It wasn’t until years later I saw the incongruity of that night when he appeared. I asked my husband if he had noticed him outside our bedroom window, looking in at us side by side, as if he were going to . . . I could not say it to him. Did he see the man? My husband said no how could he, he was sleeping and besides you must have been dreaming him. I wasn’t dreaming him, I said. He was real. He was not a dream. My husband didn’t like to engage in this kind of back and forth, but he tried to assure me it was only a dead dream, not a living dream. Contradicting him and wrapping myself up in an argument I was not going to win, I said, Is there a difference between a dead dream and a living dream? Can living dreams be dead dreams and dead dreams be living dreams and thus equally dead and living? He didn’t want to hear any more and walked out, not in an angry way but he had had enough. He wasn’t the most patient of men when it came to talking about dreams. Especially about a dream concerning that man.
There was a steep downhill in my logic after that night. I had to test the incongruity and got encased in it, like an argument that perishes in a false syllogism. It went like this. If I really saw him, then he saw me as well . . . unless he was a dream dreaming me, and I was real only from his point of view. In that case, we were both alive in the dream, but I was actually dead, the point being that this would qualify as a dead dream. If on the other hand, he was only a dream from my point of view, would that be a living dream, because I would be alive and he would be dead? Or, if he was alive and I was dead . . . I began to see that my husband had threatened me with a false equivalence. There was no such thing as a dead dream. All dreams are living things.
I had to admit that my reasoning could not withstand inspection from a truly logical point of view, and thus I had to frame it as a continuous nightmare starting in infancy, stretching back to birth, even to the moment of conception, and if need be, all the way back to when the world began. This metaphysical questioning got me really riled up, so much so that I remembered how I used to contemplate forever. When I was a child trying to get to sleep, I used to look up at the stars and wonder about living eternally and never dying. Just thinking this way made me hide under the covers so the darkness would blot out eternity, and I wouldn’t have to endure the pain of living forever. At such an early age, of course, that man in the window wouldn’t have had any business in my backyard, although the eternal forever was comparable to the anguish he brought into my life. Both he and the eternal forever had too much in common: They were like a searchlight inside me.
The man in the window had a pedigree. Many years earlier, when I was around sixteen, I was getting a glass of water from the kitchen and inadvertently glanced toward the front porch where I saw a man sitting nonchalantly on our railing. It was early morning when the sky in those parts was luminescent, and he was backlit by the pink and orange stripes on the horizon. I have to admit the beauty of the sky made him seem less sinister than he turned out to be. His shoulders were slightly rounded, and he was fiddling with something in his hands, passing the time, waiting for me. I made a dash for my bedroom, but my movement caught his eye and at that instant he looked up and saw me. It couldn’t have been more than a second, but that was enough to make eye contact. My father was away in the military and my mother was sick in bed, and I didn’t want to disturb her or my younger sisters. Considering he was trespassing on our property, I should have called the police, but I was stranded between my panic and the possibility I was dreaming him, in which case it would have caused an uproar not only in my house but also in the neighborhood. The telephone was steps away, but my only recourse was to stand frozen behind my bedroom door. I didn’t dare move and attract his attention to my hiding place. I tried to form an image of him, but he was a blur except for his hair pulled back in a ponytail. I had no idea how old he was—twenty-five? Forty? I was only a teenager with little experience in judging the age of older men. I waited for what seemed like an hour before I dared to come out. In his place on the railing, I saw a dark outline, like a negative where he had been sitting so nonchalantly.
I never called the police because I wasn’t sure if I had been sleepwalking or dreaming him, as if he had positioned himself on the railing only to antagonize me and force me to doubt my own mental acuity. What could I tell the police? That I had dreamed him there, an agonizing possibility? The man with the ponytail was the first of several occurrences between sleep and awakening that distorted my memory. And then they stopped for several years until the man in the window appeared out of nowhere. As for the man with the ponytail, he left an indelible memory of his blue eyes, slicing the darkness.