Several people have asked me lately whether I killed my next-door neighbor*. This topic of conversation reminds me of a time long ago when I didn’t kill a different neighbor.
I was in my senior year of college, and at the time, I drank approximately eight thousand cups of coffee a day. A friend had given me a mug that had “Caffeine” written all over it, and my Caffeine mug soon became my most prized possession (my second most prized possession would have been one of those t-shirts with a picture of a caffeine molecule and the words “better living through chemistry” written on it, if I had in fact possessed one of those, which I didn’t, which is strange, now that I think about it, because that’s exactly the kind of thing I would have worn all the time back then and would wear on occasion now, except I still don’t own one).**
One night I had an extremely vivid dream. In the dream, I lived with my parents in a house on a hill straight out of a Hitchcock movie, next to an old man who lived in a similar house. For some reason, I had to babysit the old man for the evening, which I didn’t feel like doing — so of course I poisoned him, because apparently for the purposes of this dream, I was a psychopath.***
It turns out I’d made several mistakes. I’d assumed my neighbor’s death wouldn’t be investigated because he was old and, hey, old people die. I’d used my Caffeine mug as the murder weapon, which a) could easily be traced to me and b) meant that the police kept it as evidence, so I was deprived of my favorite mug. And I couldn’t just get on with my life, because everyone knew that I like to read murder mysteries, which meant that if I didn’t appear to be fascinated by this case, people would get suspicious.
In the dream, I was terrified that I’d be caught. When I woke up, I felt an overwhelming sense of remorse for what I’d done, until I realized I hadn’t actually done it. It’s hard to describe the feeling of relief that comes from realizing you haven’t murdered your next-door neighbor — it’s similar to the feeling you get when you’ve been walking around in uncomfortable shoes all day and then finally take them off, only more emotional, much more intense, and much less focused on foot pain.
Epilogue: a few days later, I went to one of my classes, and the moment I saw the professor, I realized he was the old man in my dream. You know that sense of panic you get when you run into someone you’ve recently murdered? I’ll never forget it.
***In real life, I’m not a psychopath. Trust me — I’d totally tell you if I were.