Posted on: April 29, 2013

I keep dreaming about this impossible place. The geography expands in every direction and I feel some cosmic cartographer etching the map across my soul. It is desolate - there’s no one but me to explore the abandoned streets, to feel the heat radiate up my legs from the concrete, to push open the unlocked doors of antique storefronts. I feel like the only person left in the whole world and I get to peer into the lives of people I will never meet, to pass my hand over their furniture and sit on their empty porches. Sorrow shakes me when I wake, as the city fades away. Whenever sleep takes me back, I am grateful.

Since I was a little girl, I loved to describe my dreams to people. Most thought it endearing and fascinating, but as I grew up and entered adolescence, my parents became concerned and embarrassed if I elaborated for too long. I remember my father’s warning squeezes on my shoulder. I learned to trail off and allow him to change the subject with ease, but I never understood his restraint for he was also a dreamer. I found some of his journals in an old keepsake trunk he had in the garage. I hid them under my mattress and would read them by flashlight after everyone had gone to sleep.

When I could no longer speak freely to others about my dreams, I started to write. My mother noticed the growing callus on the outside of my right pinky and how much my hand would hurt after filling pages of lined loose-leaf paper. She found an old IBM computer that sported the iconic black screen and green type. It came with a dot matrix printer that used the never-ending paper spool with the holes on the sides. Everyday after school, I finished my homework and grabbed a Capri Sun out of the fridge before running to my room to spend the next two or three hours at the keyboard. My favorite part was the sound of my dream manifesting on paper, watching the print head move back and forth as it squealed.

I was twelve years old when I first dreamt about the abandoned city. I was wearing a sleeveless white Easter dress with navy blue pinstripes and matching sash around my waist. I stood in the middle of a two-way street, acutely aware of my childish ruffled socks spilling over saddle shoes. On the left side was a valley full of trees and a city skyline beyond it. On the right were tall glass buildings that seemed to disappear into the clouds. I followed the yellow lines to a bend around the block and kept walking until I noticed a large fountain with a statue of Athena rising out of the water holding a shield and a sword.

When I woke up I kept my eyes closed tight, wanting the dream to come back, wanting to go back to that place and take off my shoes so I could step into the water and walk up to the goddess. I wanted to touch her sandaled feet, to feel the grain of the stone with my fingertips. I wanted to feel the water soak the skirt of my dress and pull me down toward the coins littering the fountain floor with wishes. I stayed awake and reluctantly got out of bed, not expecting to ever go back and see more of that city.

I sat in front of my computer a few days later, staring at the screen with the green blinking dash that summoned me to write. Describing what I saw would be easy enough, but I didn’t know how to capture how I felt inside. Have you ever been somewhere or done something or been with someone and felt completely whole? Have you ever experienced a complete loneliness that did not make you sad, but brought you peace? Have you ever felt like you finally came to the end of yourself and the beginning of unadulterated existence? How was a twelve year old supposed to put any of that into words?

One day, my mother asked me if I was depressed. The question startled me; I’d never considered the notion before. I looked at her face and saw her eyes laced with wisdom and concern.

“No. I mean, I don’t think so.”

She flipped through a few pages of one of my notebooks, placing her chin in her cupped hand. “Your stories seem sad lately.”

I sat next to her, leaning over and looking at the pages as well, cocking my head to the side and pursing my lips as I reflected. “Well, sometimes I get sad, but I don’t really know why. I keep wishing I was somewhere else.”

My mother closed the notebook with care, folding her hands on top of the red cover and turned her head to face me. “I’m not like most mothers. I don’t say what you want to hear. I tell you the truth.”

“I know.”

“Your father has a wonderful imagination, but he began to resent it. He never learned that our dreams and our reality do not have to be separate. They are one.”

Whenever I started to forget about my dream place, sleep would take me there again. I would scale bridges, walk along railroad tracks, make tea in empty cafes, take naps in strange hammocks, and drive luxury cars. Over time, I recognized different parts of the city and could navigate my way back to a place I had not seen in years. It wasn’t until I was almost thirty years old that someone trespassed into my dreamscape, standing in Athena’s fountain. I would often gaze at the goddess in awe, but this woman looked upon her as an equal. I woke up before she turned around to face me, but I knew it was my mother.

There was a text message on my phone from her. “Call me. I love you.”

Photograph by: Jaemin Riley
Written by: Natasha Akery

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