My muscles ached and my breathing laboured as I rolled over to turn off the alarm clock. The sun was starting to flow through the window illuminating a surprising six inches of dust on my bedside table. I rolled over ignoring what didn’t make sense. I had cleaned the house yesterday. I must still be half asleep. I groaned and rolled back again. I struggled to raise my body with my elbow. My comforter seemed more faded. I looked up to see the pure white ceiling had faded and cobwebs hung from the corners.
Something outside the window caught my eye. There was a large tree trunk standing where I had planted a sapling last fall. I’d hoped it would grow over the years and give shade from the summer heat that burns through the window. I know the solid trunk wasn’t there when I went to bed last night. This tree was at least forty years old. Its trunk had weathered multiple storms, its branches been home to many Spring nests. Its large gnarled roots held it firmly in place. The wind picked up blowing the large tree branches rhythmically against the window keeping time with my frantic heartbeat.
I pulled myself up and rubbed my eyes hoping to wipe away the confusion. I gave a short gasp when I saw the reflection staring back at me from the mirrored closet at the end of the bed. In the mirror was an old woman with long white hair and wrinkles as deep as the bark on the tree outside the window. The woman staring back was a lonely decrepit shell, one whose every movement was a reminder of the struggles she had faced in life. I was a social, energetic 45-year-old marketing professional at the peak of my career. I started to cry.
Like everyone else in the country, no matter their opinion on it, I had dutifully put the clock forward an hour to account for Daylight Savings Time. I drifted off to sleep expecting nothing more than to wake up tired after losing an hour of sleep. Not to wake up 40 years older. This had to be a dream. A dream so real I felt all the physical and emotional pain and regrets of a woman who had lived a long but lonely life. I pinched the loose creped skin on the back of my hand. No this was real.
I manoeuvred out of bed sliding my feet into well-worn slippers, pieces of dried egg yolk buried in the fluff on the toes. I stood in front of the mirror trying to recognize myself. This body looked worn and tired. I focused on my eyes wanting desperately to lift the brain fog that was making me doubt my own sanity. If I closed my eyes and concentrated hard enough maybe I’d open them to see my own bright bedroom in which I usually woke up ready to face anything.
Was this some weird karmic lesson that was supposed to make me rethink my present? My life looked perfect to a lot of people. I had a great job, I was up for a promotion, I had tons of friends, friends who liked to party. I was carefree with no ties, able to travel, with the resources to do it in style. Secretly I complained a lot about work, about my failed relationships, about the price of groceries and the way other people drive. I’m sure my sister was tired of my every phone call degrading into a long whine about how tough life is. But all these small annoyances created a mountain of discontent. It was my way of burying the real fear. I was climbing the corporate ladder afraid on each rung that I would slip and fall to the bottom. If I was honest the frequent smile on my face was a mask covering a disturbing and lonely reality.
Was the 85-year-old in the mirror who I would end up being if I continued on this path? What could I do differently to change this trajectory that was heading towards a lonely and painful end? I turned away from the mirror and shuffled to the kitchen. I smiled as opened a cupboard to see my usual brand of coffee was in its usual place. Arthritic fingers fought to remove the plastic lid. I lifted and sniffed the full can that seemed heavier than usual. The aroma rising from the grounds gave me a sense of normality and peace. Maybe the caffeine in a cup of coffee would breathe life back into these old bones.
I took comfort in the ordinary things around me. Although they seemed more worn, they were still the anchors that gave a semblance of normality. The glass kettle whose blue light always mesmerised me as I watched the water boil. My favourite coffee mug that I brought back from a trip to Peru. The drawer full of spoons from the cutlery my sister gave me. Steam rose from the black coffee in my mug. I grabbed the handle as tightly as I could hoping it would bring me back to the present. It didn’t work.
Resigned, I picked up the tall lined notepad that usually listed my groceries and tore a new sheet. I sat at the kitchen table determined to make a list of all the things I took for granted, all the things I would appreciate, all the things I would change if I could just go back. What had I always dreamed of doing that I hadn’t done? I never had children, never married, never had a dog, never lived by the sea, never told the people I loved how I really felt about them. I was too busy trying to do cling to the corporate ladder. But there was also a list of things I was grateful for, things lucky enough to have experienced, people I was lucky to have met.
A sense of calm settled me as I realized I knew exactly what I would do if given the second chance. As I sat contemplating my future the wind picked up to a frenzied pace as if urging me to move. I could hear the tree branches bang hard against the bedroom window. I heard a loud crack as glass shattered. I rose as quickly as I could and shuffled to the bedroom. Dust rose from the bedside table. The cobwebs in the corners disintegrated as the wind blew them apart. The worn comforter flapped against the mattress.
I searched the room for something to block the window. Without warning, a large tree branch reached through the window and slapped me on the back giving me the wakeup call I needed. More branches filled the room. They flapped like octopus tentacles wildly knocking the clock from the bedside table. I wrestled a framed picture from the wall and wedged it into the window frame to stop the wind. As I stepped back the cord from the clock wrapped around my left foot. I looked down at the flashing numbers and realized what I had to do.
I picked up the clock and hugged it as I said a silent prayer. I crawled back under the covers with the clock and created a tent that shaded me from the room. The emotional strength it had taken to fight the confusion of suddenly being 85 years-old and the and physical strength it had taken to fight the windstorm had taken its toll. I was getting weaker by the minute. My warm breath filled the space beneath the covers absorbing what little oxygen was circulating. I carefully reset the clock back one hour hoping to reverse the what I had done the night before. I desperately wanted to return to moment I had left. I began to lose consciousness and drifted off praying it wasn’t too late to wake and see a harmless sapling outside my window and replace my anxiety masking smile with genuine joy for a redesigned life.