I opened my eyes.
The window was still there, as unlikely as it was, beside the one-way, glassed observation room. If it had been a normal window, it would have looked into the observation room, the attached electronics closet, or the hallway beyond both, but it wasn't and as such, it didn't.
I always insisted on a tour around my room before I would settle down in new quarters, and the doctors gave in, believing it affected my neurosis. They kept moving me, hoping that something would be different enough that my behavior would change, but it never did. The simple fact of the matter was that they couldn't see the window; however, that didn't make me think it was any less real.
I knew my imagination was top notch, but there are some things that even the mind can not be tricked into, even within the realm of a full-fledged dream. I could make myself taste and smell food, rich and delicious, and other things, notably less so; I could make myself feel textures rubbing against me; I could make myself hear sounds that were never there; I could even make my internal gyroscopes fluctuated from imagined gravity shifts. However, I could never imagine into reality the feeling and warmth of sunlight on my skin, or the chill and wildness of moonlight. When I sat in front of that window, I could feel them both as the days wheeled by, at an altogether different rate than that of our own.
This window looked out onto a world that was as real as our own, if not more so.
The walls of my cell were padded enough to sleep on, springy enough to keep me from injuring myself if I chose to, warm enough to keep me from growing cold. I slept in there, took my meals in there, and even my doctor visited me there for my examinations. I was considered a danger to myself and others, but for different reasons.
I was considered a danger to myself because I would stare out the window to the exclusion of everything else, including eating, until the doctors discovered that they could place food in front of me during one of my "episodes" and I would eat it. On occasion, I would throw myself at the "apparition" that I saw in the wall.
I was considered a danger to others because I spoke of freedom from prisons between my "episodes." The doctors feared I was trying to stage a riot or a coup, but I was talking about the Cavern.
They found me in my apartment. I had cleared out all my belongings, and empty bookshelves were piled dangerously in one room. My bedroom was empty except for my bed-frame, and I has tied myself down to it, binding my head in place with the window to my back. I stared at a bare wall.
I was unconscious, my body gaunt and nearly void of life--I'd been in that position for several days, unmoving.
It was easy to close out the world, sitting in a white room on a comfortable floor, watching a world through a window that only I could see.
I didn't feel like I was in a prison any more than I had before they brought me in, because I knew that our world was a prison, with bars only I could see. I wasn't seeking to overthrow the guards or the doctors, and I wasn't trying to free anyone but myself.. I knew and acknowledged the fact that if I couldn't free myself first, I would never be able to show others the way.
I recognized the risk that once I was free, I might never be able to get back, but my dreams were clear enough to give me hope.
Next time you're in the shower, soap up your body last. Go ahead and turn off the faucet, once you've got a good balance of lather and steam, to make bubbles in the ring of your hands. Slowly make them larger, until the bubble is ringed by your arms, hands, fingertips barely touching, and chest. Watch the bubble's surface, the reflection of yourself stretch and writhe.
Take a breath, lift your hands over your head, still keeping the ring and bubble intact, and dive into it. Sometimes it helps to soap up your nose too.
The first time, I closed my eyes. I still close them, the transition is rough enough without having to watch it.
The first time, I came out of the other side of the bubble under water. I still do sometimes, but my aim is getting better.
The first time, I had to lather up my whole head, slick back my hair, and dislocate my shoulders. It still hurts, but it's worth it.
The first time, I couldn't get back.
They say some people can cross just by holding their hands out in front of them, index fingers and thumbs forming a ring. Through that ring is all most people see, all they can see, all they want to see. Focus on the ring, until something steps into your peripheral vision. Step sideways and follow it, keeping your eyes on the ring of your index fingers and thumbs. Step sideways through the veil.
The first time, that's how I got back.
Time was passing meaninglessly, and I never bothered to count the days. The lights in here never dimmed at night, never were bright enough to keep me awake. My feeding cycle was regular. They left food in my cell in front of where they supposed the window was and took the remnants back after I had eaten. Sometimes, the food sat there for several hours, but never more than a day.
Even if I had had a way to tally the days, there would have been no reason to: I did little enough of that when I was out in the world, my schedule so regular that the months flew by without me noticing, sometimes startled by the coldness of the air when stepping outside after working like a zombie through the summer.
My paychecks were automatically deposited in my checking account, my rent automatically taken out. If the balance got over a certain level, the difference would automatically be transferred into my savings account, and the reverse if it went below a certain level. I paid for everything with my debit card, and carried no cash.
I usually slept in front of the window, often being comforted by the warmth of the sun shining through it onto me. I never noticed whether I tanned or not, and wouldn't have been surprised either way.
One day, I woke and someone was looking back at me. When they noticed me raising myself back into my sitting position, they started banging on the window. I slid forward and put my hand against it.
They were clearly shouting, but I couldn't hear a word. I mimed back, and when they had calmed down enough to see, they calmed down, sat on the grass on the other side, and mimed back.
Sometimes she was there and sometimes she wasn't. Sometimes she left suddenly, or appeared suddenly, but it didn't seem to be a big deal.
Through our conversations, I learned her named was Beijing, and shared my own: Cairo.
She knew what I was trying to do, and tried to discourage me. Life on the other side was hard: dangers everywhere and places of safety few and far between. But the colors were more vivid, just as they were in my dreams, and I couldn't live forever in this place, knowing there was something more.
She had felt the same way, at first, but now she couldn't get back.
I tried teaching her the trick I had learned, after learning myself that fiction was more true than anyone knew, painted as fiction to keep us safely trapped.
She stopped coming to see me, and I slipped back into my unenthusiastic routine.
There was a commotion outside my cell, and the observation window that I could never see through, vibrated like someone was pounding on it.
I stood carefully, my legs not used to holding my weight. I placed my hand gently on it, feeling the vibrations. I recognized the pattern.
Somebody once said that the only difference between a door and a window is that windows are harder to open, and harder still to pass through.
But not impossible.