Nightmares & Dreams
“Are you sure you—”
“Let’s just go already, Mom,” I interrupted. I knew I was being a brat in the worst way—my mom felt awful for lying to me about my parentage for twenty-four years, and I was taking out my inner turmoil on her, but . . . she’d lied to me. So had my dad. And it wasn’t just a little, I-broke-your-favorite-vase-and-told-you-it-was-the-cat lie, oh no. It was a whopper of a lie, requiring me to do a complete identity overhaul. I couldn’t just pretend that everything was hunky-dory. I’d never been a good liar.
Searching for a safe place in my mind, I focused on the beads of rain clinging to the passenger window of my mom’s dark red sedan. As the car picked up speed, the droplets seemed reluctant to stream across the glass, moving in a stuttering rhythm.
Part of me worried about leaving Thora alone so abruptly, but I knew Annie would take good care of her. I’d sent her a text in the wee hours of the morning, asking her to cat-sit for the next three weeks, and she’d agreed immediately. She hadn’t asked a single question. Annie had the kind heart of a saint, and I loved her for it.
As I felt myself falling asleep, a small sense of relief washed over me.
“Haven’t you ever wondered why you don’t really look like your dad?” my mom asked, her voice echoing all around me.
I was standing in front of a wood-framed mirror hung at eye level on a seemingly endless wall. A picture of my dad’s face was pinned to the mirror’s frame. I examined his features closely, and then did the same with my own, attempting to reconcile their many differences.
Maybe his lips, I thought . . . those could look a little like mine. But after cross-referencing the reflection of my own narrow, rosy mouth with his, I realized they weren’t a match.
Horrified, I stared at the photo of my dad, watching his mouth disappear completely. When I tried to scream, there was only silence. I looked into the mirror, and with gut-wrenching terror, realized that my own mouth had vanished as well.
My ears were next, as were my dad’s in his picture. And then my long, dark brown hair.
I brought my hands up to my face, attempting to hold the remaining features in place. As my nose vanished, so did my ability to breathe. I panicked, trying to suck air through a smooth expanse of unbroken skin.
I watched my frantic brown eyes until the lack of oxygen caused dark spots to wash over my vision. I glanced one last time at the picture of my dad before my world faded to black.
All I could think was, I am nothing.
I woke with my head resting against the chilly car window. Involuntarily, I brought my hand up to feel my face. Everything was right where it belonged, including the salty tears streaming down my cheeks.
Glancing out the window, I realized the rain had turned to light snow and we were nearing my hometown. Yakima, the central Washington city where I’d grown up, was really quite demonstrative in terms of the stereotypical seasons. There are four distinct times of the year: sweat-inducing summers, reddish-gold falls, snowy winters, and flowery springs. I was always amazed by the way the fruit trees in the countless orchards accentuated the seasons. Nothing screamed winter like bare branches sheathed in ice, or heralded spring like apple and cherry blossoms.
As the familiar, mostly barren landscape of the high desert glided past, I wondered if coming home and seeing my dad was going to make the realignment of my identity any easier. Or, would it become infinitely more difficult?
Silently, each unique, beautiful snowflake found a home on the deck around me. In the back of my mind I felt envious of the moonlit flakes—each was well-defined and individual. I, on the other hand, was vague, undefined. They didn’t have to worry about where they might fit in, let alone where they came from. They would just . . . land. Where am I supposed to land?
I’d been home for two weeks, and so far, the frigid Yakima winter had proven to be the only thing that could bring me peace. The falling snow offered a distraction from my morose thoughts. And because it rarely snowed in Seattle, sitting outside in below-freezing weather didn’t belie my sanity too much. It was snowing, after all.
At a knock on the sliding glass door, I jumped. I heard it open partially. “Lex?” It was my mom.
“Cara’s on the phone, sweetie. She said she tried your cell but it went straight to voicemail. She sounds really worried—you should talk to her.” My mom had always been a master guilt-tripper.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and surrendered. “Fine.” I could only avoid talking to people for so long. And if I was being honest with myself, even I was getting sick of the moping, sullen woman I’d become. I needed to rejoin the world, bask in the sunshine, seize the day, and . . . you know, all that bullshit.
As I entered the house, my mom handed me the phone with a sympathetic smile. I wandered upstairs to my old bedroom and shut the door, sitting cross-legged on the burgundy duvet. I focused on taking long, deep breaths, then closed my eyes and raised the phone to my ear.
“Hey, Cara,” I said in a reluctant, slightly hoarse voice. Not speaking for days tended to do that to a voice.
“Oh my God, Lex! It’s so good to hear your voice,” she said enthusiastically. “So, are you going to let me know what the hell’s going on? Why’d you just take off? I mean, weren’t you planning on staying in the Yak with your fam for only a few days during Christmas? How much family time can you really stand? Aren’t things still bad with your sister?”
I really didn’t want to lie to Cara—at least, not outright. After searching for the courage to respond to her barrage of questions, I spoke carefully. “Uh, yeah . . . I was planning on only being here for a few days.” True. “But when my mom was about to leave, I suddenly felt like I needed more time with her.” Also true. “So, on a whim, I just sort of decided to ride back to Yakima with her and stay until after Christmas.” True-ish . . . success! But I couldn’t ignore the sick feeling churning in my stomach.
“So . . . you’re not, like, dying or anything?” she joked.
“Nope . . . not that I’m aware of. I guess I’ve just been really distracted here. It’s been a long time since I’ve been home.” The partial truth was coming more easily.
“Don’t worry, darling. I’ll see you when you get back,” Cara said, and I smiled sorrowfully at her usual term of endearment.
“Definitely,” I replied.
“Love ya, Lex. Don’t be a phone stranger. I mean, you can only expect me to survive for so long with Lex deprivation . . .”
Surprising myself, I laughed. “Got it. Love ya, too.”
After goodbyes were said and the call was disconnected, I stood and stretched. Still clad in my winter deck-wear, I was extremely overheated and a little sweaty. I tore off my mittens, unzipped and removed my navy-blue down jacket, and slid my feet out of my waterproof, fur-lined boots. I traded my jeans for some purple and blue plaid pajama bottoms before curling up on a bed that had always been mine, in a room that had always been mine, with the odd sense that neither belonged to me anymore. That Lex no longer existed.
Unsure of how I’d fallen asleep so early in the evening, I awoke. Night had fallen completely, darkening the room. My first thought was of being cold, so I quickly maneuvered myself under the covers. My second thought was one of relief—for the first time in two weeks, I had slept without having the nightmare. My third thought was about the strangely vivid dream I’d just awoken from. It had taken place in my parents’ house, and it could easily have been real, except that the dream switched back and forth between two time periods. The more I thought about it, the clearer my memory of it became.
Standing in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, I saw my mom sitting at her brand-new, oak dining room table, her hands clasped together on the surface. My dad was sitting across from her.
Shaking her head, she said, “I just think it’s too late. We’ve gone such a long time with this secret . . . it just seems easier to keep it.”
“But Alice, don’t you see? The girls have a right to know who they are . . . where they come from.” My dad reached across the table and covered her hands with his. “It’s just not fair to keep hiding it from them. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Suddenly, the scene shifted—I was still in the dining room, but the table was our old, battered one. My mom and dad, who seemed to have lost a couple decades, still sat in relatively the same places.
“I just don’t know, Joe,” my mom said, shaking her head. “I think we should wait until they’re old enough to understand why we had to do it.”
My dad sighed. “I wish we wouldn’t ever need to have this conversation with our little girls. I just . . . okay, I guess a couple more years couldn’t hurt. But we will tell them eventually, Alice.”
Closing her eyes, my mom nodded.
In the blink of an eye, the scene shifted back to my mom and dad sitting at the new table, his hands covering hers.
“Alright, Joe . . . this weekend, I guess I’ll visit Lex and tell her. If she doesn’t take it well, I’ll just bring her back with me. But, if it’s too hard for her, then we’re not telling Jenny—she’s just not as, well . . . as strong.” When my mom glanced up at my dad, her eyes were as fierce as those of a lioness.
My dad scooted his chair back, stood, and walked around the table to her. As I followed him with my eyes, I noticed a flicker of movement just beyond the wide, arched doorway leading into the living room.
Lying in bed, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d really been present during my parents’ conversations. A sense that a dream was more real than, well, just a dream was something I’d experienced before. But it had only happened when I’d awakened from a dream that was really a memory.
Once, when I was a freshman in high school, I forgot my locker combination. It happened near the beginning of the school year, but I’d already stashed a couple of books inside. After sharing a friend’s locker for more than half the year, I had a sudden need to get into mine—the library was going to send a bill home for the books I’d “lost” in my locker, and I really didn’t want to pay the fee to reset the combo. The day before the library fine was due, I went home, resolved to pay the reset fee the following morning. That night, I had a vivid dream. In it, I was sitting on my bed after the first day of school, going through my backpack. In my hand was the card displaying the elusive combination to my locker. When I woke from that dream, I hastily jotted down the locker combination, absolutely positive of its accuracy. Later that morning, I opened my locker for the first time in months, saving myself a hearty sum of money. That dream had felt the same as the one I just had: absolutely real.
But, so had the dream of Dr. Ramirez getting hit by a car, and that never actually happened. I couldn’t possibly have “remembered” the conversations between my parents in my dream because I hadn’t been there. It’s nothing, I told myself. I’m just being obsessive.
For the second time in two weeks, I laughed out loud. If I mentioned anything about my crazy dreams to my mom, all of her worried looks and concern over my mental stability would quickly give way to a leather couch in a psychiatrist’s office. No, thank you.
Regardless, I couldn’t ask my mom or dad if they’d had any conversations like the ones in my dream . . . for their sake. I was pretty sure I’d been making the past few weeks fairly hellish on them, and I wasn’t about to make it worse.
I eventually chalked up the dream to my overactive obsession with understanding who I was . . . where I came from . . . who my father was . . .
Gradually, like a dimmer switch lighting up my thoughts, I knew where I could get more information—from Grandma Suse. My indecisive mom discussed nearly everything with her mother. Tomorrow, I told myself, I’ll drive over to Grandma Suse’s house and hopefully get some much-needed answers.