Believe me when I say I’m not the best dreamer.
While some look forward to dropping in and out of sleep cycles, I’ve been known to deep breathe my way through a series of nightmares. Just ask my childhood summer camp bunkmate, who blamed me for her drowsy performance in color wars after I whimpered all night over an imaginary bearded dragon attack. Ask my college roommate, too, who once asked me why I fell asleep in the common TV room twice a week. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I got caught in a series of sweaty night terrors in which I couldn’t escape the ‘X-Files’ theme song.
“I love the news,” I said. “Sometimes, I watch it all night,” a weak reassurance mixed with exhaustion.
There are plenty of things I’ve learned to blame for my bedtime woes. I come from a bloodline of night owls. I encountered some light childhood trauma that molded me into an even lighter sleeper. I also eat about a pound of Twizzlers every night from 10:00pm to 10:45 pm.
It’s probably the Twizzlers, if we’re all being honest here.
Even with the sugar, I’ve yet to suffer enough to do much other than fall back asleep with a light on, mostly because it all comes and goes in waves. Sometimes, I’m suffering and sometimes I’m not. Sometimes, I’m even better than just “not” — when my mind stays busy and anxiety is at bay. That’s what happens when I find new ways to close my eyes and fall into something.
That’s what happened when I started an imaginary relationship with Michael Ian Black.
Believe me when I say our first encounter was by total coincidence. My real life friends were working on a TV pilot and needed some extra support to serve as studio audience. The show revolved around werewolves. That’s all you really need to know. That and that it was hosted by Michael Ian Black, who I knew of and appreciated from his own summer camp shenanigans. He was never, however, someone I carried a torch for. I was never Mrs. MIB in study hall Trapper Keeper doodles, nor did he grace my Tiger Beat inserts — but he was good, in hindsight and still good in studio, funny and poised and mostly reserved. It was a pleasant day of filming. Parking was free. I went home at the end of the shoot and returned to things that normally occupy my time (Twizzlers, etc.) and fell asleep faster than usual.
A few seconds later, I was on a group date with a random married couple and an even more random Michael Ian Black.
He was very quiet, but kind, MIB. We split a plate of fries and joked about something with words I don’t really remember, and somewhere along the way, the married couple had to leave to hangout with a more suitable duo, perhaps. MIB and I stayed behind. We talked about many things, but mostly conversational insomnia. We talked about the infomercials that come on when it gets too late for the news to be on.
“That reminds me of this roommate thing that happened to me,” I told him. “You’ll love it.”
Michael Ian Black excused himself at one point, to move his car or whatever people drive in dreams, and I didn’t feel the relief I usually feel when someone leaves me alone in real life. I missed him in a strange sort of way, the way you miss someone you just talked to on a long distance phone call. Things got quiet, fries colder.
Before he returned to the table, a car alarm went off in my real life and I woke up, tangled in blankets and side ponytail. Whatever kind of dream it was, it was strange, but sweet — much softer than the kind I have learned to wince through. It was oddly pure and lovely and right, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the whole encounter felt nearly real — emotionally, yes, but logistically, as well. I woke up without paying, for example, which is totally something real me would do. I hoped he didn’t mind. MIB seemed like he made pretty good money, even as a dream version of himself. Plus, who knew; maybe we’d cross paths again.
It took a couple nights but it happened near a Cinnabon. Sometime after midnight, we reunited in an airport terminal, waiting on somewhere else to go together, unable to sleep and feeling salty about it. We didn’t hold hands or get caught in some swelling gaze, but I still felt like we might be something other than what we were the first time around. We talked about ghosts and about weird irrational fears. I told him about the bearded dragon nightmare, which now, in hindsight, seems like some real witchcraft sorcery that I was able to address common themes of my nightmares within a dream. Michael Ian Black asked me if I still got scared even though I knew the nightmare wasn’t real, if I knew the feelings just by approaching some simulated version of them. I told him I did, because they seemed real, the dreams, the nightmares, and that was just as good, but Michael Ian Black disagreed.
“There’s a pretty big difference between real and not real,” he said, offering me a fry from a plate that appeared out of nowhere. He followed up with a side remark that I sometimes still catch myself unpacking.
“Obviously you know the difference between real and fake, though.” He said it with a great sense of certainty, as though he polled everyone while I was awake and had time to crunch the numbers. There was something so viscerally pleasing about being questioned and understood by someone who didn’t know me at all. However he found me, I was glad he did.
Things kept up like that for a while, strange one-on-one encounters in the middle of the night where Michael and I took turns working through our neuroses. He told me that he sometimes felt he didn’t belong in his own body, like his skin was stretched too thin to keep it all in. I told him I didn’t even really know what my body looked like. We spent a whole session explaining each other to each other. He wasn’t pleased when I told him he kind of looked like a businessman who would bring the wrong kind of food on an early flight. Maybe a burrito but with the salsa poured on top.
What we were doing wasn’t textbook romance, but it was still intimate in the way that it moved. We went to a drive-in once and had a good time even though nothing was on the screen. We spent a lot of time in parking lots. I posted about one of these dreams on social media to see if anyone else had similar sentimentalities, which triggered a show and tell of others’ midnight celebrity run-ins. My high school English teacher said he once crossed paths with Casey Anthony in a dream, but he mostly avoided her, as one probably should. Clearly, he wasn’t quite as lucky. Another e-friend swore he jammed with Jerry Garcia after years of devoted truckin’ from show to show. My college yogurt store co-workers all slept with Channing Tatum. One friend texted me in private and told me to check and make sure that Michael Ian Black was, in fact, still alive, because the way he and I bonded sounded like the same soft space in which she connected with her dead dog in dreams.
I checked. Vital signs were clear.
Eventually Michael, Michael, me, and other me started to overlap as our evening trysts influenced my day-to-day, some strange superimposed glow about me. I started reading more about real MIB to try and understand why he of all people resonated in ways that nobody had done before—carving out entrances and exits to sit and eat and complain with me—but over the course of my research, I started realizing Michael Ian Black probably wasn’t as severe as I knew him to be. He didn’t openly talk about the insomnia or the skin thing he so readily accessed at the drop of an eyelid. He also rarely talked about fries. The deeper I dove, the harder it was to reconcile the space between these two versions of a man I’d grown to love to a certain degree. I hoped he was at peace in real life, but I also didn’t want him to disappear. Who was I supposed to hangout with from midnight to six?
It was clear imaginary MIB’s days were numbered. A swift moral revelation got the ball rolling even faster. On some Wikipedia source link, I came across an interview in which real MIB talked about his wife and children, which triggered a trickling of guilt within me. Anger soon followed. He never even mentioned them in any of our imaginary hangouts, which seemed very inconsiderate, again, like a man who would bring a smothered burrito on a flight. I couldn’t help but feel the farthest I’d ever felt from him, this man I literally didn’t know at all, who helped me unwind, and asked the same of me as well. Whoever he was, he wasn’t. Real from fake. He was right. There was a difference.
Naturally, I went on to worrying about what I’d analyze now that the jig was up. Worry turned to anxiety, which evolved into other anxieties, as anxiety often does. Somewhere down the line, I woke up in an almost unfamiliar sweat. Some kind of bearded dragon had returned. It was over. It was a bummer, but in some easy way, it was nice to be alone again with just myself to account for.
It’s been a minute since I’ve wandered with some version of Michael Ian Black. I can only assume he’s off on some other pilgrimage between sets or werewolf hunts, but unlike some other version of me, I’m not worried about him. Some time not so long ago, I read a piece that he penned about the place he calls home with his wife and children. ‘Wilds of Connecticut,’ he calls it, the space he’s built his days and nights, the kind of sleepy terrain where summer ice cream doesn’t come with a receipt and fries don’t go cold so easily. He writes about his life with such sensory detail that it almost doesn’t seem real. It is real. It is windswept and soft when morning breaks. The glow is not superimposed. It is pure and lovely and right. It sounds like a dream, but it isn’t one.
Believe me when I say I’m happy for him. Both of him.