Night raids are mostly affiliated with war movies or robberies. But where I’m from they mean something a whole lot different. It’s said that if you got the money and pass all the tests you can be lucky enough to get night raided too. That’s what the website says anyways. Hell, the thought of someone creeping into your house when you’re asleep doesn’t appeal to everyone. But to me it sure does. “Hunter,” a low voice storms itself into the canals of my ears. The cool sheet of my bed set tangles around my wrist, tugging it in the wrong direction. “Who’s that?” I yell. The voice hides itself behind a black mask. Behind him are others; their figures tall and dark in the night. They pounce towards the direction of my bed. “Who’s there?” I say again, attempting to crawl backwards against the mattress. The men trample on me, their bodies too dense for me to battle with. A shiver climbs through the length of my spine when I feel the cold restraints clamp around my wrist. “You signed up for this man,” the same voice who whispered my name tells me. “I didn’t even get my test results! I didn’t even know if I was chosen!” I declare. “You applied, you paid, you passed. And I’m just collecting a pay check man,” the voice says again, suddenly no longer a threat to my safety. The men pull my body from the mattress, the blankets fall to the hardwood floor as I land on my feet. I feel the sleep crawl from my eyes as my they adjust to the darkness surrounding us. I count four men; two on each side, one in front, and one behind me. It isn’t long until I too wear a hooded mask. Except unlike theirs, my vision is stolen. “Hope you aint picky,” the man states. The sound of my dresser drawer slides open. The men assist each of my legs through a pair of pants. Once I’m dressed they usher me out of my bedroom and through the familiar hall way of my home, the ones my parents left me when they died. “Shoes,” the man says. Blindly, I slide my bare feet into the pair of sneakers I left on top of my door mat. The creak of the front door pierces my ears, the man’s hands tightly behind me. With one unsteady step, a chill creeps through the stiches of my plain white t-shirt; a chill only found in the empty hours of the night. The smell of exhaust tramples its way into my lungs. “Get in,” the man demands. The other men remain silent, although their presence only inches from me. I climb into the car. The smell of exhaust is quickly replaced by old cigarettes and too much cologne. “Can I take this damn thing off yet?” I yell. The only response that comes is the slamming of the car door. * “This’ll only hurt for a split second,” the man tells me. For some reason, I pictured the man in charge behind the wheel. But instead, his voice is much closer. He is seated next to me. I yank my arm from his grip. “Hey! I said it won’t hurt. It’ll only be a little pinch. Come on, that’s what they tell the kids at the doctor’s offices anyways.” “Except I ‘aint at a doctor’s office. I’m blindfolded in the back of some car,” I correct him. A tiny prick makes it way down the front side of my forearm. I grit my teeth, waiting for more pain to come, but it doesn’t. “See. Wasn’t so bad now,” the man says. A cool liquid swims through the veins of my arms, calming my entire body until I sit slumped. The car carries us along the ride, the smoothness of the road almost putting me to sleep. Suddenly I feel the car slam to a stop. All at once, gusts of cool air surround me. I hear the click of the seat belts unbuckle, the men jumping from the car. “Where you going?” I yell. “Hey! Where you going?” The doors of the car slam, leaving me stranded and alone. The cool liquid continues to march its way into my veins. I sit idle, somewhere between a night raid and Dreamland. * Moments later, I hear the doors reopen. This time, a woman’s voice screams obscenities; her voice drawing near. “Get off me, you prick! Get off!” the woman yells. “You people sign up for this crap,” the man scolds. I feel the woman’s body plop into the seat beside me. “You blind folded too?” I ask. “Who’s that?” she asks, her voice shaking. “Name’s Hunter and I’m willing to bet we’re in the same boat.” She doesn’t reply. Instead, I hear the man give her the same lecture he gave me moments before. “What comes next will only hurt a little. Just a pinch, darlin,” he says. The doors of the car shut once more. In seconds, the movement picks back up. The woman beside me lets out a squeal. “Just like a doctor’s office,” I mumble. The man tugs the piece of cloth covering my head until its free. My eyes adjust; the sky outside of the car still dark. I turn to face the woman beside me. Like I was when I first entered the car, she wears a black cloth over her head. “Dreamland,” I announce, more to myself than to her. She sits slumped in her chair, a baggy sweat shirt almost falling off of her shoulder. I stare down at my arm, the tube still transporting liquid into my veins. This is what I signed up for. I was chosen. And so was she. The man in charge reaches back to remove the cloth from her face. When he does, the woman turns to face me. Her eyes look like a color of its own, like the green and blue stripes in the rainbow should have a space between them, a color all her own. “You good?” I ask, suddenly self-conscious of the uneven stubble growing alongside my face. She shakes her head back and forth. “You’re going too?” she asks. I lift my forearm in her direction. “Half way there,” I say, my words beginning to drag. “I just took my tests yesterday. I wasn’t expecting for it to happen so soon. I thought I’d have to sign something, have a chance to rethink it. I don’t know,” she rambles. “You signed the agreement when you signed up,” the man yells from the other seat. She rolls her eyes. “I think he’s right,” I add. “And when you made the $1,000 deposit. This will be the most expensive drug you ever buy,” the man says. I watch as he lights a cigarette. He brings it to his skinny lips, the only piece of skin showing from behind his mask. “It’s not a drug. I, I, I don’t do drugs. This is supposed to be a clean escape,” she says, her voice shaking with uncertainty. He points down at the tubes plunging into our forearms. “That right there. Drugs. Addictive? No. On the market? No. Drugs? Very much so,” he says. “Welcome to Dreamland,” one of the men announces. * My eyes study the darkness outside. The layers of night like sheets of ocean running for miles and miles. I tell my eyes to ignore the beautiful woman beside me, even though she is scared and alone like I am. The car jolts into a stop like before. Another passenger? I ask myself. But the men move in no hurry. They lack urgency, plus there are no seats left inside the van. I know we are here. We have reached dreamland. “This it?” I ask. But the men are already outside of the vehicle. “Are you scared?” the woman asks. “Only because I told you my name but you didn’t tell me yours,” I say. The man yanks her arm, pulling her from the car. “It’s Dani,” she tells me. I climb out of the car, my hands still restrained. Moments later, the man makes his way to the other side of the car where I stand. He undoes my wrists. Surrounding us is miles of dessert with no obvious end. The sun stays out of view, the moon placed perfectly in the sky. “Walk about a hundred yards that way. You’ll see a butt load of tents. The scariest part, night raid and all, is all over with. Dreamland really is a magical place. Time goes by quick though so I’d get to it,” the man says. He slings a hand onto his hip. “I don’t see a tent,” Dani announces, appearing at my side. I turn into the man’s direction to confirm the direction of the tents, but he is half way in the car. The door shuts behind him and the van kicks into drive. Gusts of sand spit up in our direction. I spit the ashy substance from my lips. “Come on,” I say, unsure. The cold sand climbs over my shoes with each uneven step. I pictured myself alone here, like most of my nights. But instead Dani walks behind me, silently denoting me as the leader. “Are you sure it’s this way?” she asks. “No.” She says nothing. I stop in my tracks, allowing her to catch up. “What made you sign up for this?” I ask. My mind begins to go fuzzy, not in the way where I’ve had too much whiskey, but warm, electric. “Curiosity, mostly,” she tells me. I nod. “That and because I have an obsession with dreams. The people I see in them, why I have them, everything. If I could, I would live inside of a dream. I guess this is the closest I could get,” she adds. “I can see that. Guess that’s why most people shell out the cash. Hope it’s worth it,” I say. Just before us is what seems to be a makeshift town. Instead of concrete buildings and structures, there are rows of high pitched tents. It is like they’ve grown from the sand itself and one day sprouted up like a forest. “What about you?” she asks. “I don’t care much for reality,” I answer quickly, my tongue feeling like its tripled in its size. “Why?” she asks, the pop up town of tents only a few feet ahead. “No family left. I don’t like who I am. I know I can never escape myself so escaping reality will just have to do.” “Why would you want to escape yourself?” Dani asks. If it wasn’t for the swirls of movement running through my body I would be irritated by her nosiness. But whatever those guys pumped into my veins is telling me not to care. Whatever those guys pumped into me is making Dani’s radiance grow by the second. “Parents died, sister’s gone too. It’s just not fair. Me being here and them not. Hate myself for it,” I say. She grabs my arm. My eyes squint in attempt to keep her features in focus. “Are you going to dreamland in hopes to see them?” she asks. “No.” “Then why?” “I’m going in hopes to not see myself, to escape myself. The miserable bastard lucky enough to be alive in place of his family. ‘Livin off their hard earned money. That’s all I want,” I say. I move my eyes from her, my vision slowed. Her questions make me want Dreamland more than ever. But they also make me want to keep talking. When I blink, I am among the tents now. I am here. * Nose to nose with the first tent, I push the cloth-like door to the side. In just a half of a step, I am inside. The ground is black, the walls too. Dani comes in behind me. She latches her cold hand onto mine. I know she’s scared, so I don’t push it away. I bring my eyes to the floor. Suddenly the ground begins to move. Not in a rumbling, earthquake kind of way. But in a way that feels like you’re on a water slide with no end and no light beneath. I lose my stomach. The feeling of free falling takes the wind from my lungs. My legs, still attached, feel like slabs of rubber. The speed in which I fall picks up. I lose Dani’s hand. The long hair on my head stands straight up. For a moment I am convinced I will fall forever. Yet I feel no fear. And then it ends. I stumble around the darkness, patting at the ground, unsure if the floor will drop again. I crawl towards the door. Dani is on her feet. I watch as she pulls the door open, her questionably fear replaced with full on terror. “What the hell did we sign up for?” I ask, falling from outside of the tent laughing. But when I feel the words leave my mouth, I hear nothing. Pressure pushes against my temples. Dani stumbles to her feet. Suddenly brave, I watch as she makes her way towards another tent. I follow her, the blonde streaks in her hair intensifying as I watch her. She disappears into the next tent. I follow her. I think I’d follow her anywhere. On the other side, this time the floor is not black. It is made of money. I lose my footing, the bills beneath the sole of my shoe slipping. I land on my back. Bills begin to fall from the sky like snowflakes amidst a midwinter storm. Piles are stacked on each side of me. I watch as Dani grabs at the money, stuffing the bills into her shirt. Her smile is one that can only exist in a dream. I stand beside her now. She takes a break from gathering money and stares up at me. I imagine she wonders why I am not grabbing at the bills. But the truth is I have enough already. I didn’t come here to feel rich, I came here to escape myself. Instead of joining I let the precipitation of cash fall around me, disappointment piling up where money should be. For a moment I think Dani will never leave the second tent. To my surprise, she does. And like the first room, I follow on her heels. She falls to her knees, rows of tents running alongside us. She peers up at me, happiness stretched across her soft white skin. I watch as she pats the bills down in place, a few getting away and straying from the mound of money. “Come on,” I say, regaining my position as the leader. She leaves the pile of cash, looking back at it as we move on. This time, I pull the door of the tent back. I squint my eyes as I stare into a blue horizon. I step further into the light, feeling the floor escape from me. This time, I do not fall. Instead I am flying. I dodge trees, my speed increasing as I sore through the blue sky. My body slices through clouds as I pass them. Beneath me, where the blue floor was is now a sea of tree tops. This is the Dreamland I’ve dreamt of. I turn to find Dani but I cannot see her. At the rate at which my body flies I can barely move my neck. The air presses against me, my cheeks flying back. I know Dani is flying too, somewhere in this room. All at once the room goes black. I am on my back, my breaths choppy like the ocean before a storm. “Oh my god,” I gasp, turning on my side to find Dani. “Screw the money,” Dani says. Through the darkness, I watch her smile grow. The door to the next tent is the same as the first few. Although I know what lies behind it will be a different adventure. Nerves climb through me, so much so that even the liquid drug mixing with my blood cannot silence them. A part of me aches that the next tent will not compare to the last. But a bigger part cannot wait. I step through the door. The room is black. Dani follows. I wait ten seconds, waiting for the room to change. But it does not. The stillness and the blackness remain. I walk around the room, using my hands to guide me through the pitch black. I hear a muffled yell. It is Dani. Her voice sounds like her head is ten feet underwater. She grabs at her mouth. Before I can get to her, I too am grabbing at mine. I feel my front tooth begin to crumble. I make a small attempt to press it back into its spot, but the bone crumbles at the touch. The sensation is nerve racking, the fluttering in my stomach picking up with force. I feel another tooth fall from my mouth. And then another. There is nothing I can do. I want out of this room. I know Dani does too. I push myself from the door. Dani runs out behind me. “Dreamland,” she declares. “That was a freaking nightmare.” I continue to grab at my mouth, making sure my teeth are indeed still there. “I’ve had that dream before,” I tell her. “Except I could never feel it. That time, I felt it.” Dani stares at me, wiggling each tooth to make sure it’s safely in it’s spot. “I felt it and I hated it. But I felt. I haven’t felt a damn thing since my family died,” I add. We both laugh, moving towards our next tent. We travel through several more. We fell, we ran, we swam, we floated, we died, we were buried. The dreams seemed endless. But that man that dropped us off was right. The time in Dreamland goes by too fast. “Last one,” she says. We stand before the last white tent. The sun begins to peak up in the corner of the sky. I feel the liquids in my arm fading. “We should hurry,” I say. This time, instead of waiting for her to grab my hand, I take hers. Maybe I won’t be able to escape myself but Dreamland has led me to her. And maybe when I wake up from Dreamland and plunge back into reality, I won’t have to be as lonely as I was before. She pushes through the door of the last tent. I follow behind her. To no surprise, the room is a deep black. Right away, I feel her hands against my face. She kisses me. I wait for the surroundings to change, for the floor to drop, the air to be replaced with salty ocean water. But it doesn’t. We just stand there, kissing. I wrap my hands around her and hope she doesn’t take her lips from mine. The seconds move like minutes, making the time fly and stand still at the same time. I felt like myself when I was flying, when I was falling. But now, in the last tent, kissing here, I have forgotten who I was altogether. I got what I came for here in Dreamland. She drags me in the direction of the door, knowing that it is time to leave our final stop. I push myself from the door until I am back in the median. Dani is behind me, her cheeks crisp and red. Instead of making our way back down to where the van dropped us, we lay together in the sand. I watch as the sky strips itself from the darkness. The drug in my veins fade with the night. Dani lays on my chest, her consciousness gone but her breathing strong and heavy. I let her sleep, watching as her chest moves up and down until mine takes the same path. I fall asleep in Dreamland with Danie on my chest, unsure of who I am or where I am. * When I awake, I am back inside the van which carried me through the night across the sand dunes and into Dreamland. Outside the night sky has vanished. The sun bursts against the khaki colored sand. I reach across the seat for Dani’s hand, wishing we were still on the outskirts of Dreamland. But she is not there. The men from the night occupy the car, their masks still in place. Dani is missing. “Where’s Dani?” I ask. I lean back to see if she’s hidden somewhere, even though it is obvious that there’s no obvious spot for her to be hiding. The man behind the wheel steers the van across the dunes. A cigarette dangles from his lips like on the ride in. I pat my forearm, a small scratch where the UV of liquid was just. “Where is she?” I ask again. The man looks at me through the rearview window, his face stern. “What in the hell you talkin’ ‘bout?” he asks. “The girl, Dani. You can’t leave her!” I yell, slamming my fist against the window. For a moment I think about lunging towards him. Before I can react I feel the hands of the other men pinning me to my seat. “There is no girl,” he yells. I sink into my seat, finally understanding that he’s right. I ask once more. “The girl. You picked her up right after me and you brought us to Dreamland,” I say, my words dragging. “Oh, you mean your dream girl? Boy, don’t you know she only lives in Dreamland.”
As I make my way into the crowded gymnasium, the loud buzzer rings to initiate the start of the 4th quarter. My body moves slow as I attempt to tuck myself into an open seat. Every step that I take is joined by a new obstacle of a cheering fan or in this case, a nervous one.
Slowly, I make my way deeper into the sea of fans dressed in red. I used to be able to slip in and out of the crowd with ease. I would tuck my body under the railing and jump off the side of the bleachers onto my feet. Oh, but my body doesn’t work like that anymore. I find a seat, just a few uneasy fans in. My eyes press together and the score board turns from fuzzy to clear. The red digital letters read 57-54.
“Alright! The good guys are winnin,” I say while flashing thumbs up to the much younger boy beside me. He is wearing a red t-shirt that says Warriors on the front so I know we are on the same side. The boy raises his eyebrows and returns his attention back to the game.
The next few minutes of the game roll by. Each team is racing back and forth; laying their best efforts in the net at each end. Squeaking of rubber soles against the hardwood floors somehow find a way into my ear through the buzzing crowd. I remain seated the whole time, intensely watching. The spectators rise to their feet with every basket made by the boys in red. I remain seated and it feels like I’m at the floor of a never ending forest. The entire crowd on it’s feet, except me. I smile to myself as I watch the dedicated fans support their team.
At this point, the court is no longer in sight. I follow the game by reading the expressions on the fans faces. Finally I adjust my body and after a few seconds, I am among the crowd that stands on its feet. My weathered hands move together in sync with theirs as we watch the final seconds count down on the scoreboard.
Our boys in red are on defense with just a few seconds to go. We’re up by one. All we have to do is defend; no fouls, no shots. The coaches from each team are on their feet; shouting different sets of instructions. They know what they’re doing, I tell myself.
My eyes zoom in on the opposing team’s point guard. His body effortlessly moves from side to side, the ball in his hand and taking on the same motion. With a quick step, he moves past his defender and approaches the paint. Quickly he is greeted by a second defender in red. Before I can even blink, the ball is dished to an open man on the block. Just before the buzzer sounds, the tall boy on the block tosses the ball into the net. The buzzer sounds and suddenly the only voices in the gym are the ones of the other team.
The swarm of red fans fly out of the gym like a team of hornets fleeing their nest. I remain in the stands until my only neighbors are empty soda cans and half eaten boxes of popcorn.
Both teams line up and shake hands. One team smiling, the other encompassed in silence and defeat. I softly clap my hands together for both team’s tremendous efforts and watch the exchange of sportsmanship. Along with the coaches and referees, the teams disappear from the gym. Parents climb down from the opposite ends of the bleacher and chat amongst. Me? I stay seated and wait for what I like to call the fifth quarter.
Moments later, I hear the familiar sound of a bouncing basketball. The ball is jolted up, skimming the bottom of the net. The boy chases the ball down to retrieve the missed shot and tries again. He heaves the ball, his body twitching in an unknown motion. The ball ricochets against the rim and bounces back to him. Another miss. My eyes are in tune with his every motion. The boy flashes a smile to an elderly woman about my age before he takes his next shot.
I watch as the boys’s legs race after the ball. When he finally catches up with the bouncing ball, his hands struggle to find a grip. I watch as his fingers simultaneously take different directions in attempt to cup his palms around the ball. It is like his hands and arms are heading down a separate path from the rest of his body.
The rest of his body remains calm while his hands continue to experience a wave of electric shock. Again, the ball is rocketed into the sky and trickles off of the rim. He runs after the ball, his hands uncontrollable at his side.
I continue to examine the boy like I always do at the close of these games. He looks to his grandmother on the sideline and jokes with her. Admiration and pride pierce both ends of her smile. Soon I find myself smiling as well.
The boy begins to fall back into his odd, unfamiliar form. This time, he dips his lower body deeper than before. On his way back up, his arms take their course and his shot is up.
“See I was just gettin warmed up,” he shouts to his grandma while the ball falls between the smooth net. The next few minutes continue like usual. The boy struggles to grip the ball with parting fingers, dips his lower body, and sends the ball off into the sky in an unrecognizable manner.
The custodian is just a few feet away but he is busy collecting the hollow boxes of popcorn. I examine the deserted bleachers and cannot help but feel bad for all of the people that have already left. Why, it’s easy to cheer for a team of capable young boys that do not suffer from any physical restrictions. To me, there’s more to cheer for than that. Me, I’d rather cheer for this boy who will never have a chance to play in a real game. I bring my eyes back to the court, back to the boy that is hindered by the lack of coordination in his arms.
He fires up another shot, landing perfectly on his feet while his arms take off in different directions. The sound of the ball hitting the net warms me. I continue to watch as he continues to shoot the ball. Over and over again. The boy takes his form, which appears so foreign and uncontrollable. To him, it appears to be a motion that he has mastered. Shot after shot goes up. His expression, unchanged. Some shots go through the net while others bounce off the rim. The boy’s spirit remains untouched, confident in his form, and lost in complete passion.
As I make my way through the door to leave the gym, I smile at the boy. Although he never notices me, one day I’d like to tell him that I don’t start cheering until the fifth quarter.
The lump in my throat begins to swell until it finally bursts. A pulsing throb is released from my glands as my secret slips from my tongue. I choke on each syllable as I say it out loud. To actually hear my voice speak these toxic words sounds foreign. It is a voice I barely recognize but it is my own.
There it lays. My secret, projected from my tongue and now vulnerable and exposed on the floor for all to see.
“You’re gay?” her lip curls into the question mark that follows the query. Her words hang in the air as if they are being hoisted on a flag and waved across the room. My body slumps deep into the couch cushions as her express grows.
I cannot bear to reintroduce my own eyes with hers. She examines me as if I’ve just been born and she’s seeing me for the first time. This time, instead of welcoming her baby son into the world, I feel her trying to define this new specimen that sits before her.
A tear falls from my eye and finds a home on my bottom lip. What is she thinking? Did I make a mistake? Shit. She had to have seen this coming. The temperature in my cheeks climb to new heights like a hot summer day. The waves radiate, sending touches of embarrassment in my mother’s direction.
“I had no idea,” the words leave her lips as if they were poison. For a split second, my insides laugh at the irony. How did she not see this coming? I’m not exactly Mr. Jock. I imagine myself as a young boy, begging to play with my sister’s Barbie dolls. Maybe she doesn’t remember that I only played on the Volleyball team because there were no cuts.
She had to have known, I tell myself. My entire group of friends is made up of girls. There is no macho male best friend in my life where we go out in the back and work on trucks or watch Tuesday night football. I don’t even like football.
To me, it has always been obvious. In fact, for years I have felt like it’s been written across my forehead, stamped across my back only to serve as laughing material for my peers. I hear the whispers at school. Apart of me has always assumed that those whispers continued when I got home between my parents.
But she sits in front of me, shocked. Her eyes continue to appear in hollow form like she is no longer looking at me. It is like she is looking through me, past me.
As if I don’t even exist at all.
The only noise that fills the room are my racing thoughts. I wish I kept this in, buried. My mother sits idly and in silence. She sits in her favorite red chair. She tucks the blonde wisps of hair behind her ears and fidgets to get comfortable. Her legs move from crossed to tucked to crossed again. Her nerves seem to be overwhelming her.
I rewind to the seconds before I unveiled myself; when my mother saw me as her normal boy that would come home from college with his suitcase in one hand, his all American girl in the other. She has to say something. Anything.
Have I crushed her? I wish I could climb into her mind to see the horror of her thoughts, although I am sure I would want to jump right back out. Will she tell my father? What will he say?
Oh God. My father.
My mom has always been the easier of the two. When my dad would go off on me for not taking a more active role in sports, it would be my mom standing up to him in my defense. If she is not taking this well, there’s no way that he’s going to. My corner feels empty.
I wish she’d just say something. Anything. Instead, we both sit submerged in silence. We both sit; crippled and crushed.
My legs continue to rattle together and my head is bowed messily between my shoulders. I feel like I am unable to bear my face to what seems the world. But it is not the world, it is just my mother.
Even though it feels like a million set of eyes are examining me, there is only one pair staring back at me. This is just one person, I tell myself.
I say the words in my head again. This is just one person. To my surprise, these words fail in healing my new wound. Instead, it quickly escalates and in that moment I realize, yes this is just my mother. One person. For years I have played out how this conversation would unfold. And for years I pictured that with this one conversation, I would be free. Out. I imagined that once I spoke the words out loud in the comfort of our living room to my mother, the chains would be lifted, the mask removed. It never occurred to me until right now, as I stare into my mother’s vacant eyes, that this is just the beginning. This is one conversation of a million yet to be had.
“I just want you to have a good life,” her words disrupt the lingering silence. Her lips come together while her cheeks become soiled with salty tears. She clears her throat with a hard cough as if she is trying to smother all of her tears from parading from her eyes.
“I just want you to have a good life,” her words repeat themselves, “that’s all I want for you.”
Life. My mind chews the word up until it is fully digested. She is right. My life is going to be anything but normal. Coming out is not a singular act, it is a reoccurring conversation with every single person that enters a person’s life. Here I was thinking that that today would be some monumental milestone for me. What was I thinking? As if today was my Sweet 16 and I’d be gifted with a car and a crown. This is anything but sweet. This is a conversation that I better get freaking used to. This is my life.
The next few minutes are spent playing ping pong with our words. She speaks in short choppy sentences; not saying too much but at the same time not saying enough. I absorb her words, find my footing, and send my own back in her direction.
To my surprise, I feel my thoughts take flight and watch them fly through the body length windows that line the living room walls. Just seconds ago, the only thing that mattered was this conversation. Now, I can only think of the conversations that will occur outside of these four walls. I tune back into the familiar face on the love seat across from me. Her words trail off, my mind close behind.
I watch as the walls of my living room come tumbling down.I picture the cappuccino colored walls crumble into ash until they resemble coffee grounds. Where the walls of my home once sat, I now imagine them covered with posters of half naked girls and sports teams. The air smells of cheap beer and too much cologne. There is a boy who is holding a beer can. Cheap beer. Gross. He presses the can to his lips and does not come up for air until it is empty. A goofy smile splashes across his face and he looks to me for approval. His backwards hat fits tightly on top of his messy hair. His face is red and hides behind a soft beard.
“We should make a bet,” he wipes his mouth with his sleeve before he reaches for another beer, “who’s gonna be the first to bring a girl back this semester.”
He raises the beer in the air and instead of reciprocating the gesture, I am haunted by the familiar unsteady feeling in my legs. The walls of the dorm room morph back into the four walls that I’ve known for my entire life. I am tossed back into the seat I’ve never left.
I watch as my mother breaths in a hard, long sigh. She pats her hands against her knees and drags herself from the living room. As I watch the frame of her body disappear through the double doors, I let the walls close in on me again. Four walls; trapping me, taunting me to pull myself into the light or to let the walls collapse on me. I picture the boy’s face yet again, hidden under facial hair and beer goggles. How do I tell this boy, who appears to be my roommate, that I am not interested in picking up girls? I picture myself chugging the beer and choking on it to stop me from having to speak. What will he say behind my back? Faggot? Queer? He will surely tell all of his friends. I picture myself grabbing beers upon beers until I can finally talk myself into wanting the same things that he wants. Maybe I can pretend. Maybe I don’t have to tell him after all.
Is this what college will be like for me? Maybe I’ll just go to community college and commute. That way I won’t have to deal with a roommate or coming out to him. My mind continues to play tug a war with itself; launching itself back and forth until my head begins to pound. I take my hand to my temple to sooth the pain.
A sliver of light peers beneath the closet door that I feel trapped in. Somehow, I pull myself out. I picture myself in the dorm room with this boy. This time, instead of picturing myself drinking a beer and putting on a charade, I see myself as just that.
My face finds a home between two stray pillows that lay beside me on the couch. I want to yell and scream as loud as I can. Instead, my mind ejects me from this living room yet again.
The air now reeks of fresh brewed coffee and cleaning products. My shoes shine a deep black, a pair I do not recognize. A large bald man sits before me with his hand across his swollen stomach. He is wearing a black suit, freshly pressed. His deep maroon tie is tucked neatly under his jacket and his leg hangs across the other. A cheesy grin remains stamped across his face.
“Will you be bringing a special lady friend to the Holiday party?” his voice plunges into a deep tone while his eye brows take off in the opposite direction. My legs go numb again before they even return to full strength. Although my head remains between the pillows, my mind has completely left my living room. Here I am, yet again, being forced to launch myself out of darkness.
Before I can reply, I feel the seat drop me from the stiff cubicle. My mind is tossing me from one scene to the next. It’s like I am watching a movie in fast forward. As I feel my mind soaring, I am crowded by these questions, replaying each conversation over and over in my mind. I close my eyes and my fingers latch onto my hair for any type of security. With my feet pressed against the shiny hardwood floors of my mother’s living room, I just want to open my eyes and rewind.
Finally, I am back in my parent’s house. Every blink sends a strike of fear down my spine. Not knowing where my mind will take me next, I fight to close my eyes. My eyes burn as if someone is dabbing them with vinegar. After a few seconds, my mind launches me again.
I find myself sitting at our family’s dining room table. A beautiful center piece sits before me. I can tell my mother made this herself. Three empty chairs share the large, oak table. On top of the striped place mat that sits before me is an envelope. It appears to hold a wedding invitation inside.
I look down at my arms and see the hands of a middle aged man. My mature fingers slice through the envelope. The response card falls from the thick paper invitation and my eyes read the cursive words, “plus one.”
Silence fills my ears like I’ve been held under water for minutes. This time, there are no eyes staring back at me. This time, there is no pressure of having to say anything out loud.
Instead, a different feeling takes over. A feeling of surprise. My eyes fixate on my hands that appear to be worn and decorated with experience. Yet I am still coming out for the first time everyday. It is unclear who this invitation came from, but the masked feeling yet again drowns me. Will this feeling ever stop, or will it accompany me through every day of my life? It is clear to me that my life will be filled with these conversations. A row of closets to constantly escape.
I stare at the small card. Is there someone special in my life? Will I bring him with me to whoever’s wedding this may be? I see myself in black pants that are held up by a matching belt. A smooth, silk tie is draped perfectly across a sold grey dress shirt. My hair is slicked back and my arms are entwined in a strong pair in front of me. The arms pull me in until I can smell the cologne dashed across his neck. We move together to the music along side other couples. I picture us happy, drunkenly dancing and stopping to laugh. My eye wanders past our dancing feet to the rest of the crowd. Men and women paired beside us on the dance floor. Children hopping around, shoeless and on a sugar high. What will they say when they see us dancing? More importantly, how will we feel?
I picture the hands of fathers covering the children’s eyes as we sway back and forth together. Couples whispering in each other’s ears; poking fun at the two fairies on the dance floor.
I stop to picture myself again. This time, I am alone. I see myself on the same dance floor, dressed in the same sleek outfit as before. I watch myself dance idly, clapping my hands together to the beat of the song, stepping from side to side.
When I open my eyes, my head is between my legs. Puddles of sweat nestle inside of my palms. My mother places herself back in the same seat where she always sits. A soft smile now shares the cheek where her tears used to run. I can tell by looking at her that she has shared the same thoughts that I have; that she too has envisioned the same scenarios that I have. These conversations will follow me into every part of my life, no matter how old I grow to be. She knows that and now I know that.
We both know that my life will be an endless hallway of closets to escape.
The clock blinks 5:33 as my thumb drums against the cold steering wheel. Right on time. The gym is only 10 minutes down the road and practice doesn’t begin until 6 o’clock. By the time all of the girls pile in, we won’t get going until at least quarter after 6 anyways. I stare at the empty passenger seat beside me, the seat where Shannon would usually sit. The tan leather seat, coated in rips and crumbs of potato chips, lacks the company that my little sister would usually provide on these weekly commutes.
My eyes fixate on the abundance of crumbs that lay comfortably on the seat. I guess she left her mark on that seat, claimed her territory with each and every tiny piece of chip left behind. The sight of the crumbs infuriate me. In fact I want to call her now and add this to the to tab of reasons why I’m mad at her. Who does she think she is? First she blows off practice, even though she promised she’d come and help me out. Then she has the nerve to destroy my car. Eighteen year old girls just have no respect for anything.
Track 4 on my CD comes to an end and I’m left alone with my thoughts. My irrational, pathetic thoughts. I don’t care about the damn chips. My hand strikes the crumbs and I watch them morph into a small display of fireworks before they hit the floor. I really don’t give a shit about the crumbs.
Why couldn’t she just come with me? She knows I hate making this long drive by myself. Not to mention, we only have 8 girls today. We really could use another body in practice. It’s not like she has anything better to do. My cheeks feel warm, as I relive the argument we just had moments ago.
“I shouldn’t have to beg you, Shannon,” I yelled, jabbing her with stabs of guilt, ” you’re my sister and I need a favor.”
“I don’t feel well! What don’t you understand? It’s your team, not mine!” I can still see her squinted eyes as she swung back at me with her words. There was no getting her to come today. Nothing I could say to get her in that car. Nothing I could do to get her in that seat.
I place my foot on the break as my car slowly approaches the stop light. My impatient finger skips to track 7 and I begin singing the words before the music even begins. The grey streets appear have a hint of white chalk, a sign that winter is on its way out but not in any rush.
5:39 flashes a vibrant green across my dashboard. My eyes peer into the rear view mirror and I am greeted with a flash of horror. Instinctively I turn the wheel to the left but cannot take escape the two yellow lights plowing into me. A jolt of pain stings my face like a thousand bee stings. The sound of crashing of metal is too close to be on the radio and in that moment, I know it’s because I am the show.
All at once my mind stops, my vision close behind. A blanket of warmth covers my face for just a second until I can no longer feel my limbs. Silence absorbs me as if someone has their hands cupped around both of my ears.
Just like that, the world stops for only a second. When it resumes, it’s spinning and loud. I return to consciousness but am greeted by chaos. An unfamiliar face is just inches from mine, holding hers as if she was trying to catch every loose tear that fell from her swollen eyes.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry,” she says between sobs. I try to tell her it’s okay but my mind is still busy trying to piece together the horrific details. I am soothing her, telling her it is alright. Another woman comes rushing to my door and speaks to me more clearly. The car window is gone, pieces of it lay in my lap. My hands shake their way to my face and I feel a damp, heavy liquid. My shirt is covered in blood and I feel a new warmth run down my face. This time, from my eyes.
When the fire fighter arrives to where my window once sat, he tells me not to move. He is speaking in slow motion. I look to my right, to see Shannon’s idol seat crushed beside. No crumbs, no Shannon. That seat is gone.
“Mam, can you hear me?” The man says to me, indicating that I follow his finger with my eyes.
“Yes,” my voices rattles. He asks me if I can feel my legs. With every response he motions to his partners and suddenly a team of fire fighters are at my door. When I look down, I find that my white t shirt is now speckled with colors of red. My throat tightens and I begin to feel my body begin to unthaw from the numbness.
“You are very lucky,” the fire fighter says behind his mask. My response does not immediately come but I finally manage to say, “we’ll I don’t feel very lucky.”
The firefighter lifts his mask so I could see the soft brown scruff that is spread across his face. His expression is warm when he leans his head through the vacant window.
“You’re lucky you’re alive, don’t move your head. We have to take you into the ambulance, ” he reaches across my body and unbuckles my seat belt, “you’re even luckier that no one else was in this car with you. They wouldn’t be as lucky. ”
My eyelids are not strong enough to keep the parade of tears from falling down my cheeks. My mind forgets about the sheets of metal tossed across the road. I forget about the woman crying out her apology and the increasing throb in my nose. My mind drifts to the seat where Shannon sat.
“Did you finish, sweetie?” asks the soft voice. The word “finish” crackles in her voice like a stick over a catching flame.
“Kind of,” the young girl answers, raising her eyebrows with exhaustion. She places the frayed loose leaf paper on the cluttered kitchen table, “you can’t read it until I leave though.”
The sun hits the shiny silver staple that bundles the loose leaf paper together. The young girl stares up into her grandmother’s eyes, “I’ll go grab the rest of the groceries.”
As Kayla exits through the screen door, her grandmother returns to the kitchen, leaving the bundle of papers alone in the dining room.
A loud clank slams and Kayla comes into the kitchen, dressed in torn jeans and plastic bags for bracelets. She releases the bags from her wrists and they plop onto the floor at once.
“Thank you, hunnie,” the soft voice says, “now when can I read your story?”
“We’ll it’s not finished yet, Nanny,” Kayla says.
“Oh? Then what’s on the table?” her hand stretches out and she points into the dining room.
“A rough draft, I guess,” Kayla begins removing the items from the grocery bags and Nanny follows. “Before I can write you a story, I just need you to help me with something first. Where does the bread go?” A devilish smile slides across Kayla’s face. Nanny takes the loaf of bread from Kayla and places it in a drawer.
“But I thought you said you’d write me a story,” disappointment hangs from Nanny’s words like an old ornament on a Christmas tree.
“I know,” Kayla crinkles a plastic bag and tosses it into the trash can, “and I will!”
Kayla grabs her car keys and hugs Nanny goodbye.
One by one, each of the items inside the plastic grocery bags find their way to a cupboard, cabinet, or a drawer.
Nanny slowly walks into the dining room and sits down beside the bundle of paper. The staple, glistening as the sun beams down upon it. She slides into the smooth wooden chair, with five others surrounding the table. Her hands reach for her glasses and she puts them to her face. Finally, she slides the bundle of papers to her and begins to read:
You asked me to write you a story and that I will. I could write you a million different kinds, about anything really. But I’d rather write your story. In order for me to do that, I need your help. As soon as you finish this packet, I’ll be able to finish the story I’ve always wanted to write.
Your grand daughter,
Nanny’s shoulders stiffen as she folds back the top sheet of paper, covering the staple, but revealing the second sheet. Nanny continued to read:
I knew you would be too anxious and flip to the next page right away. You cannot keep reading this packet until tomorrow. Failure to comply will result in no story!
Your grand daughter,
A small chuckle builds up inside of Nanny. She pats the bundle of papers shut, and breathes a disappointed sigh.
The next morning, Nanny wakes with curlers in her hair, as she usually does. She fumbles around the kitchen and puts together a small breakfast. Cheerios and a banana.
In a matter of minutes, she finds herself back at the dining room table, staring down the bundle of papers. She rereads the first two pages and quickly flips to the next.
The third page of the loose leaf is covered in scribbles of blue ink. Her eyes follow the words, one after one, taking them in. Nanny rereads the words, over and over until they are memorized. The last words on page three instruct her to not turn the page until tomorrow. One page, one day. She remains at the table but her mind wanders away.
The next several mornings were similar to the mornings of page three. Nanny awakes, makes breakfast, and reads the assigned page from the bundle.
Somewhere between page three and page twenty Nanny finds herself waking up each morning eager to read her assigned page.
On the day of page 22, the phone rings, awaking a silent house. Nanny jumps up from the rocking recliner and answers the phone.
“Hi Nanny!” the young and lively voice says.
“Hello honey! Oh I had a feeling it would be one of you,” Nanny says with a laugh.
“Are you ready? We are almost on our way'” Kayla says back.
“Oh I’m all ready to go I hope,” Nannie replies. A few minutes later, an old blue Cadillac pulls into the driveway. Nanny quickly rushes out to the car, waving the entire time.
“Your garden looks great, mom!” says the voice from behind the wheel. Nanny smiles to herself and accepts the compliment.
Moments later, the Cadillac pulls into an old boat yard. Nannie follows the lead of the excited group and suddenly they are floating smoothly on a pontoon boat.
“Are you sure he knows how to drive this thing?” Nanny asks. Kayla and her mom look at each other. The youngest of the group, Sheila, shrugs her shoulders and says, “I’ll drive!”
Kayla pushes her back into her seat and says, “no you have your own job to do.”
Within seconds, Sheila begins unraveling a long rope connected to a large yellow tube. The boat comes to a halt. Sheila drops the tube into the water and her body quickly follows.
“Guess She is going first,” Kayla says while pushing the tube and Sheila’s body away from the boat. Suddenly the engine of the boat reignites.
The boat rips through the water, fiercely tossing Sheila and the tube from side to side. Finally Sheila loses her grip and plunges into the cool lake water.
“Who’s next?” says the deep voice from behind the wheel. Everyone takes their turn on the tube except Nanny.
Kayla approaches Nanny with a smile and hands her a life jacket. As Nanny dips down into the water she gives a wave and yells, “page twenty one!”
The following morning Nanny wakes up tired yet her desire to read the next page never lags. She sits at the dining room table and flips to page twenty three.
The words are scribbled in thick black marker, “pack your bags, pages 23 through 28 are being spent on the west coast.”
Nanny quickly stands up, flustered. She dials a familiar phone number until Kayla’s voice answers. Nanny drills Kayla with a thousand questions and then one more.
“Could you drive me to the airport?”
On the way to the airport, Kayla passes her cell phone to Nanny and tells her there is someone that wants to speak with her.
“Hey mom! Just want to let ya know as soon as you get off the plane, I’ll be there!” Says the deep, warm voice on the phone. Nanny asks a million questions but the voice on the other end answers none.
As the end of page twenty eight ends, Kayla waits at the air port. The parade of people funnel from the gate and Kayla spots Nanny in a Hawaiian shirt with her arms in the air. Her smile is hard to miss.
On the ride home, Nanny tells Kayla about page twenty three through twenty seven.
“Well what about day twenty eight?” Kayla asks.
Nanny smiles at the question. She tucks her curly, gray hair behind her ear and reveals a shiny silver stud. She says, “I thought I would just show you instead.”
“You got your ears pierced?” Kayla squeals.
Only a few sheets of loose leaf remain inside the bundle, yet the staple still in place. Page twenty nine read the words, “Drive a car.”
Nanny’s hands meet her head and she begins to pace. She dials the phone until Kayla answers.
“I don’t know about this one Kayla. It’s not safe,” Nanny’s words, stained with fear.
“Trust me, you’ll be fine. There’s only two more pages left,” she tries to persuade.
“Well, I will try,” Nanny says, her words unconvincing. “What time will you pick me up?”
“Oh I’m not,” Kayla says. A horn honks from outside and Nanny hangs up the phone. Outside is a car that she recognizes; a long, tan Sable.
“Oh, I just don’t know about this, Dolores,” Nanny says as they wait in line at The Checkpoint.
“It’ll be a hoot! I’m just as nervous as you,” says Nanny’s best friend from church. They stand in line, single file, until it is their turn to hop into the speedy to carts. Nanny places the helmet over her tight curls and lowers herself into the car. She chooses the green race car with the number 29 on the side.
The man on the side of the track fastens her seat belt and steps off to the side. Before Nanny can blink twice, the colored light ahead trickles from red to green. The man slashes the checkered flag across his body and the cars take off.
Suddenly Nanny’s grip tightens and car #29 is speeding around the track, following the body of the road and flying along side the cars.
The race comes to a halt and Nanny raises her hands in excitement. Dolores pulls up next to Nanny and they both begin to laugh.
On day 30, the last page of the bundle, Nanny is restless and excited. The previous pages lay folded over, yet still held together by the shining silver staple.
Nanny slides into the wooden dining room chair. Like she’s done for the past twenty nine days, she anxiously begins to read her assigned page.
“Day 30: Do something you’ve always wanted to do.”
Nanny closes the bundle of papers and flattens them with the palm of her hand. She stares out the window and runs her finger top over the smooth, silver staple. Moments pass, and she dials the phone. On the first ring, Kayla quickly answers.
“Hi Kayla, it’s Nanny,” says the soft voice.
“Yes, I had a feeling it was you. So what are you going to do today?”
“Oh I don’t know just yet,” Nanny’s smile reaches Kayla through the phone, “that’s not why I’m calling though.”
Kayla’s words are delayed. She finally says, “Oh, okay. Well why are you calling?”
“I was just calling to tell you that I don’t want you to write me a story anymore.”
“What? Why?” Kayla says defensively.
“Well, I think I’ll do something I’ve always wanted to do,” Nanny pauses, ” I think I’ll write my own.”