Dispatch 10 (Oct. 1, 1998, late night)

      I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King, but I’m told that my dream closely mirrors what happens in the book (and movie) "Carrie."
     The dream has reoccurred every few months or so for the last few years. It’s a locker room, kind of a hybrid of the humid ones from my middle school, high school and the gym on campus.
     I’ve just finished jogging on a hot day and I’m flushed, sweaty and tired, my bones starting to ache. I go into the shower and can’t get it hot enough to relax my muscles. Frustrated, I leave the shower and head toward my locker.
     I get there and I can’t remember the combination to the lock. I keep thinking it’s 40 right, 21 over and to the left, right to 30. But it doesn’t work. I try again and again, but every time I pull on it, it stays clamped.
     The water in my flattened hair begins to mix with a hot sweat of frustration on my scalp. I want to pull the lock off, but my arms are too weak. I can’t do it.
     As I struggle with it, my towel falls. I want to pick it up, but I’m too tired. I can’t bend to reach it as the plain cotton towel lies on the cement floor. I’m standing there holding the lock, naked, and girls begin walking by in pairs. They either whisper to each other and laugh or snicker. Some of them stare, looking at me up and down as I try to squirm out of their sight. It seems to go on forever, and I can’t cover myself up or reach down – my body betrays me even as it displays itself, against my will, for attention. I always wake up around this point, the sheets wrapped tightly around me like another skin.
     The towel hadn’t fallen yet in the dream when I was woken from my sleep by the ringing phone next to my bed. I squinted at the alarm clock’s glowing red numerals: 3:37 in the a.m.
     "Heather. It’s Gina. I can’t sleep so I’m going out. Do you want to come?"
     I wasn’t sure if I was making out the words correctly and I murmured agreement before really understanding.
     "I’ll come get you. I’ll be over in about 10 minutes."
     " ‘Kay" I said.
     I reached a wobbly arm to the phone base and navigated the handset onto it where it rattled, then clicked home. My mind was working even as my body fought against it. I hadn’t seen Gina in a few days – we’d kept missing each other. I didn’t know when I’d see her again. I needed to go, if only to catch up.
     I rolled from bed and stumbled to the closet. I found the first t-shirt and jeans there and slipped them on in the darkness.
     Fifteen minutes later, Gina was at my door, looking sharp for 4 a.m. with a halter top and white shorts. I locked the apartment door behind me and we went to her car.
     We drove for a few minutes in silence, heading west.
     "Where are we going?" I asked.
     "Mount Bonnell," she said.
     I’d only been to Mount Bonnell once before, at sunset with a roommate of mine during my freshman year. It’s a lookout point, the highest elevation in Austin, and from there on a clear day you can see a good portion of the city. At night, Mount Bonnell is supposed to be a lover’s hangout – a place where Don Juans who still live with mom and dad take their conquests-in-waiting for smuggled beers and necking. Sometimes, as evidenced by the long-dried condoms near the trail leading up the hill, it went a little further than that.
     "So you couldn’t sleep?"
     "I had a nightmare," Gina said. "I couldn’t go back to sleep."
     "What was your nightmare?" I asked. My head was resting against the passenger window and I thought that if it was a long dream, I might drift off myself, maybe even back to the locker room. Would Gina, invading my dream, be one of the girls walking by laughing and pointing? Or would she help, offering me a towel to cover myself with?
     "I dreamt that Juan went away and I was never going to see him again. And it was because of something I’d said or done, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was," she said.
     "You didn’t know what it was?" I asked.
     "No. I mean, it could be anything. It could be that he didn’t like my hair or that I kissed another boy or I don’t know what else. But he was going away and I was gonna be alone," she said. "He was going to leave home, just to be away from me."
     "He’s already away from you," I said.
     "No, not really," Gina responded. "Being home would still remind him of me. So he was going away to forget all about me."
     "Oh," I said. "But it was just a dream."
     Gina didn’t say anything. She just looked straight ahead at the road as she navigated west past Mopac to get to the road that would take us near Mount Bonnell.
     We reached a closed off chained sign advising visitors that the area was closed in the wee hours. We went over the chain, taking turns doing the kick-straddle-kick maneuver. The air was warm, but breezy up here.
     I was more impressed tonight that I was on the brilliant evening of my sunset visit. The city lights were like inverted stars below us. We walked up the dirt and rock trail. We admired Town Lake and the reflection it carried on its surface of the surrounding illumination.
     Near the top, there’s a stone table with benches. We sat on the tabletop, looking out into a hazy night. In just two or three hours, the sun would be coming up, but I didn’t figure we’d stay that long.
     "I was kind of freaking out this week, going a little crazy," Gina said suddenly.
     "Classes?" I asked.
     "No," Gina said. "I was a week and a half late. I was really getting worried."
     "Late as in…?" I began.
     "Yeah," she said.
     "Did you…?"
     "When I went home."
     "Oh." We sat with the knowledge of it between us. Little patches of mist clung to the edges of Town Lake that I could see from here. I don’t know that they would have reminded me of little floating embryos under different circumstances.
     Gina let out a long exhalation of breath. "Ay, Heather, what am I doing?"
     "I .. I don’t know, Gina."
     "I’m a mess, huh? No direction, a boyfriend that doesn’t live here, no ambition. What am I doing here?"
     "You’re still in school," I offered. "There’s still time to figure all that out."
     "I should at least know who I am," Gina said. "I should have figured that one out, at least."
     I nodded, trying to be sympathetic.
     Gina said, "And here I could have gotten into something. I mean, that would have changed my whole life and I’d have no control at all. That is so dumb, isn’t it?"
     "I think things happen for a reason," I said. "If you were, you know, if it had happened, it would be because it was supposed to happen, right?"
     "I guess," Gina said, sounding unconvinced. "I’m not even happy. At least, if I’m living this wild, free life, I should be enjoying it, right?"
     I heard a horn in the distance, maybe from a car or a bus. It was distant and forlorn in a night where we seemed to be the only alert object not made of light. Seconds passed and I could still hear the horn’s echo.
     Gina got up suddenly. She walked to the edge, near an area where several trails descend down into bushes and grass.
     "I’m not happy," Gina said, seeming to direct it more to the night than to me. "I wish I was, but I’m not."
     She turned, walking past me, down back the trail we’d come up. I waited to see if she’d come back and when she didn’t, I followed. She was sitting on the hood of her car, looking up at a moon transitioning from half to three-quarters full. She climbed down, got into the driver’s seat and turned on the engine.
     We left white-brown dust floating in the air behind us as we went back to our homes. My bed was waiting for me when I arrived. Dreams didn’t follow me into slumber; not Gina, not locker rooms, and not a nakedness that fills me with fear instead of freedom.