I wake up in the morning and head over to my parents’ house for breakfast. It’s warm and sunny and my parents have the patio doors open. My brother and his wife Anne are just leaving with a friend to get brunch somewhere. My mom is getting ready to go out, too; she’s taking my grandma to a doctor’s appointment and then they’re going to get lunch. I go into the kitchen to make some coffee and find myself feeling rather put out that I’m going to be on my own since everyone has other plans and Jeremy is probably going spend the whole day at the conference in Shanghai.
And as I stand at the sink washing a mug, I think, “Wait a second… I was just in Shanghai. I was in Shanghai last night, with Jeremy. I can’t be here now. This must be a dream.” But there’s no way it can be a dream. Everything from the mug in my hands to the sunlight streaming through the window feels utterly, solidly real, as real as any waking reality. The thought that it’s all just a dream is frankly ludicrous.
So maybe Shanghai was the dream? But no, that was real, too: the sweltering cab ride, our Chinese hosts, the German beer garden on the banks of the river (surreal, admittedly, but still real). I know I was definitely in Shanghai, and I know I’m now in my parents’ kitchen—and I know that one of those two things can’t be true.
I suddenly recall a discussion we had in the pub earlier in the week about lucid dreaming. How can you tell when you’re dreaming, and how can you take control of your dreams? Look at your hands. Look at yourself in a mirror (you won’t have a reflection). Look at your watch (clocks don’t tell the time in dreams).
I look at my hands; they’re covered in soap suds and still holding the mug. I look at myself in the mirror, and though a strange cold shudder runs through me, it’s definitely my own face I see looking back. I forget about the clock thing and instead look out the window, where I see loads of huge bunnies happily munching their way through the garden and a troupe of children performing some sort of syncopated dance routine on the street.
And then I wake up to the sounds of Shanghai traffic and the hotel elevator and—incongruously—a little bird tweet-tweet-tweeting from the urban jungle outside my window.
So Shanghai won out in the end; that soapy mug in my hands apparently never existed. But I swear that the kitchen and the mug didn’t feel any less real than the hotel room and the bird. And when I mentioned that the bird sounded like a mockingbird and Jeremy joked that maybe we were still in Florida (where we were frequently awakened by a crazed mockingbird in the garden), I experienced a flash of paralyzing doubt—because for all I know, we still are. The only thing that makes this moment my “reality” is that I haven’t woken up yet.