This is how many times I have dreamt of the one I would come to call my “oneiric guide”. Tens of thousands of dreams, most of which I could remember at some point in my twenty-three years of existence, and she has only appeared to me thrice. That’s three times. Her visits are not rare, they are exceptional. In every sense of the word.
I have never seen her face. Not once, not even for a sporadic second. Even her silhouette appears blurry and out of focus, as if she were standing in direct sunlight. And no matter how hard I squint, I cannot perceive any of her features. I do know she is female though, not so much because of her voice, but because she feels female. I have never really understood the concept of gender, and I cannot say that I feel female (or male, for that matter), but I can undoubtedly say that her energy reads and feels female. They’re dreams. She doesn’t have to make sense.
While I am aware that she is a part of me, my disbelief is too powerful for me to fully accept it. She has such a way about her; how she holds herself, how she speaks: not just what she says, but how she says it as well. How could that possibly be me? She radiates wisdom and quietude. She exudes kindness and compassion. She is fearless. So maybe that’s not me. Perhaps is she not even who I could become. She may very well only be who I wish I were. Who I could have once been, but not longer can; a long forgotten echo, a ripple down a future that never was. Whoever she is, whatever she represents, I always treasure her appearances. I long for her serene presence, her enlightened words and humane gestures. Time stands still when I see her, the world fading into oblivion.
I will not tell of the first time she appeared to me. Her words were far too precious for me to share, and I hold them close to my heart. However, I would like to bestow upon you the words she whispered to my ear the second time I dreamt of her for they were, I think, true and kind. It would take me a whole book to tell you of that dream in detail, or at the vert least a lengthy short story, and the dream itself matters very little; I will simply summarise it to its most basic premises.
I was trying, in a bleak dystopian future, in which it snowed ashes, to save a group of children who were being persecuted and haunted by fascist militias, whose members believed these very children were the key to stop the oncoming apocalypse and restore order, creatures to be led to slaughter, to answer the demands of a blood-thirsty god. I was leading this crew of children to a cabin that was said to hide a door that led to a better world. I cannot remember with certainty whether that better world was simply set in the past, if it was part of an alternate universe, or if it simply grimly meant death, but I do know it was there. On the way to this cabin, I met a man whose wife and daughter had been butchered by the militia that was chasing us. He was looking for revenge, but above all, he was trying to redeem himself in his own eyes by saving someone else’s daughter. He came to our aid, and we travelled together. We learnt to know each other. To trust each other. To love each other. I felt a love so fierce, it was like an inferno sucking the air out of a room, asphyxiating me. He loved me in a timid and delicate way, a controlled flame, and I knew he did not love me the way he had loved, and still did, his wife. That he could not. And I was content with it. It is better to love than to be loved.
As the cabin grew nearer, so did the militia. Our lead on them was gone, and they were on our tail like a pack of wolves stalking their prey. A fox to be led to inevitable carnage and bloodshed by the hounds. But none of us gave up, gave up hope. Not me, not him, not even the children. We just kept pushing forward, hoping, praying, that we would make it. When we finally reached the cabin, our pursuers were so close we could hear their cries and shouts echo through the cold morning air of the valley. After I led everyone inside, I urged them not to stop. I compelled them to get to the tunnel, and to keep running until they had come out on the other side, and then run some more just to be safe. I quickly said goodbye to the kids as I barricaded the door, firmly intent on holding my ground and buy them all as much time as I possibly could. It was a sacrifice that I was gladly making, and not once did I hesitate or tried to find a more cowardly way. Long after the children had disappeared, swallowed by the darkness of the tunnel, he was still standing there, looking at me, an unending ocean of hurt in his eyes. I hugged him goodbye before pushing him towards the tunnel, yelling at him to go, to stay with the kids, to live. He, too, was soon swallowed by the tunnel, and I stood against the door, weighing heavily on it. Our hunters had finally reached the cabin, and they were banging on the door, trying to kick it down. The door finally gave way, and one of our pursuers managed to slip his face and one of his arms through the interstice that had been ripped through the wood, and he was clawing at me, his fingernails turned into sharp claws.
And suddenly, some pressure lifted off the door. I felt his body against mine, pressing against the wood, helping me resist against the invaders. I turned to look at him, and his face shimmered for a moment, before I felt him morph into my oneiric guide. It wasn’t just his body though, it was his whole self, his mind and his energy as well. He was gone in an instant; and there was standing my guide. Quietude descended upon the world, and everything faded away, muted. I do not remember her exact words; and even if I did, some of it would be lost in translation anyway, as she spoke to me in French.
She asked me about sacrifice. It was more of an affirmation than it was of a question, but it still held an inquisitive, yet gentle, tone. She already knew the answer, and I think I did too. I had simply not been willing to accept it.
“Sometimes, the real sacrifice is to not make any sacrifice at all.”
Such is the wisdom she imparted upon me, though the words are not, as I’ve mentioned, perfectly accurate. She silently looked at me for what I believe was an eternity in its own right. And for a moment, I do think I saw more than just her blurred features, and directly stared into her eyes. When she was sure I had processed her words, she gave me one last kind, and somewhat sad, smile, before fading away, fading into him. The world came crashing back. Screams and smoke filled the air again, and the pressure on the door had returned. So had he. He was back where he had been, as if none of it had happen, a dream within a dream. And it hit me. All of it. His sorrow. His pain. His hurt. His weariness. How tired he was. How every step was a struggle. His longing to see his wife and child again. To be reunited with them, in whatever version of an afterlife that he believed to be true. His love for me, overshadowed by his love for them. His guilt, too. His shame, and his self-hatred. For loving me, but loving them more. For praying his time had finally come, and all of it would stop.
I was crying by then, choking on my own sorrow, drowning in my own tears. I kissed him, deeply, lovingly. And I stepped back. There was surprise painted on his face, and relief too. I backed away until I reached the entrance to the tunnel, my eyes fixated on his, refusing to let go. I stood there for a few seconds, unable to move. Unwilling to run. And I ran. Before long, I was out of the tunnel. I was running through woods, branches slapping at my face, kids running all around me hollering in joy. No ashes. Finally safe. I woke up there and then, tears streaming down my face, my pillow wet with tears, my sheets drenched in sweat. I turned on the lights, akin to a child who is afraid of the dark and the monsters hiding under his bed or lurking in the closet, and hugged my knees. I felt stupid crying over a character that I had imagined, and fallen in love with, in a dream. I felt silly, and ridiculous. I ended up putting a Disney movie on, to try and clear my thoughts.
After a couple of days, I finally realised that I had not cried over a fictional character. Well, to be fair, my dream-self did. But I do not believe it is sufficient to explain how shaken I was. There has never been a doubt in my mind about how far I would go to save someone I love. I would go to hell and back in a heartbeat, and I would gladly give my life for them. I care very little for my own life, but I do care about the lives of the people I love. And I will go above and beyond to keep them safe. I would sacrifice everything I have, without a second doubt. The one thing I would never do, however, is let them feel the same way about me. I would never let them sacrifice themselves, all that they are, everything they have, to save me. I am not going to pretend that this is out of nobility, dignity or greatness. It is not. It never was, and I never even thought about pretending that it was. I think I simply never really questioned it. It was simply a part of who I was, something that I carried with me, something that was there.
After my oneiric guide visited me, I realised that, if anything, that feeling was there out of cowardice. I could not bear the thought of losing someone I loved, especially if it meant they had gone while trying to protect me. I could have never lived with myself. I have no problem dying for someone I love. I, however, cannot bear the thought of being the one that lives. The one that is left behind. The one that has to live with the knowledge that they could have done something, anything, differently. The one that has to keep moving on despite that knowledge. The one that lives. I would gladly give my life. I just wouldn’t keep it.
It may seem like an easy conclusion, but I am not sure that it is. It was not for me. Most stories about sacrifice praise the bravery of the one who sacrificed themselves. Most stories, however, do not even mention the courage the one that has been left behind will need to rebuild themselves. They present such a sacrifice as a gift, a second chance, even something that is due sometimes: you owe it to the person who sacrificed themselves to shine from now on, to enjoy your newfound life, to make the most out of it. And it’s not fair. It never is.
When we found Alex, I would have done anything, anything, to trade places with him. To give my life for his. I would have probably even corrupted myself and sacrificed someone else, a whole city if I had to, to save him. I would have sent him away, halfway across the world, if it had meant keeping him alive. Anything, but being left behind. They say that love is, sometimes, accepting to let the other person go. And that is true. But when you let them go, they are usually alive and well somewhere, and you let them go so they could have their own happiness. That’s an easy sacrifice to make. But letting go of someone you love so fiercely and ferociously, with the knowledge that it is so bleak and final … I probably could have fought more. I could have gotten a truck there, with a crane, to hoist him up, and get him in a truck at all cost. I could have rushed to the clinic then, and I would have taken on any necessary amount of work needed to pay the bills, indebted myself until the end of time if needed. I could have thrown my studies away just to be able to work full time, and then more. And for what? More pain? In the distant, and near, future? Just so I wouldn’t be alone?
In the end, the decision was surprisingly easy to make. He wanted to go. He needed to go. All he was waiting for was my approval. So I let him go. And I stayed with him, rocked him in my arms, my head against his, whispering words of comfort and love to him. Most people seem to think that it was the easy decision to make. But it wasn’t. My heart and my head agreed on things for once, and they were screaming at me to fight, with all my might, to keep alive. To keep him with me. A primal cry, a primordial scream, that came from my very core. So I let him go. Because doing nothing else would have been cruel. And, ultimately, that was the real sacrifice.
Granted, the situation in my dream was different. But the end result was the same. And the feeling that pushed me to make the hard choice had not changed either. That feeling? Love. If you love someone enough, you will go above and beyond for them. You will sacrifice everything, anything. Even if it means, in appearance at least, to not make any sacrifice at all.