I am a purple mushroom. I am also the world’s leading researcher on the effects of sleep deprivation in the modern world and it’s detrimental effects on society. These things are not mutually exclusive.
I grew up in the forest, as many mushrooms do, clinging to a rotting piece of wood, devouring it. Both alive and dead. Both unalive and undead. Typical mushroom things.
Also, I’m really cute.
One cool thing about mushrooms that you may not know is that we all have at least one human body that we pilot and control. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On the 5,494th day of my conscious thinking, a bug sat on me. Now, in all my consciousness, I’d never seen a bug like this. It was winged, glowed red, and looked to be carrying an ancient and unknowable burden, something common across all bugs.
What struck me as strange about this one in particular was how it laid on me and died.
To be fair, a lot of bugs do that. They don’t live long, and to be honest, I don’t talk to bugs much. Their life and movement within it are so inaccessible to my experience of not really living that we don’t have much to say to each other. And also, I can’t speak bug.
But this glowing bug laid on me deliberately. It walked the perimeter of my cap three times, nestled in, and died.
“Huh, how strange,” I thought and then immediately blacked out. When I awoke, I was no longer a purple mushroom but a limbed, lumpy blob and I cried and cried for the unlife that I’d lost.
Eventually, I forgot about my mushroom origins, the glowing bug, and my birth into the human world. I started school and learned letters and made friends. A well adjusted human child that had never been a purple mushroom consuming a dead tree sort of situation.
I always loved purple, though.
When I was 17, I fell asleep at 3:38 a.m. while studying for my chemistry final. I dreamt of a forest and a glowing, red bug, and when I woke up, I felt old but in a good way. “Huh, how strange,” I thought and then rushed to school.
I started having this dream again and again. Every time the details came further into focus and my recall became more clear. It occurred twice a year until my 34th birthday. Then, I dreamt of it every night.
When my dreams became a nightly reality, they changed. I didn’t just live in the forest with a red, glowing bug, I became the purple mushroom it sat upon. That night I knew the bug was dead and that its death was somehow significant and I couldn’t explain to my husband in the morning why I couldn’t stop crying.
I experienced that dream, and only that dream, 730 consecutive times. On the night of my 36th birthday, I came to the conclusion that I was the purple mushroom.
I knew I had to find it. Me.
That is what I told my husband, in a way. He thought it was a midlife crisis brought on by working too much. He begged me to just buy a sports car like all the other men my age.
“I have to find myself,” I told him. Not explaining that ‘myself’ was a purple mushroom.
Luckily, with the years of dreams, I had memorized the layout of the forest I lived in and the identity of the trees and narrowed my location down the Pacific Northwest. I booked a flight to Oregon and did a lot of camping. A lot of camping.
There was a lot of ground to cover. I could be anywhere.
Each night while sleeping, I’d be the mushroom and I’d look for myself that way too. I’d feel the vibrations in the forest floor, listen to the chatter of the birds. They understood me in a way bugs can’t. And finally, after 207 days, the birds were talking about me.
I woke up that morning with a crow perched on my chest. I packed my things and followed the crow. We were friends, I knew, from my nighttime mushroom existence. Somehow, it had recognized me. They don’t get enough credit.
One hour before dark, I found myself.
I was careful not to step on any other mushrooms during my approach lest they were someone else I know.
I sat in the spot I’d grown so familiar with over the years only now seeing it from the perspective of a human. I laid on the ground, next to the purple mushroom with a faintly glowing red spot, and went to sleep beneath the stars.
That night, my dream was different. I saw myself sleeping. I observed the way I breathed and adjusted. How young I looked in the moonlight. I watched the bugs crawling on me and I wasn’t disturbed in the slightest. That’s how it’s always been.
I woke up and I kept dreaming. I was the mushroom and I was the human.
I’m currently sitting here, on the forest floor, while simultaneously perched on the rotten log. It’s like looking in an absurd mirror. Which is the real me? Does it make sense to try to delineate? What would happen if I crushed the mushroom that is me?
I found myself and I don’t know what that means. It only begs more questions than it answers. I’m trying to remember my name, to separate my consciousness again, but I can’t remember what that was like. I’m no longer sure I have a name. I’m not sure I need one.
The days pass and the nights pass and I am alive but not; dead but not.
I have always been a purple mushroom and for a time I was a human. These things are not mutually exclusive. I know another glowing bug will visit me someday and then I will learn more letters and find myself again. But right now I am a purple mushroom and I am going to feast.