26

When I woke up this morning, I remembered how we used to decorate our friends’ lockers on their birthday. I saw the wrapping paper and curled ribbon tacked to top locker near the room where I took History with Mr. Wilson vividly, and last night’s dream came back to me.

I was in a somberly lit hall, not unlike a museum, with doors to different lecture theaters, and I was reunited with two men I had loved in high school. I say men, because it was the boys I knew then as I imagine them to be now. I was reminded how innocent those feelings were then. How common it was to pine over someone for months, even years, with a passion fueled by the most innocuous interactions. Those years, where all you needed was the feeling of an arm brushing against yours.

How simple it is now, with physical affection exchanged frequently, easily, and thoughtlessly. In the rare cases when I’m forced to wait, I turn to the nearest willing participant and pull them on top of me in order to suffocate those feelings

I don’t know quite how I managed to retain my sanity as I floated down the hallway behind these boys all those years ago, hoping for moments in dark corners backstage, scheming a hundred scenarios that could lead to just one kiss. None of my silly plots ever manifested that kiss, alcohol did. Drunkenness allowed us all to shed our reservations and fears, and swap saliva in an unflattering and ultimately destructive way. The things we wanted to do had consequences.

I’ll never regret those kisses. But, it occurs to me now that ultimately, both resented me for it. And now, I can only think of the times where a victory in love for me was a failure for him, a moment of weakness, a lesson to be learned, about what I couldn’t say.

I recognize the hunger I woke up with. It wasn’t for apples and peanut butter. It was to be back in that lecture hall with those boys from high school who I loved, and who I never questioned, and it sits in me.

It’s my birthday soon, and there is no locker to decorate… I have my own house. I guess I could fill it with balloons if I wanted to.

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The Gun in the Closet

Last night I dreamt I was searching for a gun in my sister’s closet. There were stacks of school supplies on a shelf, and clothes upon clothes hanging from every inch of space. There were shoes, and boxes. I felt suffocated, but I was under instruction to search through everything. It was hot, it was unfamiliar, and I pushed against the sweaters and dresses to open up boxes, slide aside binders, to feel everything that could have a gun hidden inside it. My arms ached as I pushed, attempting to get everything back in its rightful place lest my sister discover I had been rummaging through a space that was not mine. I felt indignant, it was a fools errand. There was too much to look through, and all packed so tightly, and I was so close to everything I couldn’t see whether I’d been thorough that box or not. And why did I have to go through the closet? And what was the point when I’d be as likely to miss the gun as find it? I had vague recollections of the dream before, when I shrunk myself so I could go flying through the air with the man I loved, but had been forbidden to leave with. And there was a forest. And there were living mountains. And it was dark. And somehow I had been sent from there to the reality of the closet to find the gun, and to bring it out.

I did not find the gun, reality rang and I was brought back to my bed and my responsibilities. But the suffocating feeling has stayed. Even in my waking life, I am searching for the gun, suffocating from the oppressive layers of memory and nurture. The gun is my power. The gun is my pride. The gun is control. But oh, it’s a struggle to patiently open up the boxes of my memory, to pat down every pocket. And it doesn’t feel like the gun is mine. And what I would do with it once I found it? Such a powerful weapon, my first reaction would be to give it away. Here, I found this, do with it what you will. But if I kept the gun, if it were mine, there is an undeniable amount of responsibility. My safety, their safety, and what about the accidents and the potential to misfire? But it could protect me. It could strengthen me. It is loaded with potential. But I have to find the damn thing before someone else does.

So I search, now, in my waking hours.

To My Drama Teacher

Dear Mr. Herron,

In my dreams you are the manifestation of all my insecurities. In high school, your form of mentorship involved a lot of threats, public humiliation, and the occasional begrudging compliment. I thought you hated me, and I was desperate for your hard earned approval. I’d never been pushed to be better before, so I had no idea what you were doing. Years later you admitted you saw potential in me, and I finally understood that every stern reprimand was an investment in my future.

And yet, since high school, 99% of my anxiety dreams take place on a stage. We’re mid-performance, I’m backstage, and would you believe it but I can’t find my costume and don’t have a damned clue what my lines are. I don’t even remember rehearsing! You were always on my case about memorizing my lines. I always waited till the last minute. I guess it’s apt. Anyway, normally there is a lot of rushing around, I find a costume that isn’t mine but at the very least isn’t my street clothes, and I get on stage. I start to freak out internally while trying to make sense of the scene. I try to come up with something appropriate when people turn and give me the “it’s your line, Lili” look. It’s mortifying, I wake up exhausted, and I think of you.

Last night I started have the same dream (different show, of course). We were in some sort of musical, and Lauren Buglioli was the lead as always. I was totally lost backstage, but it was coming up to the final number so I figured “Eh, I’ve made it this far, what else is there to do?” I got dressed as best as I could with what I was given and thought I looked pretty cute in it. I couldn’t find my shoes so I wore flip flops. I realized I was supposed to be on stage when good ol’ Lauren gave me the stink eye (again, a remnant of high school anxiety, courtesy of our well-established leading lady). I walked onstage in a line with other characters. I was close to the front, and people were singing. I got the feeling it was my verse, but I had no idea how it went. This time, instead of trying to fake it, I just smiled, bopped along to the music, and let some girl in the back with a faltering voice cover my solo. She knew the words. She was waiting for her chance to shine. And yes, it sounded terrible. If I had known the words I would have sung it so much better, but I didn’t. The funniest thing about it was that I didn’t feel panicked at all. I thought the whole thing was rather amusing. I even remember saying to myself “Ha, this is just like those dreams I used to have!” while totally convinced it was real life. I didn’t give a damn that everyone would be pissed at me later. The audience didn’t really know what happened. The show went on. This dream is no coincidence. I’m kinda doing a two-bit shuffle on the stage of life right now. I guess this means I’m okay with it?

The thing that really gets me about these dreams is the total lack of preparedness I feel every time and the knowledge that it didn’t have to be that way. I think that’s what you were trying to hammer home in your sardonic fashion. I have potential, and I’m wholly unprepared. What I haven’t quite understood is if there was any way for me to be better prepared, or if life is just one big improv and a single curtain call. Should I just bop along, smile, and be okay with it? I don’t know. Regardless, I could really use a mentor like you again. You are one of the only people who told me to cut the crap on a daily basis, and one of the few adults I respected then and now. It means so much to me that you pushed, even when I stubbornly dug my heels into the ground. I needed it. I still need it, now more than ever.

I hope you’re well, and that your students this year know how lucky they are to have you.

Love Lili

To The Bus Driver

Dear Bus Driver,

When I was small I had a recurring dream about an evil witch who, in no uncertain terms, was trying to kill me. It comes around, bizarrely, every four years and tends to last two nights. The first night I usually wake up moments before she vanquishes me. The next night, now familiar with her new tactics, I have the upper hand. When I was younger, I would be terrified of going to sleep the second night, I was already familiar with the world I was about to enter and scared that this time, this year, I might not wake up.

I remember one encounter in particular that I want to share with you. I was eight, and about half way through what would be four years of persistent bullying by the majority of my classmates. The witch , who was a terrifyingly familiar face, was chasing me through the forest which had various school-ground play structures scattered amongst the trees, and blackberry bushes. The blackberry bushes were significant for two reasons. Firstly, my ex-best friend/worst bully and I used to hunt for blackberries in the bushes near her house. Secondly, the blackberry bushes with their piercing thorns and wild branches were the only place I could hide without the witch being able to follow me. I was small enough to slip under them, she was not. It was the second night, and I was in hiding under the blackberry bushes, and the witch had me cornered when she dropped her magic wand and it rolled towards where I was hiding. I grabbed it, seeing it as my chance to defeat her, and waved it sending dark sparks shooting towards her. The dark sparks, as you may guess, were destructive black magic. Instead of weakening her, being hit by the powers of her own wand made her stronger. She laughed and grew more powerful as I continued to hurl black magic at her. I was petrified, and she had become so strong that she was able to push through the blackberry bush towards me. Suddenly, I understood where I had gone wrong. Even as an eight year old I had a small grasp on the concept of love’s power and opposing forces, so I kissed her wand and waved it towards her, sending out an entirely different shade of sparks. These hit her with the force I intended, and I continued to kiss the wand and wave it over her with a shower of white and gold light until it consumed her and she vanished, and I emerged from my refuge under the blackberry bushes exhausted and relieved. I had some moments to sit in the forest and reflect on what I had accomplished before morning took me back to the world you and I share. Unlike so many of my other dreams, every vivid detail of this one is burned into my memory.

I share this story with you because you were being an asshole today. You drove past another rider and I who were sheltered from the rain four feet away from the bus stop, and walked towards it as we saw you approach. You purposely zoomed past, forcing us to run after you. You stopped around the corner, but I am positive it wasn’t out of kindness. I think you wanted a confrontation. I hotheadedly engaged, and both of us were riled up once I sat down. I ran through all the things I could say to you once we had gotten over the bridge, the ways that I could embarrass you in front of the other passengers, or how I could make you feel guilty by showing false compassion and asking you what was wrong because clearly you were looking to spread your anger to others. As a bus driver, you’re in the unique position of being able to collect and distribute bad moods along the same route as you collect and distribute passengers. I wanted you throw it back in your face, but then something switched. I realized if I retuned all that darkness to you, with the passengers as my audience, it would just fuel your burning resentment against lord knows what. You were angry before I got on the bus. You were angry before you knew I existed. Your actions weren’t personal. You don’t know me. You don’t have anything to hold against me. My standing a few feet from the bus stop was just an opportunity for you to be hateful, and if it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else. You just feel like shit, and you wanted to pass it along. You wanted a reason to be angry so that you could release what ever funk you’ve bottled up elsewhere. That’s really selfish of you. Lucky for you, me, and the other passengers I’m not eight years old anymore and I control my temper. So, I’m not even going to blow you a damn kiss. I’m just going to vanquish you with the power of my mind, bitch.

Love Lili