By Evan Kingston
When I was a four, I was fairly certain I slept with my eyes open.
After my mom tucked me in, turned out the lamp, and switched on the nightlight, I’d stare at the ceiling and imagine adventures until the warm shadows up there turned to dreams. The next day, I never remembered closing my eyes during the transition, nor did I register opening them to the sunlight on my way back to waking life; it seemed to me that whatever I’d dreamed during the night had played across my open eyes like the sort of vision that strikes a prophet blind to the lies of this world.
Even though most of my visions weren’t about much more than doing coloring books with cavemen, I bragged about how I slept to friends and family. I think I must have felt it made me seem more mature, as my urge to keep my eyes open as long as possible stemmed from a desire for later bed times.
But more than anything, I think it made me feel unique. “I know how most people sleep,” I assured my mom when she got tired of humoring my claims. “I’ve seen you fall asleep on the couch before. But I’m different; I dream a special way.”
When she finally threatened she was going to come in my room before her bedtime to get a polaroid of me in the act, I almost backed down. I think part of me was already starting to realize I wasn’t special at all—except for in that same, boring way that every kid in my kindergarten class was special. But another part of me, the part of me that dreamed with his eyes open, was sure that I had powers like no one else.
In can’t recall exactly what I said to her, but I must not have conceded, because I very clearly remember being confronted over my bowl of C3PO’s the next morning with a snapshot of myself sleeping, eyes shut tight while drool dripped from my open mouth.
But that and the various corrections that came after—like when I quit drawing comics in the sixth grade because someone told me I “couldn’t draw”—don’t intrigue me as much as all the times since that I’ve listened to that voice inside of me. Why do I still believe it after it’s been proven wrong so many times?
Even now, it’s part of what gets me writing a new story when the last one failed to change the world and there are more practical matters to worry about: part of me still knows, despite so much evidence to the contrary, that I am the only one who can dream like this.
For example, as I write this, I know there’s no way I would have talked to my mom this way, but I can’t help imagining 5-year old me challenging her as she turned out the light, “Take a picture of me? Sure. Whatever. Just make sure the flash doesn’t interrupt my dreams.”
Evan Kingston is at work on his second novel. He is the fiction editor at Red Bird Chapbooks and publishes The Oldest Jokes in the World blog.