By Katherine Boyce

Sometimes, sleeping can be scary. You never really know when you’re going to wake up. Sometimes you may dream of blankets straight out of the dryer, or cupcakes all warm and soft. Other dreams, the ones people push aside as nothing or ignore, are the ones you really need to look out for. You dream of something that makes your heart stop beating inside your chest, and you actually think it’s the end. But you wake up. You always wake up. Other times you dream of falling, and that’s exactly what I have been dreaming of for the past eternity, except . . . I can’t wake up.

It feels like I was never able to open my eyes, and I worry I’ve forgotten what it feels like to see a smile, or to watch all of my favorite cartoons. My mind is a dark place, but full of sounds. Sometimes I hear classical music, and I can’t help but dance through the dark corners of my mind. My permanent home.

When I first found out I couldn’t wake up my nights were full of terror, wondering if I was dead. I could hear the faint sobbing of my mother every night for what felt like years. She never left my side, even when I couldn’t wiggle my toes when the doctors asked me to. I felt like a disappointment. The doctors asked me to do a lot of silly things like move my fingers or squeeze their hand. I was never able to do it, but I sure tried.

When I’m not listening to the music or trying to move my body, my mind is still. It feels like I’m falling yet never hitting the ground, like maybe there is no ground, just an endless hole. It’s cold. And dark. Sometimes, when I’m falling, I like to imagine my prince charming riding in on a silver pony to pull me out of this hole and carry me away. Even I know that will never happen.

My teacher, Mrs. Rickiti, used to tell me I could become the president if I wanted to, and that I was the bravest and smartest seven-year-old she had ever met. She used to let me fill in all these tiny paper brains with colored crayons so the class would know that our minds were bright and capable of anything. If only she knew just how dark the mind actually is.

I don’t remember much before the darkness. My mom told the doctors I hit my head, but I don’t remember ever getting hurt. Maybe I was trying to reach the paint smocks in the art room and the stool fell over, or I dropped something under the counter and hit my head when standing back up. The doctor says I’m in something called a “coma” but I don’t think he is says it right. Mrs. Rickiti told me that “commas” were used in sentences. She used to have us draw commas in bright colors all over our papers.

The doctor is a nice man. His voice is warm and soothing but sometimes it can be sharp, like when the water in a shower is just right but can suddenly get too hot or too cold. I think he’s my friend, though. His hands are warm and gentle when he tests my muscles. He seems very intelligent (Mrs. Rickiti told us to try to use that word as much as possible. She said it was a fancy word for smart).

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I were to wake up. My mother would jump to her feet with joy and give me as many hugs as I wanted. The doctor would let me walk around and feed me biscuits and soup, and my dad . . . maybe he would come back. If I could wake up from an eternal sleep, maybe he could too! We could all go get burgers and fries and I would be allowed to order an extra-large chocolate milkshake with whip cream on top and a cherry. Me and my dad would argue over the cherry, just like we used to.

My dad gave great hugs. He never shaved so his cheek and chin were always prickly and scratchy. He used to let me sit on his lap and would always scold me, saying, “Now listen to me, Katy. You try as hard as you can to be happy, a’right? You don’t let anyone stop you from achieving your dreams.” He died. Momma says he’s in some place called “heaven.”

I sure would like to go to heaven one day. Momma told me it’s a place with golden brick roads and castles made of diamonds. She said there’s a nice man up there named Jesus and he would give me as many chocolate milkshakes as I wanted. She always told me “Now remember Katy, you be a good girl or you don’t get to Heaven.” I wonder if I’m a bad girl because I can’t wake up.

My mom is beautiful. Her hair is soft like her sheets, and she always smells like lemons and another spice I don’t know the name of. I miss her. She always reads me stories from the Bible, saying if my dad had listened to them he wouldn’t have died. I don’t believe her. I know my dad was an intelligent guy. He would never do anything bad on purpose.

I really miss waking up. I miss Mrs. Rickiti and my classmates. I miss Georgie, my stuffed bear, and Momma’s chocolate chip cookies. I miss my bed and all of my fun posters. I miss my book and toys . . .

I need to wake up . . . I have to . . . For Momma, for Daddy, for my stuffed bear and for Mrs. Rickiti.

I have to wake u-