The Dreamcatcher and The Wry
To be real or not to be real. That is the question.
This wasn’t the first time Katalina Goldstein had found something on the subway. The most interesting find, a folder full of recommendation letters, belonged to a girl just starting the rat race. As she approached the seat at the far end, Katalina saw the item was a black notebook. To her surprise, it was brand new. The notebook pages had no lines. This could be the sketchbook Katalina needed, although she did already have four sitting at home gathering dust. The more she looked at it, the more she saw what a great find this was. Because it was so nice, she felt it would be disrespectful to throw it in her cheap backpack. She lifted her bubble coat and tucked the black notebook inside the waistband of her sweatpants.
It was midnight by the time she got home. This was one of the coldest winters New York City had seen in a while yet Katalina’s tiny studio apartment still managed to feel like the Sahara. She wondered if the landlord was intentionally suffocating her. She peeled off the layers, leaving a trail around the cave. In her 32 years, Katalina never managed to get in touch with the part of her that found skirts appealing. Her old soccer days defined her fashion style, which consisted of oversized baggy pants and hoodies. Katalina survived the past 2 years working odd jobs. Today she cleaned a stunning apartment belonging to an engineer. She wondered if this could’ve been her apartment had she gone to school for architecture instead of ancient civilizations. Katalina’s dreams of being a renowned artist were living in a dark corner. Doing odd jobs made her feel a sense of control minus a business that drained her. But she was still being drained. She was a slave to her bills. Standing in her tiny kitchen, pencil ready to draw in the black notebook, her hand froze. Katalina hadn’t been able to produce a single piece of art in four years. Every time she opened a sketchbook, the same thing happened. No ideas. No creative fuel. It was time to crawl into her nest of blankets and clothes. As she lay looking at the popcorn ceiling, she closed her eyes, wanting to dream that tomorrow would bring something different.
Still squinting, Katalina did what she did every morning; check her bank account. She peeked at her phone screen and jerked forward not believing her eyes. There was a $20,000.00 deposit made that morning. This had to be a mistake. At most, she expected to see a payment of $150.00 added to her balance of $738.00. This deposit was more money than Katalina had ever seen in her account. She then saw this wasn’t her apartment. Clearly she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. This was an exquisite bedroom. Her eyes went to the black notebook on the nightstand. It was the one from the train. There was a pen tucked into it. She opened it, surprised to see it was her handwriting all over the pages. A diary. She started reading in hopes of finding some type of explanation to this Twilight zone. The pages described her life over the past four years. Not only was she a well-respected artist, but she was also married to an equally successful artist named Aleixo. They built a prosperous career creating art together, from custom aristocratic furniture to magnificent paintings. This was her life. Not the shitty one she had been living. This was the life she always dreamt of having. The diary mentioned nothing of the deposit.
The living room was a time warp. The décor was something out of a 1970’s loft. There were colors and patterns everywhere. Roses, hexagons, stripes and even fish curtains. A vinyl record player shared a table with a funky lamp. There was a balcony overlooking a gorgeous beach. And there was art. It was everywhere. She clearly recognized her signature in the pieces. The art was dazzling. She followed it into a wardrobe full of dresses and skirts galore. An impressive collection, rivaling that of any prestigious fashionista. Katalina pulled out a pair of pink heels wondering how this other her could wear something so ridiculous. She searched the walls looking for a picture of this mystery husband. Nothing. She figured he was probably ugly. It didn’t matter to her because all she kept thinking about was the money. She wondered how much debt she was in now that she was living this very lavish lifestyle. Everything in the apartment looked so expensive. The crippling fear of not having enough seeped in. In Katalina’s mind, seeing a $20,000.00 deposit meant there was a debt ten times worse hiding somewhere.
Keys rattled and in walked the most beautiful man she’d ever seen. Brown hair framed an angelical face. Porcelain skin covered a chiseled body. And those piercing green eyes. She felt them looking into her soul. Just as mesmerizing as the first time she saw Brad Pitt in ‘Interview with a Vampire’. “Did you enjoy your morning run?” he asked as he got closer, stopping right in front of her. The first thing she blurted out was “You’re so tall”. He simply laughed. They shared a passionate kiss. This really felt like her husband. There was a familiarity there. As casually as possible, Katalina inquired about the deposit. Aleixo stated the money came from selling a series of paintings detailing the beginning of their relationship. For the rest of the day, Katalina explored this new life. Even in the short hours she’d known him, she could feel their love was real. She wanted to enjoy the moment but she kept thinking about the debt. She even asked Aleixo about their financial status and his response was “You know those are just numbers on a screen. They don’t govern our world”. Katalina couldn’t comprehend his words; she had always lived a life that revolved around needing money. She declined going out to celebrate their big sale. Deep down, she felt like she didn’t deserve it. Someone else made those paintings, making her the impostor in someone else’s movie. Aleixo carried her to the bed. She could get used to this, she thought as she drifted off to sleep. Just like it did on most nights, fear snuggled up next to her.
Katalina smiled as she reached for the phone, eyes still shut, thinking about the $20,000.00. Opening her eyes, she realized the dream life disappeared. She knew this room. It used to be her parents’ room. Anxiously she logged into her account, praying the money was there. It wasn’t and it was red. She was poor again. All around her, there were large black garbage bags. Some had clothes, others shoes and books. Scanning the room, her eyes froze on the mirror as a bruised face stared back. Katalina spotted the black notebook. Once again the writing was her handwriting. In this life, Katalina was a ballroom dance instructor who lived in upstate NY with her fiancé, a carpenter. What started as a fairytale romance turned into a nightmare when he beat her after she confronted him about having a month-long affair. When it got really bad, she packed up her car and found refuge in what was now her brother’s apartment. As she read the words, she felt the ache in her heart. Where was Aleixo? Why didn’t she enjoy him more when she had the chance? Somehow the black notebook allowed her to access these other lives. What she wouldn’t give to return back to yesterday. She sobbed like a 5 year old girl who dropped her ice cream. Even when she had it all, fear still overpowered her thoughts. The entire time Katalina was in that 1970’s apartment, she kept questioning rather than just being in the moment. She grabbed the black notebook and furiously wrote about the day before, hoping the words would somehow manifest. But nothing changed. Discouraged, she waited for the night. She had no interest in engaging with this life. This Katalina was clearly broken. After waiting an eternity, her eyes finally closed. Whatever awaited, couldn’t possibly be worse than this.
Katalina’s brain was screaming when she realized she was in a psychiatric hospital. The room was the size of a closet with a tiny window on the door that looked out to a larger space lined with doors like hers. Frantic, she looked everywhere for the black notebook, but the room was empty. That black notebook was now the most important item of her life. She knew it was her only way out. Just then another thought hit her like a punch to the gut. Even if she did manage to wake up in another reality, what could keep her there? Did she have to destroy the black notebook? But if she did, would it also destroy the life written inside? A nurse walked in. He didn’t even get a chance to say a word before Katalina asked where her black notebook was. “You know that’s a trigger for you Kat, I’m not sure that’s a good idea”, he said. Katalina didn’t understand what he meant by that statement. The nurse explained how she ended up in the hospital, and the reality was much more tragic than Katalina could’ve prepared for. She was a schitzophrenic who was committed after she started to believe her diary allowed her to access alternate realities. In truth, they were all actually different experiences Katalina had already lived. Despite this, she begged the nurse for the black notebook. He gave it to her. She couldn’t bear to read the details inside. She thought about how trapped she felt and discovered she’d been trapped like this her whole life. Even in the luxurious life with Aleixo, her mind managed to trap itself in an invisible jail of fear. All she could do was hold the black notebook close and pray. Before falling into a deep slumber, Katalina vowed to get rid of the black notebook if she managed to wake up anywhere else but here.
An alarm jolted her as she felt the blinding sun. She was somewhere new. Amen. An elegant apartment. Katalina finally felt like she could breathe a sigh of relief. She reached for the phone to check her account but stopped when she realized it didn’t really matter. She was just ecstatic to be out of the psychiatric hospital. In that moment, she finally understood what Aleixo said that day. They really were just numbers on a screen. She would no longer let money govern her world. As she had done previously, Katalina sat and read the words in the black notebook. Here, she worked as a Spanish interpreter for a Psychologist; she made a decent salary and she lived alone in this splendid little studio. As she got ready for work, she felt something she hadn’t felt in a while. Hope. For the first time, she felt like she had enough and she deserved it. Especially after the hell she’d just been through. She knew that she was finally free of the prison she had created for herself. She chuckled thinking how yesterday the black notebook was the most important thing in her existence. Now she felt ready to let it go. The hours flew by and before she knew it the work day was over. She walked out of the building and as she turned toward the direction of the subway entrance, there he was. Her husband from the 1970’s apartment dressed in full construction gear buying a snow cone at the ice cream truck. Katalina didn’t even notice the black notebook slide out of her hands and into a subway vent on the sidewalk. She just stared in amazement wondering if it was really her Aleixo as she walked over to stand in line behind him. He turned around and his piercing green eyes looked into her soul. All she could say was “You’re so tall”. He simply laughed.