Last weekend, I opened my bedroom window and let in the air I had kept out all summer. I had been trying to save myself from whatever allergies I had developed, along with the fatty liver, a few months ago when I outgrew my childhood invincibility. At least, the perception wore off and I didn’t want to wake to the reality of my eyes swelled shut, dry, red and irritated enough to blur my vision. The filtered air seemed to be a nice solution. The electric bill, not so much.
I decided to create change and experiment, if only for the evening, without the A/C running. Within minutes, the fresh air had knocked me out cold on my bed, hypnotized into a sleep like a kid worn out from playing all day. You simply don’t remember face planting on your pillow. At the tail end of my three-hour snooze, I was captivated by the most vivid dream I can recall from my memory: my brother and I were superheroes in the supermarket.
Dreams never seem to have walls built in. The edge of the frame is always blurry, the way peripheral vision is when you’re focused on something too important to blink at. This dream of mine played out in a large supermarket with aisles that disappeared into infinity and ceilings so high it seemed clouds were on the inside. There was a small conference going on as if this space was a convention center, and before long I realized that no one was actually buying any groceries. To my right, behind the check out stations, was a sandbox big enough to call a beach without water. It had its own coastline, and right smack in the middle was a double escalator to nowhere that a handful of people were climbing repeatedly, except for the older woman with sunglasses who couldn’t. She was trying to push a shopping cart full of groceries up a ridiculously steep incline. Ah. Here was the one woman who was buying groceries.
No sooner had I approached her to offer help had she dismissed me, and redirected me to the conference going on at the end of the supermarket. When I asked if she was sure, she insisted, so I left her in her struggle and found my way toward the sound of the microphone booming across an echo-less space. Just booming. When I got to the edge of the crowd, I realized this wasn’t a conference as much as it was a college field trip. The professor, identified by the cliched tweed jacket and elbow patches, had decided to use the supermarket as a seminar space for debate. The young woman with the microphone was trying to make her case and defend her point, but was unable to articulate due to multiple interruptions from her classmates, all men, who were deliberately talking over her in an attempt to drown her into nothingness. The woman remained poised and polite the first two times she had been interrupted, but by the third time, when the professor had also joined in on a side conversation that was anything but discrete, she became visibly uncomfortable, irritated and on the verge of tears. The injustice! It shook me all the way from the back row of the standing audience, where I had witnessed a moment I both wasn’t suppose to see yet was exactly where I belonged. I had shown up, randomly, as things of this nature tend to happen.
So I did what I’ve seen my mother do in these types of situations: take a stand. I instinctively raised my finger to the sky and said in a completely controlled yet wildly bothered voice, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” I said, making my way through the crowd until I reached the students. “Are you serious?!” Staring directly at all of the young men and elder professor who were in cahoots with one another during the young woman’s speech. “You’ve got to be kidding me, interrupting her like that. Well, let me just say that I am REALLY glad to be interrupting you right now” and I continued to berate the group with lines I wish I could remember. I gave a nod to the girl who had had her voice silenced. It was okay, I wanted her to know this wouldn’t be the last time she would be speaking.
Before I knew it, my brother appeared by my side dressed as a pirate. He handed me a magic wand with a bright yellow star at the end of it and said, “C’mon, let’s go!” as he pulled out a sword, cheers’d my wand, and off we ran. With each step of our soles against the linoleum, the space transformed into a Star Wars-esq battlefield under blue lights that highlighted colors popular in the ’80s, now replicated on the latest Nike gear and Under Armour apparel. A flash mob of hundreds appeared from the darkness with light sabers swinging choreographed fight sequences, and we the main characters on set of the latest Hollywood movie, dodging the extras with moves of our own. With every punch, kick and flick of my magic wand, I distinctly remember thinking, Are we really pretending to be superheroes right now, at 25 and 29 years of age? The disbelief surrendered to a deeper uncertainty that made me doubt my twirls, jumps, tumbles and slides. Finally, I was able to break away from the overwhelming crowd and sprinted toward anywhere from where I had just been. The ground beneath me was now a turf football field, soft and forgiving, unlike the light beam that struck my back in an electrified moment that brought me stumbling to my knees at the 50 yard line. I was face down and panting and could see my breath in front of my face. It was the first time I had noticed the cold.
Before long, my brother came sliding in from the opposite side of the football field, laughing at all of our fun. When I saw his smile, I realized I wasn’t hurt by any means. Just the sense of an ending. He read my eyes and saw the disappointing epiphany in my tears. Game Over. I curled into the fetal position and began to tremble at his consoling words. “It’s going to be okay, Kristen. This has been a lot of fun, but time’s up. You’ve got to go…” The longer I looked at him, the farther away he seemed to be, as if being stretched across time and space in a warp that clarifies what losing really means. Until you let go.
I woke myself up in sobs, unable to grasp the illusion that such a vivid dream could be terminated with gasps of air. I had unknowingly held my breath in an attempt to remain a superhero in the supermarket. When I realized I was in my bed, I cried even harder, hyperventilating with the force of a thousands pumps vigorously bringing me back to ordinary life while my childhood flatlined. My heart knotted itself inside of my chest, and this was the first time a dream had ever caused me heartache–sharp, twisted heartache. I imagined my extra large valve choking all over itself, sputtering to keep pace with my frantic psychological unraveling. I rubbed my chest and uncurled my body, and let my feet touch the floor on the side of my bed as my breathing slowed and returned to normal. I exhaled deeply and inhaled even deeper, feeling the cool air of the night wash over me. I doubt the open window had anything to do with my swollen eyelids and red, irritated eyes.