Last night I woke up from a dream that left me almost too scared to move. My husband was in the guest bed in the other room (he spends some nights there so as not to disturb me, an extremely light sleeper, when he knows it will take some time for him to fall asleep). And the cats weren’t in my line of vision. I fumbled for my iPhone to read my e-mail or my Facebook and Twitter feeds, desperate for something else to think about, to replace the images seared in my mind’s eye.

As in real life, I was called to the hospital to serve as an advocate for a sexual assault survivor. Her boyfriend had accompanied her on the trip to the emergency room. But a routine rape exam turned hellish when it became clear that he was the perpetrator. And he wasn’t yet done hurting her. He came after her with a surgeon’s scalpel, which she managed to use to cut a huge gash in his palm. She got away, leaving him to hunt me in a huge green operating room. When he found me, he lunged for me — but I jammed the scalpel into his stomach, twisting it as he fell on me. I could feel the blade slide through his soft belly before I woke up in a sweat.

The word “nightmare” always makes me think of the horse of Selene’s chariot from the east pediment of the Parthenon. (Part of the Elgin marbles, it now stands on display at the British Museum.) The animal is supposed to have pulled the moon across the sky all night and then into the sea. Its flaring nostrils, bulging eyes, and drooping jaw make it seem as seem as exhausted — and scared — as I feel after a bad dream. It is, in many ways, a literal “night mare.”

I have these vivid, horrifying dreams with fair regularity, and on the days following them, like today, I walk around in a fog, not sure if the waking world is more real than the one I left. In a lot of ways, it doesn’t feel as real. On these days, I find it helpful to try to immerse myself in yet another world — often a book or a TV show. They ease the transition back into what I know, rationally, to be the real world. Today it was The Other Wes Moore, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

On days like this, I am grateful to the chroniclers of other worlds.

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