|It’s not something one should focus on too much, I suppose; it’s not as if it holds much relevance. But I keep having these dreams. Dreams of scenes that have already happened, a long time ago, before my hair was long and before I moved into the new apartment above that coffee shop with the great breakfast scones. These dreams linger throughout my days – sometimes just a gentle hum, sometimes a screeching siren that is impossible to shut out. Over and over, I dream about walks and I can’t find where I’m going, I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know how I got here. And, what is most startling, I usually can’t see you and yet I know you’re there.
Mostly it’s just an interruption, that’s all. I catch myself, usually at the grocery store or driving home, and I don’t know how I got to that place. My mind wanders far away. Preoccupied. My feet move and then there I am, somehow in aisle nine, between rows of split peas and vinegar. Or instead of going back to my house, my car is in front of my old high school. For such tall buildings and regal structure, I always found the hallways so small, the ceiling low, the air thick and hard to breathe. I turn my car around and pass the doorway of the gym, where Tom Hobbs asked me to prom. I said yes. His suit didn’t match my dress. I didn’t mind too much if I’m honest; he was mostly off preoccupied in a quest for alcohol, while I was preoccupied with deciding where in the world to travel first, far from the celebration hall with its streamers and balloons and berry punch.
There is the dream that keeps coming back where I am walking through a hallway, turning with the curves of the corridor. I haven’t quite figured how to get out, but it also doesn’t seem like I’m trying that hard to escape. I find that troubling when I wake up, wondering why I wouldn’t at least try some of the doors. I am a disgrace to lab rats everywhere, in their mazes, with veins full of foreign substances, trying to throw themselves over walls in pursuit of the free world.
I dream about holding hands a lot, about waiting in line and holding hands. About waiting to surprise the birthday boy and holding your hand in a strange living room with dark wooden arches at the doorways. About holding your hand at the basketball game, sitting so close to the court and not keeping score, not caring if home or away came out on top. Sometimes when I’m the last one to leave work, I am reminded of when you sat there with me, no one else in the rows of tables and chairs. You were worried, and I was still only 20 – cold from the unforgiving bite of Toronto’s winter. You did take my hand then, it wasn’t imagined, we sat there for only a second and 100 centuries and reassured each other with “I believe”s and “one day you will”s.
And that old ring, it haunts me. It was given to me at a time when it was easy to have faith in a love that lasts for a long time – the kind you believe exists when you’re but a young spring day in the ways of passion and you haven’t yet been disappointed by love lost. The kind you believe, even for just a few minutes, you could have after a first date that goes really well; you call your best friend to recount all the accomplished events that will lead to a guaranteed second date (you were both on time, the unique-though-not-so-abstract-that-you-wouldn’t-find-something-you’d-eat restaurant that he picked which shows that he’s both creative and also takes initiative, the wittiest of conversations, the shy side glances, the fiddling of keys, perhaps a silent kiss goodnight, plus you remembered to shave your legs so it couldn’t have been any better). It is the ring that I had and lost and is sitting somewhere under a couch or on the hand of another. I dreamed, before it was even given to me, that it was from you; you found it and knew it was mine. And now I have dreams that I see it everywhere but I can’t have the ring back. I see it on my sister’s hand. I see giant replicas while walking through art galleries. I see it on my floor and try to pick it up but it burns my hand, it turns into a herd of hissing spiders, it is a circle of snakes that ensnare me and squeeze me, tight against my ribs. And then, just last night, I dreamt you again brought it back to me, no serpents, no bugs, and it fit like a soft second skin.
On my left hand is a ring that marks the convention of forever-and-always, and our union matches its circular form: ongoing. Returning and returning again to the same meal rotations, the same drive to the country to see my mother with the same argument in the car as to the appropriate time to leave so as to miss the most traffic. On the weeks leading up to our wedding all of my dreams were filled with marrying all the wrong men in their shirts and suits and ties, and of girls in matching pink dresses. I once dreamt of an awful ceremony rehearsal, standing there in stark white, my father crying in the front row, and of breaking for lunch before the real-deal as if we were on a movie set, breaking for catered croissants. I drove through the parking lot of a closed-down strip mall and you walked in front of my car, my dress filling the passenger seat, and you paused once you crossed the street to tie your shoes. It all seemed so real, but I would never choose pink as my wedding color and you don’t wear shoes with laces, the giveaways that they were all just a dream.
He is the safe choice, a quiet harbour of a man. With him everything is exactly as it appears. I have come to admire his certainty, his sound determination to continue our lives exactly how we’ve planned. We have built a well-oiled machine, a strong diesel, a great ship, reliable in stormy waters. We are the ferry from one side of the riverbank to the other, back and forth every fifteen minutes. Solid, with heavy bolts and even angles.
But I worry that I’ve always loved you and never knew it.
I dream about loving you and never telling, loving you and forgetting and remembering when it’s too late.
I dream about watching you with a girl with a quiet laugh and trying to tell you that she’s not the one you’ve been looking for.
I dream about sitting with him as you leave my house, and – drunk on sleep – calling after you, “Surely there has been some mistake that I am here with him and not you, my love.”
It is in a hazy dream that I get ready, every day wearing these same clothes except when they get holes. Then I replace them, though it’s all mostly a variation of the garments that came before.
These dreams I must lay to rest, for isn’t it the true sign of a living thing that it is a growing, changing unit? There is evolution, there is survival of the fittest: there are feathers that grow thick for winter, or hair that grows past our shoulders, or hearts that grow more resilient. By definition these dreams aren’t alive then, for there is no change, only amplified confusion and a betrayal of loyalty. Yes, away with these silly dreams, for there are bills to pay and my living room needs painting. But then a tiny memory of sitting in a car with you in the middle of the night talking about how big the world is, and a little whisper resounding in me, “This is the most alive I have ever been, here, with you.”
[this piece was published in the July/ August double issue of This Great Society, a creative online journal. See the whole issue here: http://www.thisgreatsociety.com/