One minute I am flat in my bed and the next minute I am levitating. I blink and then I am floating above my grandmother’s kitchen table. Eventually I am hovering over the Mississippi River where my mother wades below me. Just as I begin to fall into her arms, I wake up and remember
my mother is gone.
Years after I tell no one, except my closest friends, about waking up in the middle of the night pinned down to my bed by some unknown source, I find out the medical term for it is sleep paralysis. During these episodes, I’d squeeze my eyes shut to avoid the dark figure swaying in the corner of my bedroom. I learned not to fight against the weight of it as that only made it stronger. And then, I’d pray—first for my mother, then for God to come save me.
Before I had a name for it, I was only privy the folklore my friends had passed along to me:
witches riding your back
devil’s riding your back
God is trying to tell you something.
When I tell my grandmother about it, she says: You are dreaming when that happens. It means you’re still in the dream. And the way it rolls off her tongue makes me wonder if she’s trying to convince me, or herself.
God shows up as a mist of opaque colors, whispering to me in a language only I can understand. We dance together, and its coolness wraps around me like a blanket. We ride through the stars that wait for me behind my tightly closed eyes. We even time-travel, sometimes forward, sometimes backward, sometimes through alternate dimensions of reality.
Like this one morning
when I think I’m awake only to walk towards my bedroom door and find a mirror in its place. My reflection stares back at me, then suddenly, walks right on out of that mirror. We stand there, face-to-face, so close I can feel her breath against my upper lip. For a brief moment, time stops, and she becomes the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
In my witnessing there is always wonder.
I witnessed my mother, abruptly shape-shifting into a new body. When hugging her, I could feel her disappearing under the weight of my arms. So, I turned away from her to my own self standing doe-eyed in the mirror. And I asked my reflection: What is it like to be beautiful?
God can be a trickster.
When it visits, I never know I am awake until I am awake. I never know where it will take me next, but I know I’ll be flying through the dark spaces between time, the spaces where anything is possible and nothing is real.
I could never tell my grandmother I was afraid of God. Instead I would say: I am afraid of the dark. But really I was afraid that God would take me back to those dark spaces. Some nights I closed my eyes and would immediately feel myself traveling through the stars. Other nights, I’d see my mother tumbling through little fragments of time away from me,
with God nowhere to be found.
When I dream,
I am loud. I speak. I holler.
I struggle against the devils, witches, and maybe even God riding my back. My grandmother tells me I worry too much. She complains about me calling out for my mother all night in my sleep.
And then there’s the morning at my best friend’s house, when I rise up, eyes-wide and red with sleep, screaming towards her bedroom doorway for my mother to leave.
I never remember those dreams, but I remember the pressure, the loss of gravity between myself and the bed, the buzzing sound in my ear and the swaying shadow. Through muffled screams, I’d hear myself calling out first for my mother
and then for God.
A trickster shows me how
to transcend time
above both my desires
and my nightmares
to bend energy to my will
a series of dreams
I still don’t really know if I’m awake.