Rachel Feinberg, Saint Mary's College of California '18
The night of your senior ball, a boy who you have never seen in real life knocks on your front door and asks you to be his date. You say yes. Together you walk through your neighborhood until you arrive at the venue: a hotel with a spiral staircase at the center of its lobby. There’s a game at the top, a butler tells you. You and your date ascend and join the other players. A hallway lined with doors stretches to your right and left. Night suddenly shifts into day, and the staircase fractures like a puzzle. It falls away.
A voice introduces itself as the gamekeeper, and announces the rules from hidden speakers. In each room is an obstacle course with an exit. If you reach the exit alive, you move on to the next room. Your date fades to the background as you battle through several rooms. In one room you battle kids with weapons. In another you do nothing but navigate a sea of dead dogs. And in another you must climb the walls to avoid impalement on the steel spikes protruding from the floor. The gamekeeper introduces a special room to you: the Quitters’ Room, where you can hang yourself on provided nooses if you get too overwhelmed.
Over time you accumulate points, you watch your allies enter the Quitters’ Room, you beat rooms and beat the game, but you never find your date.
A ghost haunts your house. You can’t see her unless you look through your phone’s camera. She throws walnuts at you out of nowhere, and while you bat them aside, you say you’re willing to help and find out who killed her. She agrees to help by appearing in your dreams and guiding you on your case. She follows you in daily life and helps you hunt for clues. Now you’re at the mall, gas station, an upper-class residency, and you wear a light blue dress, white stockings, and your hair is long and black. A black mist contaminates the air. Black spots cover your hand, sinks into your skin, flows through your veins. You collapse, die. Wake.
You’re in college, but you transferred to another campus that’s larger, more public and difficult to navigate. In your trembling hand is a new schedule. You don’t know all the professors or where to go. You can’t load the room listings on your phone so you head to the main office for help. Then you attend your first class, arts and crafts, which is reminiscent of your crazy high school art class, where your teacher asked if you were Jewish because your last name and your nose are Jewish. Wow, was she crazy. You still remember the time she phoned the office to report a student that was “threatening” her and could they please send someone to remove her from the class? You sat in the back of the room next to the “threatening” student, whose only “threatening” action was talking back to the teacher in a not-smug, not-angry, not-rude voice. She wasn’t “threatening” at all. But in this class, the dream class, you have to create a new, functional object by combining in-class materials. Everything you create keeps falling apart. Time is ticking and you’ll have to complete something by the end of the period. You wake before the bell rings, and thank goodness because you freaking fail at art class.
Now you’re Wendy in her classic blue dress tagging along after Peter Pan. You can also fly, so you go around a city trying to find Peter, but it’s difficult to keep up with his shadow. You have a flute whistle that alerts him to any danger you might be in, and you use it when people come after you. But it doesn’t work with your lips. You toss it to a passerby who easily blows a short and sharp tune. Peter comes but doesn’t seem particularly happy to see you, though you are destined to be together. Wendy and Peter Pan, forever and always. You’re different from the real Wendy, though, and maybe that’s why he doesn’t want you. You want to stay with Peter in Neverland for eternity because you’ll never become an adult, never be expected to date, marry, bear kids—a shame, then, that Peter wants a Wendy who decides to grow up and leave him.
Somehow you now have a boyfriend. The setting: a party in a large estate with him and your family. You don’t really talk about becoming a pair, but your parents seem to think you’re together and they approve. They ask for his age and after finding out he’s nineteen, your family happily looks at each other and say that’s okay. It’s not like he can take advantage of you when you’re older than him. You don’t know how you feel about relationships—you’ve always been a bit repulsed by them. You’re cringey around him and lean away when he puts his arm around you. Gross, gross, gross, gross, gross, you think. You go into a social room on the second-floor of a mansion and head to a mirror that also functions as a window and portal into another family’s living room. Through it is your boyfriend’s family, and the sight repulses you, but you want to escape from your boyfriend. You try to go through the portal, but you can’t, and you’re stuck in a mansion with that stupid boy. Another mission failure.
What the heck is wrong with you? Why can’t you do the normal thing for once? Just grab his freaking hand and date him. It’s simple. Everyone does it. Why can’t you, you freaking loser?
In this shitty dream you have a game board that resembles the Monopoly Collect & Win Game that a bunch of grocery and pharmacy stores participate in at the start of the year. Every time you complete an achievement you fill in one of the slots. Each slot has a specific achievement, but you can’t read any of them because your vision sucks. You know you’re dreaming, but you manage to stay inside your head. You manage to laugh at how pathetic it is that you can’t see your accomplishments in real life or in the dream world. You manage to play along with the dream.
Suddenly the dream shifts. Time passes. You start filling in the slots though you don’t know what you’ve done to earn them. Your love life is lackluster. Your writing career is stuck. Your high school friends aren’t talking to you anymore. Your communications with your Internet friend in New York is trickling down to an occasional text. You don’t know what you want to do with your life. You’re stuck. You’re stuck and it’s a wonder that your anxiety isn’t peppering you with panic attacks and sleepless nights.
But you’re filling your Monopoly/Bingo board, so that you’ve got to be doing something right. It’s not like you’re dead or living on the streets, right? Well, now that your game board is filling up, you’re earning rewards. Some of them are unlocked universes. Now you can escape reality. BUT OF COURSE something goes wrong when you try to activate your rewards. Nothing happens when you try jumping into another universe.
You want to cry. Instead you laugh. You don’t know what you’re doing. Your dreams are a mess. Your life is a mess. Everything about you is a mess. Get a job, why don’t you?
You forget to record this dream for almost an hour. Some of the details slip from your memory as you scribble down whatever remains in your brain. Remembering dreams without a journal is like trying to hold water in your cupped hands; no matter how miniscule the gaps between your fingers and palms, water finds a way out. It drips. It evaporates. It gets absorbed into your skin. It’s gone.
All you remember about this dream is attending an indoor ball with your parents and one of your Filipino aunties who might be directly related to you. You think she’s a distant cousin of your mom, but what do you know? Filipinos are intent on assigning everyone a title. Auntie, Uncle, Cousin, Grandma, Grandpa. Your grandparents are dead—have been for years—but you still have four-ish living grandparents. Anyway, your auntie dances with you and asks if your date is coming around so she can hand you off. Or so you think. You don’t remember if she actually said anything, but you think she did. You have a feeling she did.
Then your mom walks you around the ballroom, and your dad follows, and you look down at your ball gown and hate that it looks like a wedding cake that someone vomited confetti all over and that it’s not well-fitting and that you don’t have the boobs to fill it out and that there’s an ugly painting of an upside bouquet of red and pink flowers embroidered on the front of the bottom tier of thick fabric and that everyone’s giving you a funny look because you look fucking ridiculous and your parents are following you around.
You go to a large alcove in the back of the ballroom, where two rows of fitting rooms flow down the walls. People in casual clothes are waiting their turn to change into their gowns and tuxes. Your mom starts fiddling with the laces on the back of your corset. You didn’t know they were there, but now that they’re tied tight, the dress fits properly. The straps that hung the dress over your shoulders drape down your arms; they’re not supposed to be on your shoulders, after all. You’re supposed to have bare shoulders, which you hate on a normal day, but people are giving you envious looks now, and you glance in a mirror and see how beautiful you’ve become with a simple change.
Your mom reminds you of your date. Yes, you remember him. He’s Asian, either Japanese or Korean or Chinese, or a mixture of any two or all three. His jet black hair is pulled into a high ponytail. He looks like a movie star. You know he’s supposed to be here, but you can’t find him.
When you wake, you remember the face of a guy who often visits your Japanese class. He’s East Asian, and his hair is long enough to tie up. Sometimes he talks to you. Yesterday, you saw him in the campus shop when you returned your rental textbooks. He nodded at you. You nodded back. He’s a chill guy, but he’s graduating this year and you’ll likely never see him again. You’re not even friends. Why bother?