Dream Journal - Ruminate Magazine

Dream Journal

October 13, 2020



Last night, pirates were attacking the library, so I grabbed your hand and we ran up to the top floor, stairs breaking away under our feet. I banged on the glass walls of the conference rooms, but the girls who all wear the same shoes told us we weren’t cool enough to be let in. Their faces and voices were warped by the glass and they looked like they were swimming around in a fish tank. We hid between the shelves of the nonfiction section (no one ever goes there), and the prickly, grey carpet became little pebbles that poked our bare feet. I woke up when the pirates finally found us.

I do not know what day it is, but when the sun explodes, it will no longer matter. The time zones of each room of my apartment have amalgamated into a thick sludge. I keep track of the days based on the grime under my fingernails. I don’t remember what real life felt like. There’s nowhere to go, and yet I still drag my feet, shuffling from room to room like a ghost, waiting to haunt tenants that are not coming home. The air hangs stiff and lifeless as the aircon turns on and off erratically, creating cold spots and discontent. 

I live on the side of a highway but tonight it is so quiet I can hear the song of a single cricket. As I sink into the domestic euphoria of soft blankets, warmth shooting into my veins, I am tired. I may be young, but I am tired in the way old people say they are tired; dull bones and watery eyes. In the gruesome hours since morning, I have lived a long life and I am ready to go. The drowsiness pulls at my fingertips, and I follow it into the light, I follow it into a tattoo parlor. Here, I get a painless tattoo of a thin blue eye on my hip, and the artist gives me a haircut for free. I wear the haircut and that red bathing suit you like to dinner with my parents, but they keep arguing so I shove my hands into my mother’s bowl of fried rice. I run out of the restaurant and into a mall that is secretly a labyrinth; as I look around for the minotaur, my newly chopped hair brushes against my bare shoulders. 

When I was younger, I felt like a ghost in a very real town. I feel like that now too. Trailing alongside my father on crowded sidewalks, clinging on to his giant hand with both of mine, I would stare up at families that didn’t look like mine. They ate frozen yogurt and had dogs the same color as their hair. Sometimes they would stare back, and I felt like burrowing into the creases of my father’s worn-out jeans. Instead, I learned to look down and count the tiles on the ground. As I grew older, my father built me a paper-mâché castle so I could play with plastic dolls and dinosaurs on my own. One could say that I had a lonely childhood, but I don’t really think of it that way. 

All quiet kids have secret obsessions. It can be Lord of the Rings, or Greek mythology, or dragon lore. I had my pirates, more specifically, the ones from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Once, in a dream, you and I were invited to a party aboard the Black Pearl, the exact ship from the movies. A storm was approaching, and you didn’t like the way the water swirled and turned black, but I went on my own anyway. Everyone from school was there, but whenever anyone came up to me, it was only to ask for my AP Biology notes. I could never figure out where to put my hands when they spoke to me. The roar of bad pop music and raindrops assaulting the wooden deck gradually became unbearable and I threw myself overboard into the unforgiving sea.

All day long, I sit by my open window, watching the day grow stale. I’m a little girl with short hair again, but I can no longer slip back into the silent games she used to play. Mornings are bearable, with the solitary joggers and chorus of bird songs. I count the steps of everyone who passes, but it takes me nowhere except right back on the coarse stone path. Sometimes I think about jumping out my window, becoming a little bird just like you. Don’t worry, I live on the second floor.

My pulse has been getting weaker lately, so I went on a run. Each time I lumber past the field behind my building, my eyes are drawn to the far edge where the dense forest emerges. She beckons me under the orange and grey sky. The fresh grass smells a bit like you. At night, I run untethered, the trees growing into cobras and blue giraffes and Kodiak bears. The moonlight is dim and eerie, like the reptile hall at a zoo, and as long as I’m quiet, none of the animals will come to life. Above the lush canopy, I see a single beam of light shooting up from the center of the forest. When I find the clearing, there is a tall cylindrical tank of jellyfish floating in neon light. The strange patterns on the translucent creatures are all fixed on me like a thousand glowing eyes. 

A few days ago, or maybe it was a few weeks ago, I dreamt that there were 35 days in January. I was sitting alone in a pool and the surface of the water was vibrating like how it would look in a thunderstorm. I think that was because the orbit of the moon was all messed up. I swam to the side and raised my hand. Ms. Bath, my first-grade teacher, called on me and I answered confidently that January had 31 days. When I was met with silence, I instantly realized I was wrong and slipped under the water.

During online class, I peel the skin off my big toe until it bleeds, and I feel the seconds inch down the back of my neck until they drip onto the floor. A chronic ache resides just under my skull. I am young but I feel myself age a million miles a minute. Time moves like I’m running in a dream. I sit on the edge of a knife and my fingertips tremble but they cannot see. I keep my cold hands in my lap, and no one asks me to speak.

Like all masochists, I have an impeccable memory. I keep nightmares in a filing cabinet in my brain, like how a serial killer keeps trophies from his victims. The summer I turned fourteen, I dreamt of Robin Williams and a Manson-style cult, luring me into my childhood home and chopping me up with a machete. The night Obama first got elected, I dreamt of being chased by a werewolf and his gang of creatures through an abandoned theme park. I remember the look of his mauled face and diseased, yellow eyes. I remember the words they would call me in elementary school to make me feel like vermin, an insipid little cockroach trying to be a girl. I remember the clothes I wore the night of my eighth grade dance, dirty pajamas and ash, feigning indifference when even my English teacher didn’t notice I was missing.

They call this isolation, but they do not understand the meaning of that word. It is not a stuffy bedroom, it is not the locks on your windows, it is not six feet apart nor six feet under. It is knowing the exact number of speckles on your classroom floor. It is knowing all the authors in the nonfiction section by heart. I look forward to nothing and I never look people in the eye. I may be young, but you say a month is a long time, so I can also say that I am very, very old. The dead do not dwell on their past lives. I exist only in dreams, and there, I am not alone.

We were back at Halloween Horror Nights and you convinced me to ride the janky rollercoaster that shot straight up into the brooding purple clouds. I cried and told you I was scared, but you picked me up and buckled me in tight. The straps were hairy monster arms and the attendant was my high school principal wearing an unsettling shade of orange lipstick. I always knew she was a witch. As we went around a loop my seat detached and I plummeted down to the ground. But right before, I felt like I was flying.

There are two heartbeats in this dark stairwell. You’re curled up between my fingers, humming a lullaby that echoes off the grimy walls. You’re all flesh and blood, drunk and sweaty and draped across my lap. You gaze up at me with your cat eyes and watch me part my lips. Listen to my raspy words. You were in my dreams last night. Do you remember? We were on a sailboat under the sea and you were wearing my round sunglasses. We had watermelon Jolly Ranchers and pirate gold and I read you terrible Greek tragedies as you laughed. You were very beautiful.

I’ll tell you bedtime stories and I promise I won’t make you sad ever again. I won’t tell you the ones where I’m back in my middle school locker room in my sweltering long sleeves and my eyes burned into the ground. I won’t tell you the ones where I’m trying so hard to be cool, but everyone’s faces are melting off and I can’t breathe. I won’t tell you that I’m still afraid of heights, that I dream of the world shattering under my feet, a crack that almost sounds like a cackle, and I’m falling with all these shards of glass I could be Alice and these could be playing cards but I know it’s already morning. 

This morning, the breeze is gentle, and something inside me wants things to be different. I don’t forgive my elementary school bully, but I think she should forgive herself. I heard she’s doing well now. I forgive myself for spending my whole life hiding between bookshelves. We could have had more time. It’s almost sunrise, and I can’t hear the cricket anymore. Can I forgive the bird with the yellow beak for gobbling up my beloved cricket? I know it was one or the other, but I wonder if things would have been different if only they could have heard each other sing. 


Michelle Johnson-Wang is a Chinese American writer originally from Washington DC. Her work has been published in West Trestle Review and an anthology titled Up To No Good.

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

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