Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 27, 2020
ryan-sleeping-beauty

PUBLIC DOMAIN

In one version of Sleeping Beauty, the prince waltzes into the castle with no dragon to slay.

I point to the blue moon. It’s snowing, and I invent reasons to believe that I haven’t changed. It’s pointless, though; I’ve changed, and it’s snowing, and it’s Halloween, and I can count on one hand the things that have stayed the same. On my other hand, I count the amount of people I have spoken to in person since March. I peel open a tangerine, and the wedges of fruit look like little crescent moons. The lamp behind me casts a moon-like shadow against the wall. I look at my hands, and they, too, are moons. It’s late, and I am so, so tired.

A long time ago there was a king and a queen who held a feast but didn’t invite the last fairy. A long time ago the fairy cursed the king and queen’s daughter to prick her finger on a spindle and die. A long time ago another fairy was able to change the curse, and so everyone fell asleep instead. A long, long time ago bramble covered the walls and periphery of the castle, and no one could get in. A time ago. Ago. The bramble crept into our beds and covered us in blue and pink flowers. We all kept sleeping and sleeping and sleeping, and the world went on and told stories about us. The moon kept changing and everything stayed the same. I kept changing and everything stayed the same.

Don’t ask me where the bramble stops and the castle begins. I don’t think there’s a difference anymore. The bramble has become the castle; the castle’s become the bramble. The people sleeping inside the castle have no knowledge of their sleeping. They will only know when they wake a hundred years later to find the world outside of them irrevocably changed and they themselves entirely the same. At least the princess won’t have to wake up alone; at least there’s that, at least she’s been given that kindness.

Have I been granted that kindness? Will I wake up alone, or will others wake up with me? When I walk out into the world again, what will I find? I keep sleeping and sleeping and sleeping. When I leave my room, my little castle, I will have to reconcile my old and new selves with the world, having nothing else for me to measure myself against but the moon.

I call Hannah, and she asks me what has happened in the last few weeks of my life. “I don’t think anything has,” I say. That can’t be right, can it? Surely something must have happened. Something of note or import must have happened to me or even something banal. “I’m sorry, I wish I had something to share with you.” Perhaps the change is so small, so incremental that I won’t be able to recognize it until one day I take a step back and see the whole picture. Perhaps the change is imagined, and that’s what makes it real. I don’t know; I think I might just be tired of explaining myself. 

In the Brothers Grimm rendition of Little Briar Rose, the prince walks through the bramble, which had blossomed into vibrant flowers over the century. The path simply yields its way to him. He says, "I am not afraid, I will go and see the beautiful briar-rose." And he does. In Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty, the prince has to slay a dragon, but in this earlier version, he waltzes in. The fear is imagined. It is a potential in abstracto. The fear had made the danger real, but all that worry had been for nothing. He wakes the castle, and they all live happily ever after.

But how does the princess feel after being asleep for so long? How tired must she be? Does she ever sleep again? When she sleeps, does she dream about being awake?

I reach into my dreams and pull out blackberries, thistle, beeswax, cinnamon, thread, lavender, roses, spoons, a round stone, a large bowl and more and more and more but never find a way to stop myself from being tired. I don’t know where the tiredness comes from. I maintain a consistent sleep schedule. I take vitamins that supposedly increase your energy. I drink water and eat healthy meals. There is no reason for my drowsiness. “It’s just normal exhaustion from work,” my doctor says. But it isn’t that. I just know that it is something else.

I take a walk in the woods near my house and prick my finger on the thorns of a rose bush, but I don’t fall asleep. I keep walking, and I see an elk run in the distance. The leaves rustle under my feet. A thick chill fills the air. I keep walking, and I see my breath in gusts. My head pounds with an indiscernible, yet familiar, rhythm. I keep walking, and I see my past and future selves overlaid over the self that I am now — each step is a hundred steps, each breath is a hundred steps. The bark strips away from the trees like moths. The light fractures and distorts into every history of me. I am living my life, and I am reliving it, and

"It’s strange how I’m reliving it, hour by hour, with the mission of neutralizing it, and transforming it into an inoffensive past that I can keep in my heart without either disowning it or suffering from it,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote. “That’s not easy. It’s at once painful and poetic.” 

I am reshaping and finding new selves within me in this waking dream. I am living a hundred lives at once. I keep looking at the bramble and expecting it to part ways for someone who will just tell me what’s going to happen. But I know what’s going to happen. I know how this story ends. 

What I mean is — enough about dragon-slaying. Enough about bramble. Enough about fairies.

We are not quite awake and not quite sleeping. We’re trying to transform. What we do matters. Who we become matters. Our choices, our decisions will affect the future forever. Do you understand now? Can you hear me? There is no castle. There is no spindle. There is no curse inflicted upon us by an avenging fairy. The world is happening to us, and we are happening to the world. No one is coming to save you; we have to save ourselves. Do you hear that? It’s time to wake up. Wake up.

Ryan Aghamohammadi is a junior studying Writing Seminars from Woodbury, Conn. His column uses the occult and the supernatural to cast a light on his ongoing journey of self-discovery. 

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