Night terrors aren’t an uncommon thing for me,
and lucid dreaming is something I’ve been capable of since childhood.
It’s a defense mechanism I use to escape the fear. I’m mid-dream,
forcing myself to remember that I am safe here, but still curious
enough to not awaken myself. I’ve been in this place before.
I’m sixteen again, sitting on the cold hard bench in our
happy meal sized locker room, and furiously choking
Back tears that are desperate to fall somewhere.
The room is empty. Aside from my shaking whimpers,
I hear only the roaring of the central unit air conditioning
pumping through the vents and a few steady, faint dribbles
of a dedicated athlete just beyond the gymnasium walls.
No one knows that I am still here. No one cares.
I have been breaking down for months. Coming out
has made life far more difficult than it was when I was simply
poor, white trash. Now, I’m gay, poor white trash. In the South.
No one here knows that in elementary school, my intelligence level
tested far about average. I was placed into advanced creative
classes. I would have probably excelled at the top of my class,
but I wanted to play sports and be popular. To do that, I had to come here.
The very thing that I thought I wanted had become the most
painful part of my life. The girls stare at me as we change, to ensure
I’m not staring at them. They claim that my presence makes
them feel uncomfortable. The dyke freaks them out.
So, here I am now, late for class. Crying because my girlfriend’s
father found the burner phone that her Aunt got her to keep
in touch with me. A few short texts, and a few death threats later
my knuckles found the grate on the front of the lockers.
The pain seared through my arm. I could feel it in my sleep,
just as I had the first time it happened years before in real life.
However, this time when I reach to throw open the exit door
and make my way back to a classroom I didn’t want to be in
it won’t budge. I tug again. Nothing. This time the door
begins to disappear. It’s frame bleeds into the wall, and I am
trapped inside of my worst nightmare. My own memories.
I contemplate waking myself up, but it becomes apparent this
is something that I have never dealt with. I begin opening
the lockers one by one. They’re empty. Over and over, I swing
wide their metal gates to find deep black holes inside.
I can feel my body tense, and breath quicken. I open another door.
Inside, there is a mirror approximately shoulder height.
I am looking at myself, but she doesn’t look like me. She is older.
Weathered. Mysterious. I clock in this moment that I am not alone.
She is not a reflection. I turn to face her, this woman inside of me.
She is quiet, so unlike me at this age. She knows things.
I can see in her eyes that she has survived immeasurable odds.
I reach for her hand, only to be ignored. As she walks past, I realize
she is not here to save me. She is trapped here too.
My heart pounds. I am breaking down. This no longer feels
like a dream. I know what this is. This is my mind reminding me
that I am not okay yet. That my biggest problems, my greatest fears –
they are all self-inflicted. I have let nothing of the past go.
I scream at her to look at me. To tell me what to do. I ask her
to lead me out of here, us both out of here. She stands there
with her shoulders back, her head high, and she tells me…
“This is not life. It’s a corner of the world during a moment of time.”
I know that she is right. This locker room is a metaphor. It is temporary.
There is opportunity waiting just beyond these walls,
and I am not a broken china doll. I am not poor, white trash.
I look at this woman in her blazer and heels. She is me in ten years.
She is the result of tragedy and perseverance. She is the product
of love and loss, and clinging to pieces that have been picked up
off the ground until they can be glued together again.
She is a woman. She is strength. She is reliable. She is indestructible.
Paint peels from the walls revealing the missing door.
She makes no effort to go through it. I know that this is
something that I have to do alone, but she will meet me out there
in the real world. We will find each other. My destiny and I.