I have this recurring nightmare that I’m lost in the city
where I used to live. It’s like that city but it isn’t really that city. The café
only serves drinks that don’t make sense—upside down pineapple smoothies that
come in empty glasses and only as you’re taking sips of nothing do you taste
the cool and the sweet and that sharp numbing tang. And Radical Raspberry Raves
which make you see the world in Red and White and no one ever looks beautiful
but they still always look like they’re just the right one for you.
And this city has a street that opens into the sky sometimes
and sometimes it’s the sea and once it was just nothing but the dark, the dark
at the edge of my sight, that one kind of dark that used to keep me up at night
because I thought if I went to sleep in it then everything would change while I
was sleeping and when I woke up no one would know me anymore.
Sometimes, in the nightmare, you’re here. You’re always
walking away from me, around corners, up the stairs, going through doorways. I
always think that if I could just catch up to you, just once, for a second,
then I’d tell you something that I’ve never told you and it would make you stop
moving. I never catch up to you though. In my dreams I’m slow. In my dreams I
walk like I’m underwater. In my dreams I never call out to you because my mouth
is filled up with sand. Or I do say your name and it comes out as bird song or
as water falling or as a prayer in another language that you never did learn
though you kept promising to.
And in the nightmare I’m always talking to people who want
to sell me maps. Every store I go in sells them and they all are different and
every shopkeeper wants me to buy one from them. I ask where they lead but they
only lead where the one who buys them wants to go. I say that I don’t know
which one will do the best job of leading me. The people always ask where I
want to go most. I stare at them and stare and sometimes I answer. And
sometimes I shrug. And mostly I do nothing but stare.
I often wake up out of this nightmare and draw maps. There are
streets and stores and places that I’ve never been to.
Now I have two hundred maps and none of them lead me
I dreamt last night that I was in Spain but Spain was an
island overflowing with volcanoes. There were ways out but they were all along wooden
docks. The docks led out a million miles into the sea. We ran them until we
couldn’t run them anymore. Did you know how cold the water could be? It was
like jumping into the night sky. It felt like falling past all of those stars. They
had seemed so bright until you were inside them.
And there were people everywhere along the docks. The women
kept drowning themselves. They’d jump and then sink and then would be flung
back out. The water from their hair sending sprinkles across us all. Alive
again they’d look surprised. But eventually, they always rejumped. The surprise of taking breaths only lasts so
long I guess.
And there was a man waving to ships. He jumped up and down. He
kept yelling out names of famous doomed boats. He wanted everyone to know he’d
never sail anywhere. He wanted everyone to know that living was easiest if you
never went anywhere. Easiest or safest? I asked, but he said they were the same
thing told in different ways.
At the very end of the dock, I said I wanted to turn around,
go back. I said that volcanoes weren’t that bad. I liked the heat. The ash I
could deal with, I could find anyone just by the shape of them. You said no, you wanted to jump, even just
once, taste the cold. I asked if you knew how cold the water would be. I’d done
it once a thousand years ago. I never forgot that ice. You smiled, said
nothing, and fell backwards through the night.
Tell me that your favorite color is the color of dust. Or that
you like it best when I lie to you. Tell me that there are spaces scattered
across the world where you’ve left pieces of yourself and if I can find them
all then I can have you. Tell me that there are only five things that I really
need to know about you and only two of those are true.
In return I could tell you that when I close one eye at a
time I can see the way that shadows can: everything off to one side, muted,
somehow more beautiful. Or that my favorite color is the color of dying stars.
Or that I once drank wine out of a conch shell and it tasted salty and sweet
like the waves.
Tell me that when you wake up in the mornings you sometimes can’t
remember how to pronounce your own name. Or that as a child you liked every flavor
of bubblegum but especially the ones that colored your tongue when you chewed
them for too long. Or how when you go running you sometimes feel like you’re
actually falling forward quickly.
And I’ll tell you about the time I played cards for your
heart and kept losing on purpose. Or the time I washed my hands until the lines
came off and then I couldn’t tell what could be read there anymore. Or how once
I lay down to sleep and woke up wanting everything.
And then you can tell me that you love me and I’ll listen until
I don’t know what to tell you back.
Some mornings I wake up wearing cobwebs. They cling to my skin like popped bubblegum, like cotton candy, like lake weeds and pond scum. Sometimes I try to pull them off but they tear my skin, leave me looking raw, red, over pumiced. Most often I just let them rinse away in the shower, they dissolve quickly, pool down the drain in lines of shimmering silver. The cobwebs are the easy ones.
Other mornings I wake up covered in tiny spiders. They crawl over me in waves, tiny legs digging into my skin like needles, like teeth, like bits of shattered glass. I shake them off, let them fall to the floor like dust that time I sent my breath across the top of the bookshelf. They’re hard to lose. They like being close to me, the warmth of my blood. The spiders are never as hard to accept as I expect them to be.
One morning I woke up with Death sleeping next to me. She looked so peaceful in sleep like a child lullabied to dreams, like trees in spring, like the edge of the moon from through a window. I didn’t wake her, let her sleep, breathing in and out as cities erased themselves in her dreams. I wanted to let her sleep forever, finally get some rest. She wasn’t the worst.
Most mornings now I wake up to nothing.
You told me how to say hello in 16 languages. I already knew five: bonjour, buongiorno, hola, witaj, hello.
The other eleven were new to me and I’ve already forgotten them. You had me repeat them each twice but they’ve since slipped from my tongue. Although, sometimes they come back to me, on the bus, in the grocery store, in bed, and I’ll suddenly say them out loud. I never mean to. It’s just I remember how much you liked it when my pronunciation was perfect and that’s the only thing I can think about. Maybe, I’ve said hello to people without even realizing it. Maybe, it made their day or maybe they said something back and I couldn’t really understand except enough to know that I couldn’t know their language ever.
You never told me how to say anything else: no goodbyes, I love yous, or ways to ask for someone to pass the salt. I learned a few, later, on my own. I can say forget in twenty-seven tongues. And please in thirty.
After you left, I wrote down every word I’d like to tell you. There were so many words. It was un-translatable because all of them meant something else. Finally I just wrote down: bonjour, buongiorno, hola, witaj, hello, hello, hello.
There was that time when fever robbed me.Of sleep. Of time. I woke up and thought that my shadow came alive. She wasn’t quite me. She whispered and it made me ache—a feeling like ice breaking open my bones, like the time it got so cold that the wine bottle broke cracking open from within. I think I know what she said but it was in another language, some tongue I’ll never learn to speak properly, my pronunciation always just a little off, remember how I could always roll my r’s so perfectly but everything else I did wrong?
I dreamed of water evaporating. Whole oceans becoming plains of sand, the bones of fish slowly crumbling into dust. All I wanted was a sip, even if it was salty, even if it would burn my throat and scratch my tongue and leave my body full of want. A sip. The sand tasted like crushed glass. It was dry. like those Italian cookies, ossi dei morti, which were never my favorite. They crunched, so brittle, and made me think of graveyards.
I tried cloths dipped in ice water. Draped them across my skin like bandages. My sweat like blood seeping through. I imagined that if I could just get cool I’d be saved.
When the fever chilled me, I knew I was wrong. It sent shudders through me, my breath in gasps. It felt like I was being electrified with jolts of ice.My blood forming tiny snowflake crystals in my veins. I thought I knew that winter when the ice got heavy enough it made the boughs break and down everything fell that the sound of trees snapping broke my heart. It was like history spinning backwards, life reverting to dirt, a graveyard sprouting in the midst of a city. My heart broke and the beat played backwards for days on end. You’d never be able to tell unless you listened. It was counting down not up. I didn’t know that the break could last longer.
I woke up and saw skeletons playing dice at the foot of my bed, one asked me for my luck. All of it? I asked. Only the luck of your heart, they said and that seemed an easy enough thing to gamble.Rolled dice. The numbers never quite added up right.I’ve never been so lucky.
When the fever finally broke I felt like a child again playing at loss by the river. I found beautiful stones and those were the ones I’d throw back into the water. I’d watch them hit the surface and the ripple reminded me that I was alive. Still.
There was that time the fever robbed me. Of sleep. Of time. Of something I can’t quite name.
(A free write for T.N.)
There were exactly twelve things that I told myself not to
tell you. Twelve things. They were small and didn’t mean much but I didn’t want
you to think less of me because of them. Twelve things. When I wake up
sometimes I can’t remember which room I’m in and sometimes I can’t remember
what the ceiling of my bedroom is supposed to look like and all I want is to
stay in one place so that I’m never not under the same roof. I can curl my
tongue into five different shapes and they each have silly names which don’t
quite do justice to what I’m doing—the four leaf clover or the wave. I collect
skeleton keys because I found one once buried near some stone steps that jutted
out of the forest and lead nowhere and I all I really ever wanted to believe was
that I’d find some lock, any lock, to open. My favorite kind of candy are violet
pastilles because they taste like they belong in fairy tales and they make me remember
cough syrup made from flower petals and the scent of clean sheets and sleeping
when I used to be able to sleep well. I listen to my favorite songs over and
over until I can’t help but hum them and it feels like the music is actually a
part of me and is flowing out of me. I used to want to be a singer but I kept
forgetting how to sing. I like the color
of your eyes because they make me think of something I can’t name but have
never forgotten, some story that I wanted to retell to children but could never
quite remember right. My favorite game is Hearts and I’ve shot the moon on a
hold hand and I like to shuffle cards because it’s the most soothing feeling I’ve
ever experienced and I like to do magic tricks and make all the queens in a
deck disappear. I sleep mostly on my side, I sleep the best when it’s cool out.
Sometimes I hear waves crashing on a lake even when I’m in the middle of a
field. I used to be afraid of flying kites, I thought that holding on to
anything meant something I wasn’t ready for. I’m already thinking that I’ll let go
of you too and so I miss you even though you’re here. There are exactly twelve
things I should probably have told you before this.