R.E. Hengsterman, Lucidity

There is no beginning, middle, or end. No clear entrance or exit. There is only an infinite looping muddle of time with one prerequisite for entry. Force yourself awake during REM sleep. I’ve set my alarm, but battle a touch of insomnia. Lucid dreaming will do that. Fuck with your normal sleep if you spend too much time searching.

To lessen my insomnia, I vape a 10 mg micro-dose of cannabis, one puff, wait five minutes, and then take another. Half the time it does the trick. The other half I lay awake watching the exhale of smoke become ensnared by the whirl of the ceiling fan, dissipating into nothingness.

Around 2 a.m. I find my rhythm, my eyes sweeping and rapid under delicate lids. One more chance to correct a moment in time hung upon itself.


My father’s sitting in his chair, legs bent, work boots bouncing on the balls of his feet. The drift of his spine pitched forward. His hands tattooed with machine grease. The split-second before the industrial scent he carries whooshes past my face I remember the origin of his petroleum and lanolin odor. His official title was head machinist of the electrical and plumbing crib. Building 105, Facilities Engineering 1830, interior, 1st floor. I’d heard him describe the crib as a wire metal cage where his machinists worked. But for as long as I could remember the crib was his physical and mental prison.

“We had to recast the injection mold again. Complete incompetence,” he said.

I pushed half-eaten dinner around my plate. My mother nodded, her hands submerged in the hot dishwater.

“I wish I could run the crib my way,” he said.

My mother nodded again, placing a raw hand on the small of his back, leaving a small cluster of dish soap on his shirt.

“I know dear.”

She had known his internal pressure gauge flickered in the red.


I can promise you I never wanted to be that person who dwelled on childhood trauma. But I’m hung on a memory that’s resurfaced. The way a body, swollen with methane, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide, dismembered by sea life, rises to float in water.

A therapist turned me onto lucid dreaming.

“Think of a lucid dream as a mental rehearsal space,” she said.

There’s a mantra; I’m dreaming, said in first-person to avoid being tossed awake.

“I’m dreaming,” I say.

My arms and legs have detached. The separation is painless — my limbs from my body. Still, I fear my death is moments away. The physical me is alive, juxtaposed against the dreaming me — a peevish and taunting contrast. The struggle triggers an ancestral panic, an uncontrollable wallop exploding beneath my ribcage, sending the tiny hairs on my skin stiff. Chicken skin. The sensation travels to my face, lips. Warmth numbs my torso; without restraint, I piss myself.

It’s my doing, dragging myself back. Thinking I can exert control. My arms and legs splay out in a desperate search for something firm. Pots and pans clank. The tinny sound of running water drums an empty sink basin. I shift toward the noise, neck lax — head whirling in confusion. Warm, familiar hands take hold of me, gentle coddling as if they held a limp rag doll.

I’m nine years old again, perched on the edge of the kitchen sink wearing my favorite footie pajamas. I’m drenched in water, a hysterical reaction to revive the unconscious me. The water soaks through the cotton fabric of my pajamas. The insult snaps my eyes open.

Fuck. I’ve gone too far, unable to manipulate the dream beyond its deep, permanent groove. I see my mother, her face pale and melting. I squeeze my eyes to refocus. She tightens her grip, flinging my body back and forth — as I have become the broken rag doll I feared. Between the tight, narrow movements of her pursed lips, her face falls into a pool of sadness.

Even as I dream, I can taste my salty, metallic blood – as if copper coats my tongue. The collecting pool under my scalp pulling my skin taut. I see my mother extend her arms, pause, and drive her hands together. A thunderous clap explodes inches from my face. My ears ring with clarity.

“What happened?” I ask.

“You ducked,” my mother said. “And you embarrassed your father!”

“I ducked?”

“Yes, baby. It was time for punishment, and you ducked. You need to take your punishment. How else will you become a man?”

“A man,” I say.

My mother brushes the hair from my face before dabbing at the blood on my lip with a tissue. She places a single kiss on my forehead and squeezes me tightly one final time before releasing her grip and slumping back into herself.

“You scared me,” she whispered. “Please don’t duck next time.”

I nod.

“Now go upstairs and get yourself ready for bed.”

I slide off the counter and tramp upstairs, each step leaving a squish and a small puddle. Mamma’s right. I pretend to sleep and wait until I hear heavy footsteps on the stairs. I throw back the covers, quiet my arms and legs, and lay rigid as steel in the small bed.

In a place indistinguishable between lucid dream and nightmare, I whisper, “I am ready Mamma. Going to take my punishment like a man.”

My whisper rises, ensnared by the whirl of the ceiling fan, before being dissipated into nothingness. Then I wake.

Maybe I’ve been choosing the wrong moment. Ducking to avoid his fist was a reflex, involuntary and fixed. The way an animal reacts. They say when you lucid dream you can exert control over your narrative. Maybe I should go back further. Remember what I did. Why I trembled in fear. I could pay more attention to crib talk. Lessen his anger.

I’ve been at this for years. Searching, blaming, and dreaming. I’ll try again tomorrow. Shift my focus to a real moment, not a reflex, maybe then something will change.

The Author: R.E. Hengsterman is a Pushcart-nominated writer, film photographer and flawed human who deconstructs the human experience through images and words. When not engaged in self-flagellation he’s often writing beneath the Carolina blue sky. Find his work at http://www.RobHengsterman.com and on Twitter at @rehengsterman.

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