Chapter 3: A Call to Dream
I always enjoyed looking out my window. I could get a nice view of the neighborhood from the second story, and the sun as it set over the horizon. There was always that one part of the day when I could look out my window and the sun would be over the distant cityscape, and I could watch it splash the world with vibrant color. It was in that moment, every night, that I could find comfort. But that moment did not last forever. Before too long the sun would finish setting, and the watermarks painted across the sky would be replaced by grey-black nothingness, and I would remember that my world was not colorful or vibrant, but instead a bleak and confusing place. But then again, I was in high school.
“Dinner’s ready!” My dad screamed from downstairs. I glanced at the clock on my bedside table. Seven-thirty. Dad must have come home late from work. I hadn’t even realized that he had gotten home at all.
“Be there soon!” I piped back. Looking at my desk, I had barely scratched the surface of my homework for the night. Not that it really mattered, I can’t remember the last time I had finished my homework for the next day. My room was a mess; clothes scattered everywhere, bed not made, and food wrappers on the ground. Sighing, I walked out of my room and headed down the staircase. I wondered what kind of takeout Dad had picked up on his way home tonight.
“Hey Dad,” I said as I entered the dining room. He was staring into space, zoned out, unaware that I had called to him. Dad looked tired, hiding once handsome features with deep cut wrinkles and shadowed bags hanging under the eyes. His wide shoulders were slouched, with his palms pressed firmly on the kitchen countertop, as if for support. The oven was emitting a high pitched, squealing noise, signaling that something inside was done. Dad was making dinner tonight. There was also a pot of boiling veggies on the stove.
I put my hand on his shoulder, as gently as I could. “Hey Dad,” I repeated, shaking him slightly. He did a little jump and turned around to look at me, shocked as if I had woken him up with a bucket of water. Regaining his composure, his shocked expression turned to one of relief as he smiled at me.
“Sorry about that, didn’t hear you come in.” He said, flashing me a grin. “Help me take the chicken out of the oven, will you? And make sure not to burn yourself.” I grabbed a rag and quickly took the near blackened chicken out of the oven, emitting a sizable cloud of pent-up steam in the process.
“How long did you cook this for? Geez Dad.” I said as I picked at the blackened flesh of our supposed dinner. “It’s really burnt.”
Dad looked at the chicken and gave it a sniff. “Smells edible to me.”
“Smelling edible and tasting edible are two different things Dad. Did you set the timer correctly? I’m sure you probably could have found some sort of recipe onli...” He cut me off.
“I don’t need a recipe, I’ve made chicken a thousand times before, definitely more than you have to be honest.” He said, getting a little flustered.
“Well if that’s true than you shouldn’t have burnt it.” I fired back. I made him angry with that one.
“Well if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it! Maybe if you got out of bed sometimes and helped me then I’d have an easier time cooking both of us food, huh?”
The air in the room turned cold. He had a point, but still. It wasn’t like I wanted to do nothing all day. I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything else. It was easier. I could feel my temperature rising, my anger seething as I was preparing a retort back, but before I could his expression softened.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.” He said, looking me right in the eyes. “I know things are difficult for you. We don’t need to fight tonight.”
I knew it hadn’t been easy for Dad too. We were running low on money, and he was working later hours to try to compensate. And he had to deal with me. Even when I was trying to make life easier for him, I messed that up. Though I couldn’t help but let his apology melt my anger. It really was hard to be mad at him. I was more mad at myself anyway.
“It’s okay, Dad.” I started grabbing plates and silverware and loaded them up with food while Dad poured me a glass of milk and got a beer for himself. I put the food down on the coffee table and sat down on the couch. We never ate at the dining table anymore. Dad says it’s old and we might get splinters, and he also likes watching television while we eat. He keeps saying he’ll replace it, but I know he never will. Just like I know he’ll never throw out that rotting third chair.
We mostly ate in silence these days. Dad said a couple things about work, complained about his boss, the works. He asked me a couple questions about school, if I was preparing for exams, etc. Just some small talk as we munched on our chicken. To be honest, it was still decently edible.
“Arggh!” Dad exclaimed as he was watching TV. “C’mon!” Something about a blown call. I continued to sip my milk and zone out. I could feel myself slipping into the background, almost as if the couch was sucking me in and preparing to swallow me whole. Often, I found it easier to let myself fade away, then to have to worry about my own life.
“Hey.” Dad turned to look at me, shocking me back to reality. “It’s been getting worse hasn’t it?” He seemed concerned; his attention completely diverted away from the television. I didn’t know what to say, and he seemed to pick up on that.
“Dad let’s not talk about this right now.” I managed to stammer out.
“Sorry, sorry.” He said back. He looked back at the TV, pretending to focus his attention back on it, but I could tell he wasn’t really watching anymore.
“It’s just that, I worry about you. That’s it. I know I’m not home that often, but even when I am I see you walking around like a zombie. And I don’t know what to do.” He finally shut off the TV and stopped pretending to watch it. This was new territory for us, we didn’t typically talk about these sorts of things anymore. He went to work, I went to school. We ate dinner in silence. Rinse and repeat. It wasn’t like we had a bad relationship or anything, it’s just that things were easier for both of us if we didn’t try to have a good one. I wouldn’t do any more damage that way. And here he was, messing this up.
“Dad, I told you I don’t want to talk about this right now.” I started to get up to put my dishes away and he gestured with his hand to sit back down.
“But when would you want to talk? We don’t talk anymore. Not like this.” I didn’t respond. “If you don’t want to talk to me, then you need to talk to someone. This is important.” I sat back down, reluctantly. He was right of course. It just wasn’t that easy. Most of the time it felt like no one would understand how I feel, especially not Dad.
“I know you’ve been skipping school. You think I wouldn’t have noticed that?” I had been skipping school. Not voluntarily of course. I just didn’t feel like going anymore. There wasn’t much I felt like doing.
He sighed and leaned his head back against the cushions. “I remember when you were little, you loved school. You were such a happy kid. You wanted everybody to be your friend. You remember that?” I did remember, but it felt so far away. It’s like he was describing a totally different person, a different life.
He got up, letting out a defeated exhale. “Give me your dishes, I’ll go put them away. Just go finish your homework and stop skipping school.” I handed my dishes to him, still trying to zone out of this conversation. He turned around halfway to the kitchen to say one more passing remark. “Maybe you should try to remember who that person was, alright?”
Walking back to my room, I thought about what Dad said to me. He was often annoyingly good at saying exactly the thing I didn’t want to hear. It was doubly annoying with how he was often right as well. I wish I could’ve just told Dad exactly how I feel, exactly what was going on, but I just couldn’t articulate the feeling correctly. It felt like talking about it made it more real, in a way.
“Hey, wait.” I heard Dad say behind me as I reached my bedroom door.
“There’s something I want to give you.” I turned around and saw that Dad was holding; an envelope, pale blue and all too familiar. Was he finally giving his letter to me? I couldn’t deal with this now, I could feel my heart rate rise as I started breathing faster and faster.
“Dad, I’m sorry I can’t do this right now. I’m not feeling well.” I managed to blurt out as I nearly dove into my room and then shut the door behind me with more aggression than I needed to. My insides were churning, the room was spinning as I crawled into my bed and put the covers over my head. A million thoughts punctured my brain. I never thought he would ever give it to me. I was in no way prepared to look at it again. To look into his eyes having read it. I couldn’t do that. I heard him knocking again, but I ignored it. Eventually he would go away. I shut away as many of my thoughts as I could and focused on my breathing. In. Out. In twice. Out three times. No, slow down. In twice. Out twice. In once. Out once. In and hold it. Out slowly. Out slowly again. I felt myself calming, I felt the barrage of thoughts subsiding as I let my body relax, realizing that all my muscles had been clenching.
I waited for a while in bed, even after I relaxed, before getting up. It had felt like I was dying. The sun had set, and dusk was settling in. I waited in my room until I heard Dad shut off the TV and start getting ready for bed. He didn’t like me going out at night, but often night time was where I felt most in control of my thoughts. I looked forward to the night. I got my jacket out of the closet, put on my favorite pair of shoes and got ready to go.
I had to walk past Dad’s bedroom to get to the front door, and tonight he had left his door open. It was a good thing the hall light was turned off. I made sure to be extra quiet as I walked by, looking inside to make sure I hadn’t been seen. The lights were off, so I assumed he was sleeping. I walked past the door and out into the foyer when I heard noises coming from Dad’s room. I assumed he had heard me sneaking out, but I realized what it was; he was crying. I went back to look inside his bedroom and just barely made out the shape of his silhouette sitting at the foot of his bed. If he had turned his head just barely to the right, he would have seen me, but his eyes were focused on something else, something he was holding in his hand. It was small and rectangular, and I could instantly tell what it was. He was holding his favorite picture in his hand, one of the only ones he had left of her in the house. He didn’t like me to see him looking at it, but I knew he did often. He wiped his eyes, kissed the photo gently, and put it in to a drawer in his night stand. Even after all these years, he still grieved just as hard as the day he lost her. All the more reason why I had to isolate myself, so I wouldn’t cause him anymore grief than he already felt.
I closed the front door as silently as I could and began my nightly pilgrimage. Often, I would set out with no real direction, but I always ended up at the same place.
Walking along the street, I listened to the sounds of people winding down and getting ready for sleep. Rows of houses surrounded me, all filled with people I will probably never meet. Homes with large families, small families, all kinds of people. Maybe, somewhere, a mother was tucking her children into bed, getting ready to read them a bedtime story. Even something as simple as that, I’ll never know.
Eventually the neighborhood opened up and I found myself at my favorite spot; the local park. What I loved most about this park was that it had a large hill, and if I timed it just right I could sit at the top of the hill and watch as the city on the horizon slowly fell to dreams. I sat down with my back propped up against a sturdy oak and tried to clear my mind by looking out at the already sleepy cityscape.
My thoughts wouldn’t clear though. I kept going back to what Dad had said to me, and the image of Dad crying with that photo, the thought of Dad giving me the letter. I couldn’t help but think about her. I always wondered what she was like, what kind of person she was. Obviously, Dad had told me what he could, but I would never know in person. The cool night air tickled my nose as I watched cars whizzing by on the streets below.
Eventually, I decided to rest my eyes for a little. The night air was too soothing, and I couldn’t help but succumb to it. Before I fully drifted off, I thought about how I would give anything to see her, just one time.
I woke up with a jolt. My back was sore from sleeping against the tree. Inexplicably, my head felt like someone had gone to town with a baseball bat on me. Still dazed, I tried to sit up, and just barely made out the sun rising in the distance. I got up slowly and dusted myself off, rushing to collect myself and head back to the house. I must have slept all night, and it seemed to be about time for me to head to school judging by the position of the sun. Just after I promised Dad that I would stop skipping.
I was halfway down the side of the hill when I realized something was wrong. I didn’t hear any birds singing, no rustling of leaves, just an eerie deadening silence. The neighborhood was gone, I couldn’t see any houses or any streets. There were no cars, just a field of tall grass that stretched for miles on end. “Hello?” I screamed out. No response. Not even an echo.
Quickly, I climbed back up to the tree and looked out at where the city had been. In its place was a monumental forest, with trees the size of skyscrapers, and thick storm clouds swirling ferociously above them.
Something was very wrong.
*As far as I can tell, this is the first indication of any description of the Dream I have come across.