Sleep is a form of death I tell my goddaughter. It’s her birthday. She’s seven. I like to keep things real, to prepare her for life. When we sleep our souls leave our body, I say. They go to Dreamland, a world of make believe, where we can be anything we want and do anything we want. We can think any thoughts. But we have to be careful that every morning before we wake up we make it back in time to our bodies or else we won’t ever wake up.
We won’t wake up? she says.
No, we won't. Not if we don't make it back in time. Do you go to Dreamland when you sleep? I say.
What do you do in Dreamland? I say.
I play with Mr. Bear and Mr. Monkey, she says.
These are her two stuffed animals, nestled now beside her.
Do you want me to tell you a story? I say, before you go off to Dreamland?
There was once a girl I knew, I say. She went off to Dreamland every night. She loved going to Dreamland. All her favorite friends were there. Mr. Bear and Mr. Monkey, her stuffed animals came alive in Dreamland and they could all play together and her mom didn’t come in and tell her she had to clean up her bedroom or brush her teeth or go to school.
She was allowed to go run outside in the sunshine and have tea and cookies with fancy plates and it didn’t matter if they broke. They could even have a food fight if they wanted. She could play with Mr. Bear and Mr. Monkey all day on the playground and they would watch TV and they all had so much fun together.
She had so much fun that one night she didn’t want to leave Dreamland. She didn’t want to go back to her body that was sleeping so peacefully in her bed and wake up and go to school. So she decided to stay in Dreamland. The Ruler of Dreamland came to her and said, Are you sure you want to stay, because once you decide to stay you can never go back to your body.
And the girl said, Yes, I want to stay forever. And the Ruler of Dreamland said that once she made the decision it was her decision for ever and all time. And she said she was certain of her decision and so the Ruler of Dreamland said, Okay, I hereby decree that you shall remain in Dreamland for ever with Mr. Bear and Mr. Monkey.
And that’s what she did. She stayed in Dreamland. And she had fun for a while. But soon she grew tired of having tea and playing with Mr. Bear and Mr. Monkey all the time and they would fight with each other because they were so bored. The girl grew tired of the sun and always having tea and cookies. Nothing ever exciting or scary happened and she realize she missed these things.
And she grew up in Dreamland, and every day was more boring and painful than the last. All the while her mom was waiting for her to come back from Dreamland where she had gone off that one night long ago and her mom was very sad when she didn't come back.
Her mom was waiting for such a long time that finally she decided to go to Dreamland herself. And so one night she went and found her daughter drinking tea and arguing with Mr. Bear and Mr. Monkey about who got to eat the last cookie, and she saw the daughter was all grown up now. When she saw her mother the girl jumped up and hugged her and said she missed her and they both cried. She wanted to leave Dreamland.
So they went to the Ruler of Dreamland and asked her if she could go but the Ruler said that she had made a promise never to leave Dreamland, and her mother said, Surely something could be done.
And the Ruler of Dreamland said there was one thing. The woman had another son. If he came to Dreamland to stay he would let the daughter go. But the woman said how could she make that terrible decision? And the girl said she would stay in Dreamland, she would say true to her vow. And the mother was sad because she didn’t know what to do.
They went for a walk to try to figure it out. It was sunny on their walk, and it was beautiful outside but their hearts were sad. And they found Mr. Bear and Mr. Monkey. Mr. Bear said they had heard from the other animals there was one way to escape but it was very dangerous. They had to go through the Nightmareland. It was the only way. Many had tried to escape from Dreamland only to be caught forever in Nightmareland. So she and her mom got ready for the journey and had one last cup of tea and they hugged Mr. Bear and Mr. Monkey.
The entered Nightmareland. There were screaming babies with their heads cut off and children holding grenades and her grandmother running around naked and her grandfather was there too naked and the next door neighbor Kevin who was always a sweet and mild-mannered boy was there with a machine gun trying to kill them and there was Jesus but he was swearing and yelling Fuck fuck fuck! and there was their pastor eating an enormous blueberry pie and he asked if they wanted some and they said sure because suddenly they were hungry but when they tasted it was like poop but they couldn’t stop eating it and they kept walking on but there were heavy chains around their legs and they could hardly walk and they didn’t think they would make it but finally they made it all the way out of Nightmareland and back to her bodies and when they woke up she was a little girl again.
And she went and hugged her mother who didn't know what she was talking about but figured she must have had a bad dream.
I realize I had gotten a little carried away. I do that sometimes. It’s one of the reasons I’m not allowed to spend too much time with my goddaughter.
Her mother comes back to the living room. Wow, you put her right to sleep, she says. She doesn't like naps usually. How did you do that?
I just have that talent with kids I guess, I say. Sweet dreams, I say to my goddaughter. Make sure you come back from Dreamland. Sweet dreams, little kid.