As far back as I can remember, dreams came easily to me. Every night, beginning in early childhood, I would land in a vivid scenario with a well-developed plot and few if any fantastic elements. As a lonely child, I dreamed of having different parents and living in a house with a white-tiled bathroom, a happy mother and a VCR. I also dreamed of burned farmland and fishermen drowning in beer-colored waves.
In my teens and early twenties, dreaming became a hazard of my field of study, and then of my profession. My mind began constructing my dreams of whatever I read, watched or agonized over during the day. When I was studying the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for my international law class, I was shot at point-blank range by paramilitaries and bled to death on my grandmother’s favorite rug. When I was working in Bosnia, I stood trial for war crimes and squirmed under the judgmental gaze of tribunal interns. During the nights of my time resettling refugees in Upstate New York, I was recruited into an Afghan civil war militia and froze to death alone in a bombed-out building during the winter of 1994.
Happy dreams were few and far between then, but compensated for their infrequency by brilliantly outshining anything I had experienced in my waking life. They fulfilled not only personal-life wishes for romantic love and belonging, but also desires for large-scale, history-turning progress. In one shimmering dream, I attended the ceremony marking Bosnia’s integration into the European Union.
My dreams stopped for the first time early this year, when I moved to Afghanistan to work. Sleep became a pool of black quicksand I fell into at night and during long car rides. It became an off switch. Instead of feeling relieved, I was disturbed. Reality had finally overtaken my imagination. My hands and feet touched the places I had visited so many times in my mind. I picked up old shells from the floor of the building I succumbed to hypothermia in as a teenage militiaman.
About a month ago, the dreams returned at full volume with the strong antibiotics I began ingesting to reclaim my body from two raging bacterial infections. Now, I dream mostly about the forking paths before me, and along them the alternate futures that share a single commonality: they all remind me that life is short and impatient, and this will be another winter of hard choices.