Do we wake up on the morning of our deaths and know that it is coming? Is there a sort of deep, animal, gut feeling, honed over years and years of Darwinian self-preservation, that wakes us with a jolt at perhaps five a.m. with the powerless knowledge that, “this is it, my life is over”?
She never had time for that kind of thought. Feelings of powerlessness never existed in her emotional knapsack. If you talked to her co-workers, the first thing they would say about her, after they have waxed eloquent about her thoughtfulness and righteousness, would be her unflinching, unwavering quest for power. She never questioned her goals. She was ambitious and she went for what she wanted.
If you’re thinking “ruthless ambition,” you would be wrong. Sarah O’Connor was determined in the dogged pursuit of her goal, but she was never ruthless. She was cool, never cold. “Thawed openness,” said a journalist once – one of those young Ivy League graduates that feel the need to speak in contradicting linguistic imagery to prove their intellectuality, as though the ability to write in simple but cohesive sentences was almost uncivilized – which she detested for its unabashed overreaching but respected for its accuracy. She was a woman who loved to love and cared for the well-being of her employees and friends, but on her terms.
But that morning, the morning of July 18th, that unseasonably cold and rainy morning, she woke up with a jolt almost an hour before her alarm normally went off. She wracked her brain for the dream she had been having, wondering if something in it had woken her. But it was almost as though she had had a completely dreamless sleep. This was strange, because for as long as she could remember, Sarah had always recollected her dreams. She knew this because the day she realized this, sometime in her mid-twenties, she had begun keeping a journal.
It was always the same journal. For the past fifteen years, she had bought the same moleskin notebook (in deep-red leather with a white string), once every few months when the previous journal run out of pages. It never occurred to her to buy more than one at a time; she wasn’t the kind of person who believed in planning that far in advance in her personal life.
But this morning was different. She woke up with a hum in her chest and a completely blank mind. She thought hard for a few minutes. Nothing. She finally gave up and got out of bed. “Ouch,” she yelped as she stubbed her toe on her bedside table. She crossed her right leg on her left knee and kneaded her big toe, brows furrowed. This was not a good start to the day. But then, she shook her head. She wasn’t one for superstitions. She gave a final massage to her toe, then headed towards the bathroom.
She didn’t think about her dreamless sleep again until she was in her car, driving to work. She wondered what it meant. That her mind had just decided to stop making up memories for her. Of course, dreams aren’t memories, she reminded herself. Yet, it bothered her. Most days, she drove to work thinking about her dreams. Thinking of ways they could have been more crazy, or more embarrassing, or more believable. But today, her mind was drawing a blank. She felt as though she had no thoughts left. She laughed at her own perceived silliness.
It was an ordinary day at work. Really, nothing different. The same people came by, smiled, made presentations, argued points, debated ideas, discussed strategies. She paid attention to most of it, but she also daydreamed through a lot of it. By daydream, of course, she tried to recollect her dream from the night before. Why did it bother her so much? It was just a silly dream, not like she had forgotten the name of her mother. Wait, what was her mom’s name? Oh yes, Helen. Phew. That was close. What’s he saying?
“Do you think this is the right way to go?”
She looked around for signs to help her know what he’s talking about. Nothing.
After a painstakingly long silence, she finally responded, “You know. I think I need to think that over.”
She noticed the mixture of relief and disappointment in his face, an expression well familiar to her. After preparing something for days, you want the response to be immediate or very delayed. You either want to be heralded as a genius right away, or be crushed much later. She gave him an encouraging smile. No point making him panic.
The drive back home, she saw all the twinkling streetlights whoosh by. She counted every single one of them. She didn’t know what else to do. Every few lights, she’d think of what she was doing and shake her head. What was wrong with her? But she continued anyway. Between her workplace and her office, she counted six hundred and two lights.
She watched a movie that night. She hadn’t watched one in years, and they said “Election” was finally on Netflix. So, she bought herself a subscription to Netflix and settled in to re-watch her favourite director’s best movie (in her opinion). She laughed at all the right moments. Shook her head at all the satirical ones. When it was over, she went to bed thinking how unexpectedly dark it had been.
As she got out of her robe that night, she thought about how fortunate she was. About all the people depending on her at work. About her mother, her best friends. She tried to cram as many thoughts in her mind as possible so she had a good dream that night.
Finally satisfied with all her thoughts, she carefully placed her dream journal right next to her head on the nightstand and went to sleep looking at it.
It was a few days before they finally found her.
[For the record, my “random phrase” was Thawed Openness.]