, it was easy to put myself back into the reality of it. I reran the whole thing in my head a couple of times, trying to determine if there was any meaning to this. Later, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, I understand what had actually happened: He had already killed somebody earlier in the evening and he was going back out to attempt to cover his tracks and/or hide the evidence. This explained his strange impenetrable mood, his total lack of affect. That night, he had finally hit bottom, and there would be no climbing back out of it.