A few months after the accident I had an idea for a short film about a quadriplegic who lives in a dream. During the day, lying in his hospital bed, he can't move, of course. But at night he dreams that he's whole again, and is able to do anything and go everywhere. This is someone who had been a lifelong sailor, and who had always loved the water, and he had a beautiful gaff-rigged sloop. Not like my boat, the Sea Angel, which was modern and made of fiberglass. In the story the boat is a great old wooden beauty, whose varnish gleams in the moonlight.
In his dream he sails down the path of a full moon, and there's a gentle breeze, perfect conditions-the kind of romantic night sailing that anyone can imagine. But by seven in the morning, he's back in his bed in the rehab hospital and everything is frozen again.
The dream is very vivid. And as time passes it becomes even more vivid. At first it's just a dream, and he recognizes it as such. But suddenly one night he finds himself actually getting out of bed and leaving the hospital, fully aware of walking down the corridor and out the door, then into the boat, which, magically, is anchored not far away. And he gets on board and goes sailing, long into the night and the moonlight. Soon these voyages become so real to him that when he wakes up in his bed at seven in the morning, his hair is soaked. And the nurse comes in and says, "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't dry your hair enough last night when I gave you a shampoo. You slept with wet hair." He says nothing, but he's thinking that his hair is wet from the spray when he was out on the water.
One time he comes back still wearing his foul weather gear, and he has to hide it in the hospital room closet because the nurses are going to wonder where it came from. Now his wife and family, his wife and children, have been very distressed all along because, since he became paralyzed, he has not been able to pull out of a serious depression. He has shut them out of his life. His children are afraid of him because he is not himself and they don't know how to be with him, and his wife has been talking to the doctors and the psychologists at the hospital about what to do because he is apparently unable to cope or to come out of his shell.
But as he continues to go sailing in his dreams and as these dreams become more and more real, his mood begins to improve and he seems less withdrawn. In the mornings he is more content and much more communicative. His wife notices the change, but she can't understand it, and he won't explain it. It's not something that he can talk about. He's not sure if he's going crazy. He thinks that he may be losing his mind. But since the family is feeling the benefit of his improvement, his dreams are making their life together happier.
He sails in Tenants Harbor, or a similarly idyllic spot in Maine, and there's a fellow there, an older man, who always turns on the light in his cabin down by the water when our man is sailing. He doesn't sleep very well, and he always gets up to watch the younger man go out in the wooden boat. Sometimes he comes down to his dock, and we can tell from the yearning in his eyes that the sailboat is something he loves and admires. Not that he's jealous, but he never misses a chance to see the boat sailing so beautifully in the moonlight. Well, there comes a time when our protagonist realizes that these voyages offer a way of escaping from his paralyzed condition, that he could just sail and sail on happily-it's what he loves most in the world-until one night he would go out into the middle of the ocean, and he wouldn't take supplies or anything. He would just sail until he dropped. And he would die happy. He would just go sailing down the path of the moon, as far as he possibly could go, and leave everything and everyone behind him.
Use of this excerpt from Still Me by Christopher Reeve may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Christopher Reeve. All rights reserved
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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