I was in a canoe swaying down a narrow river, barely fitting the width of it. A cat with orange hair and white patches was following me along the riverbank. She was a chunky cat with an extra layer of fat all around and a face a bit too scrunched up. I was approaching the entrance of a cave that appeared to stretch as high as the bright blue sky. The cave’s inner walls gave off a subtle, purple hue all around, stretching from the bottom of the river up along the cave’s walls. Cautiously, my hands trembling on the side of the canoe, I glanced down at the water to see how my reflection had turned purple, but the water was too wavy for me to see my face clearly. My thin face was a large, purple swirl with my right eye and bottom lip almost touching.
The cat now crawled on the walls beside me, avoiding my canoe with determination. I called out what was apparently her name, “Luna …” But Luna paid me no mind. My shout echoed through the endless cave, but instead of fading away it grew twice as loud as if someone at the end of the cave was shouting back.
I was at the theater sitting next to my childhood friend, Hannah. We were both eight when we were friends. She kept talking too loudly over the play that was going on, telling jokes and trying to make me laugh. We were seated in the middle of the seventh row, and I felt as if everyone could hear us. I felt an odd sensation behind me, and when I turned to look, I saw an arm reaching out with desperation to touch my shoulder. Screaming, I looked up to see who it was, but their face was a blur — completely unrecognizable as if I was looking through a smudged camera. As I stared, trying to distinguish who it was, I grew to the size of my current, 18-year-old self while Hannah tugged at my hair, trying to bring me lower. She lifted up my pink dress, gasping at the sight of my fully-grown, bare legs. As I was trying to push my dress back down, Hannah stood up so that she was at eye-level and shouted with contempt, “Why are there cat scratches all over you?” Suddenly, I felt pain in my thighs and looked down. Blood was dripping from them, sliding down my legs to the theater floor toward the stage. Hannah ran away, screaming, my blood stained on her yellow floral dress.
Usually I can’t remember my dreams, but these dreams — they’re vivid. Before, my dreams would just be day-to-day occurrences, so much so that I’d forget what was a dream and what had actually happened. I dreamt of things like asking my roommate for a pencil, being late for class, getting locked out of my dorm. Then the day after these kinds of dreams, I’d see something that reminded me of the dream, like a dull pencil, and only then I’d remember it had been a dream.
These recent dreams, however, are different — unquestionably separate from reality. They’re stuck in my brain all day. I’ll be sitting in my first year philosophy lecture, tuning out my professor, and just imagining my blood running down to the front of the lecture hall and soaking through his brown, leather dress shoes. These dreams frighten me. They awaken a part of my life that I’ve disconnected from: my childhood, my innocence. Both feel so far away from me now.
These feelings started when Abby, my roommate, wanted to go to a party. This was last night. She ran out of friends to go with, I guess, so she had made me go with her. It was my first college party. Oh, you wouldn’t believe how excited I was — awkward dancing, beer-soaked men, I couldn’t wait. Abby dressed me in one of her black crop tops and jean-shorts, overdid my make-up and straightened my long blonde hair. I remember how heavy my eyes felt from the mascara on my lashes. It felt odd seeing myself in the mirror, but Abby had managed to make my blue eyes glow. We had both gotten dressed in the small space between our beds, bumping into each other occasionally. She had plenty of clothes to pick from. They poured out of her dressers and unpacked boxes all alongside her piles of shoes that drifted over to my relatively cleaner side.
I don’t know why she had wanted to go so badly. It was one of those grimy parties with over-eager guys everywhere. I just made sure I drank enough so I wouldn’t feel so badly when random boys started dancing on me. That’s how the night started at least. Soon, I’d drunk so much bubbly, green jungle juice, that my spinning head sped into a blur along with my memories of the night. There were hands on my waist, whispers in my ear and sloppy kisses down my neck. It felt so new, so warm, so I followed where it took me. I don’t remember what happened next. All I know is I woke up in my dorm with a boy in my bed. He was passed out, drooling on my pillow, his black, shaggy hair covering his eyes. I wasn’t sure what I’d done with him until Abby had started making fun of me for losing my virginity during the first week of college.
The only thing I’ve been able to do today is write this entry and take some showers. I took seven showers today. I wanted everyone’s sweat from the party off of me. I wanted his musty smell off me. I wanted the shame off me. My rose body wash would lather on my arms, legs, chest, stomach, so much so that I couldn’t see my own skin anymore, and for a moment, I felt clean of everything. Then after too short a time the water would wash it all away, and the sight of my own, defiled skin would leave me restless. I repeated this process throughout the day, scrubbing with more force each time.
When I wake up and recount my dreams, I reflect on my childhood, and the shame I felt after waking up with the boy resurface. The guilt I feel for disappointing my past self, it’s something I have to spend the whole day recovering from; my brain is heavy, my heart is stinging, my throat is closed. That’s why I’m writing all my dreams down in this journal and reflecting on them. I thought maybe it’d help them escape my brain.
I was in a car with an unknown driver. The driver was slim and timid, but whenever I got close, the driver’s face turned into a dark, unrecognizable blur just like the one at the theater. The sun was so bright it whitened the windows. I had no idea where we were going. Orange and white cat hair coated my pants. Luna was purring on my belly. I kept asking the driver where we were going, but the driver gave no indication they could hear me. They made a sharp turn, scaring Luna and making her dig her claws into my stomach. The pain from her claws was sharp and stinging as they sank deeper. Trying to pull her off only made her cling to me harder. I begged the driver to slow down so I could comfort Luna, but this only angered them. The driver turned around, shouting incomprehensible words. Their gaze was hard to follow since I couldn’t make out any features on their face — eyes, nose, mouth, all blended into one fuzzy mess. But they were certainly not looking at the road. The car spun out of control.
I was in a tree with Hannah, but this time we were both eight. She was hanging upside-down from a branch as the sun lit up her golden hair. I kept climbing higher up the tree. I told Hannah to follow me because I had found sturdy branches. I could hear birds singing at the top, and I wanted to join them. For some reason, I began to sing too. I could hear all the birds singing together, and I could hear where I fit in. Our voices mingled with the wind. With each step higher, our voices grew louder, the sun brighter — it was entrancing. I heard laughing behind me. Hannah had caught up. I plucked the highest, brightest green leaf on the tree and handed it to her. She tickled my face with it, and we both laughed. Out of nowhere, my body grew larger and larger — breasts formed, thighs fattened and the tree branch snapped from the excess of my weight. As I was falling to the ground, birds pecking at my body, I heard Hannah screaming in terror.
I woke up to music being played in the dorm below us. When I looked over, Abby was still fast asleep. I kept having the urge to pick up the phone and call mom and dad. Tell them to bring me back, to take me away from here. But I didn’t want them to worry about me. They needed to know I was okay and that I could handle being away from home. Plus, the drive from Cincinnati to Penn State is too much to ask from them. All I could do for comfort was wrap myself in my purple, polka-dotted bed sheets and stare mindlessly out the sunny window.
Last night, Abby went to another party and came back a mess. She begged me to go with her again, but I told her I wasn’t feeling well. When she came back, I was already in bed trying to sleep. Her brown hair was sticky, smelling of orange soda and vodka and the left strap of her purple tank top was off. She spent the rest of the night puking, and I spent the rest of it making sure she was able to aim correctly. I can’t seem to get the image nor the smell of her murky, orange vomit out of my head. The worst part was the violent gagging sounds she made.
I was at the eye doctor. She was shining a bright light in my eyes, blinding my vision. Whenever I tried to catch a glimpse of her, her face was dark, faded and blurry like the others before. She took my glasses, then turned off the light, “Tell me how you see.”
“I can’t read any of the letters. Not even the big ‘E’.”
“No, no. I know that,” she sighed. “Tell me how you see. What does the world look like to you right now?”
I looked around trying to find the words that would describe my reality, “Well, everything’s just a blob. Blobs of different colors.”
“Yes, of course. But how does this compare to reality?”
“It’s … it’s the same, just —”
“The same? Then why would you need glasses?”
“No, no. It’s the same colors. Just nothing is clear.”
“Ah, I see. And how does this unclearness look?”
“Like I said, just blobs.”
“But how do the blobs look? How?”
I didn’t know how to answer. I stayed silent, trying to come up with a different word for blob.
Hannah and I were both eight again, swinging next to each other. Our swings were perfectly in sync as if an invisible rod connected them. She kicked off her pink flip-flops to see how far they could go. When it was my turn, my right flip-flop barely made it a foot. Then, as I was kicking off my left one, my legs grew to the length of my full-grown self, and my flip-flop flew out of sight. Hannah looked over at my legs, horrified. I slowed down to go and comfort her, but as I came to a stop, I felt hands behind me grabbing my waist. It was an unknown boy who was around my age. He had the same shaggy hair as the boy that was in my bed. Hannah screamed when she saw him touching me and ran away, tripping over herself. I tried to chase after her, but he wouldn’t let go of me.
Seeing Hannah’s face every night is killing me. All it makes me think of is how much the eight-year-old me idealized my future self. I thought I’d find my prince charming and only be with him forever and ever. I never figured that I would not know the name of the first man I opened my body to. I always expected that moment to be magical. Instead, it was just a moment of blurry confusion and then reminders in the morning from soreness and dots of dried up blood on my sheets. When I see my body in the mirror, I see a figure that’s used, destroyed, dirty. Now I wonder what little Hannah would think if she saw me now. If she saw the person her precious friend had become.
Back in the cave, but this time I was under the purple water. The echo of my shout was still bouncing off the walls. I swam naturally and could breathe just fine. The entire bottom of the river was covered in purple crystals that lit up, allowing me to see. Hannah swam behind me. She was wearing a one-piece bathing suit that covered her well, making me feel exposed in my two-piece. Luna was on my back while I swam and was scratching my bathing suit, trying to break the straps. When I shoved Luna off, she left deep claw marks down my back. Hannah tried grabbing Luna’s leg, but Luna squirmed away and kept her distance by resurfacing to the top of the water.
I was swimming toward my echo, which was still growing louder. My brain was pounding harder and harder the closer we got to my own voice shouting Luna’s name. It wasn’t just getting louder, it was varying in pitch and tone too, as if the shouting was in real time. As if the echo had a voice of its own.
As we swam farther, the direction of the voice became more clearer. Hannah still trailed behind me, but a little farther back now. She was clearly running out of energy, and I was beginning to as well. My legs felt heavy and the volume of the shouting was becoming too much. I tried plugging my ears, but whenever I did, I sank down toward the crystals. The crystals on their own were hypnotizing, luminous enough to brighten the entire cave, yet it didn’t hurt to stare at them. I allowed the crystals to pull me in. Their soothing light calmed me, and the deeper I went, the softer the shouting became. It was such a relief that I was ready to fall into the crystals. The shouting was now muffled, then suddenly, it stopped. I heard the voice of the echo, this time recognizing it as my own voice, murmur, “Oh! Luna! My Luna! There you are!”
Shock snapped me out of my hazy state, and I pushed myself toward the surface. I checked to see if Hannah was still behind me, but I’d lost her. A hand grabbed me, helping me climb out of the water onto the surface of the cave that felt as if it’d been basking in the sun. Two hands caressed my face with admiration. When I looked up, I saw same blurry face from the previous dreams. The hands moved over my eyes, and then I could see clearly. My own eyes were staring back at me, my own self smiling at me. The blurry face was me. This other me was dressed differently, more formally. She was me, but older.
The older me stroked my hair. She was elegant, graceful, confident. I asked her if she’d done more things she regretted, things I could stop. She chuckled and shushed me, and without saying a word, she handed me a soft, lavender robe, led me to a small table, and we drank tea in a warm, accepting silence.