I jumped from the edge of Angel Falls. The trees looked like a fluffy, green carpet below me, getting closer and closer with every second. But I wasn’t scared. As I fell, I smiled at the wonder that I could fall but wouldn’t get hurt: that when I shut my eyes, I would be transported anywhere else I could imagine. The freedom of falling without consequences had become my newest addiction, and I was searching for, and sometimes even creating, my own peaks, each one higher, more isolated and more alive than the last. I hadn’t been back for long, but I was quick to remember that adrenaline was possible even without a body, and that with the few memories I conserved of the physical earth, I could conjure up the sweet exhilaration in beautiful settings, without the fear of death.
I was quickly approaching the canopy so I started thinking where I would go. But before the branches came into focus, even before I had decided what my next adventure would be, I found myself trapped, in a narrow channel, struggling to breathe.
I felt a pair of slick hands grabbing me, patting me on the chest, fingers in my mouth. I instinctively started crying. Crying! I hadn’t cried since… I’d last been in a human body. The thought that I’d been brought back to earth, to live a new life, made me cry even harder. I don’t remember much after that, except the warmth of my mother’s milk and the sensation that rather than being found, I was once again lost.
For years I felt out of place, but I easily forgot about my origins and assumed my new body as my only reality. Even though occasionally, when I slept, I felt myself come alive again. The sensation that life was no more than what was physically around me was quickly becoming all I knew, and with this acknowledgement the deep sense of loss that I couldn’t understand oppressed me a little bit more each day.
By the time I was twelve, I had no memories of my world before this birth. I’d also lost my memories of my previous lives. I was starting all over again, except this time, the feeling that I wasn’t where I belonged was more overpowering than ever. My sadness became obvious and my mother worried constantly, which made her pay more attention to me than I wanted. All I knew was I was meant to be somewhere else, somewhere I could be free and jump off mountains. I said this to her once which led her to take me to see a psychologist. They both agreed I was slightly suicidal. I tried to make them understand that I wasn’t actually going to jump from a mountain, but that I had the sense that I should be able to. Of course, they didn’t understand what I meant.
Then, when I was sixteen, I dreamed of Angel Falls. I had never been there in this life but I knew exactly what this place was. I knew it better than I understood the physical world; I had strange, fading memories of it. In this dream, I was standing atop the waterfall, looking down at the narrow but endless trickle of water that fell through the cracked stone. I looked down tentatively, wondering why I so desperately wanted to jump. I didn’t that time, but the feeling that I’d jumped before lingered long after I awoke.
I started sleeping more. I would spend all my free time sleeping, which of course worried my mother and my psychologist even more. But I was tired of explaining it to them. At the time I didn’t know why they didn’t understand, I just knew they couldn’t. Later, when I went back, I learned that they were new souls and were living their first life on earth. They had never felt the feeling that someone who had already returned home could get from a dream; that memory of lives past, of where we came from.
So I slept and slept, each time delving deeper into my dreams, into my subconscious. Each time I remembered old memories, old places, old sensations, all of which felt new and timeless all at once. But despite my reveries, the oppression never left my chest and it was the first thing I felt when I woke up every day. I was convinced I had been pulled out of my rightful universe but I didn’t understand why.
Finding no solution to my depression besides sleep, and feeling overwhelmed by the sensation that when I slept, I was home, and when I woke I was lost, I forced myself to stop sleeping. I need to find a way to feel at home on earth: I needed to find a reason for my emptiness, and I couldn’t think logically in my sleep. Also, despite my dreams being sweet beyond reproach, the pain of waking up was more than I could bear. And so my self-imposed insomnia began. I would sit and concentrate on remembering my dreams: the places I most loved and what they made me feel, even the different identities I embodied, the different people I’d become. After a few years I had mapped out an intricate diagram of my dream world, of its dimensions and spaces, and the emotions it carried. I learned which places were conducive to good dreams, to adrenaline, to excitement, and which let to nightmares and anguish.
I hadn’t found my peace on earth, but I’d found a way to feel more at home, and once I understood it well enough, I was ready to dream again. It wasn’t easy to sleep after years of forcing myself to stay awake, but a few months later I was returning to my world, each night for a little bit longer, going a little bit deeper. I found that the memories that had helped me map out my dreams were accurate: what I remembered from my insomnia weren’t hallucinations but dream memories. The further I walked into my dream world, the more conscious I became in my dreams. I was distancing myself from the physical world more and more as the years passed, causing my mother sadness and confusion. But I had realised our realities didn’t coincide and I couldn’t take on her insecurities. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and given high-grade anti-depressants, but I never took them because they made it harder for me to dream.
In my thirties I was told I lost my mind. I had disconnected myself from my body and all that surrounded my waking moments. I had created a life of peace and beauty and fun in my dreams and it seemed to me earth simply could not compare. Sure, I had taken elements from this reality to create my world, but this shattering planet didn’t feel like home to me, not even temporarily.
My body suffered but I didn’t care. The longer I survived in this body, the longer it would take me to return home. So I allowed myself to perish, slowly, ignoring hunger and thirst and the need for activity. I also ignored my family’s pleas and their need for me to survive. I slept and dreamed, and started jumping off mountains again.
By the time I turned fifty, I was alone. My mother was unable to live with my indifference, as she put it, so she packed her things and left to a small town to live out the rest of her days in peace. She said she was sorry but couldn’t waste her life worrying about me. I said I was glad because she should enjoy her body while she had it. She said I should do the same, but I told her I’d had many bodies and I was tired. I said all I wanted was to be free and that’s why I chose to sleep and dream. She still didn’t understand, so she sighed, kissed my forehead and left. I never saw her in that body again.
I was dying on my 67th birthday. My body was finally giving up and my soul was starting to vibrate with the promise of freedom. When I left my body, I saw it was smiling. I rose with excitement and found myself back atop Angel Falls. But it looked different. The trees were grey and bare, the waterfall no more than a few droplets, lazily falling from the depleted stream above. I sank with confusion and sadness. Where was the beauty? I decided to jump, maybe the fall would bring it all back. But I just floated, much like the drops of water, and nothing changed. I landed softly on the hard ground. I had never seen this place look so bad, I had never fallen like gravity wasn’t a force that could act even upon my soul.
I sat on a boulder for what could have been nearly an eternity. Nothing changed or moved besides the falling droplets. No leaves grew from the trees and no happiness returned to me. So I started thinking about life on earth, much like had I sat and thought of my dreams when I was last there. I analysed my memories, my lives, my bodies. I thought of what I learned, what I forgot, and what I had to learn again. I remembered laughing and the feeling of life slipping away. I remembered not remembering that I had lived and died before; remembered when I didn’t know that my dream world was waiting for me after my body gave out.
And then one little drop fell right next to me and I saw a green leaf come up through the cracked, dusty ground. I looked around but it was the only one in sight. Then it started growing, growing fast and high, hardening, turning into a tree. And then it spoke to me and I recognised my mother, who had had her first death and after exploring and enjoying her own paradise, had come looking for me in my dead falls.
She said she understood now why I wanted to come back. She said she never could have imagined that her dreams were her home, she’d been so caught up in the physical world. Then she asked me if she would ever go back.
“Yes,” I said. “You will be sent back until you find your true self.” She laughed, excited at the thought of returning, of having another opportunity, of enjoying herself more the second time around.
“And what about you?” she asked me. “Will you go back?”
I thought about her question, about being born again, about having to wake up again, about dying. I was going to answer, “no, I’m finally back where I belong,” when I saw another little drop fall and evaporate in the dust. I thought about all the times I had been there after a death and how much more beautiful it had seemed after each life lived on earth. And I realised I had not lived my last life as I should have: I still hadn’t truly found myself. I had to go back, just one more time.