Dispatch 10 (Oct. 1, 1998, late night)
I havent read a lot of Stephen King, but Im 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. Its a locker room, kind of a hybrid of the humid ones from my middle
school, high school and the gym on campus.
Ive just finished jogging on a hot day and Im
flushed, sweaty and tired, my bones starting to ache. I go into the shower and cant
get it hot enough to relax my muscles. Frustrated, I leave the shower and head toward my
I get there and I cant remember the combination to
the lock. I keep thinking its 40 right, 21 over and to the left, right to 30. But it
doesnt 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
cant do it.
As I struggle with it, my towel falls. I want to pick it
up, but Im too tired. I cant bend to reach it as the plain cotton towel lies
on the cement floor. Im 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 cant 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 hadnt 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
clocks glowing red numerals: 3:37 in the a.m.
"Heather. Its Gina. I cant sleep so
Im going out. Do you want to come?"
I wasnt sure if I was making out the words correctly
and I murmured agreement before really understanding.
"Ill come get you. Ill be over in about
" 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 hadnt seen Gina in a few days wed kept missing
each other. I didnt know when Id see her again. I needed to go, if only to
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
Id only been to Mount Bonnell once before, at sunset
with a roommate of mine during my freshman year. Its 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 lovers 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 couldnt sleep?"
"I had a nightmare," Gina said. "I
couldnt 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 Id said or done, but he
wouldnt tell me what it was," she said.
"You didnt know what it was?" I asked.
"No. I mean, it could be anything. It could be that
he didnt like my hair or that I kissed another boy or I dont 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."
"Hes 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
Gina didnt 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, theres 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 didnt figure wed 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.
"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
dont know that they would have reminded me of little floating embryos under
Gina let out a long exhalation of breath. "Ay,
Heather, what am I doing?"
"I .. I dont know, Gina."
"Im a mess, huh? No direction, a boyfriend that
doesnt live here, no ambition. What am I doing here?"
"Youre still in school," I offered.
"Theres 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 Id have no control at
all. That is so dumb, isnt 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
"I guess," Gina said, sounding unconvinced.
"Im not even happy. At least, if Im 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 horns echo.
Gina got up suddenly. She walked to the edge, near an area
where several trails descend down into bushes and grass.
"Im not happy," Gina said, seeming to
direct it more to the night than to me. "I wish I was, but Im not."
She turned, walking past me, down back the trail wed
come up. I waited to see if shed come back and when she didnt, 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 drivers seat and turned on the
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 didnt
follow me into slumber; not Gina, not locker rooms, and not a nakedness that fills me with
fear instead of freedom.