I tightened the sash on my peacoat against the wind, which sent shivers down my spine. I already wanted another hot shower.
I’d decided on a plan a couple hours earlier, but it wasn’t time to go to Grand Central yet, so we decided to kill some time. Stephen wanted to take me to a couple places he knew.
I also learned the guy I saw at his shop the night before was both his friend and employee. His name is Matt and he came in right before we left to take over someone’s shift. When Stephen introduced me he reacted very kindly. Matt looks intimidating until you hear him speak. His voice is very warm and expressive, not unlike Stephen’s.
The first place we went to was a bakery. Immediately the delicious aroma of fresh baked goods came over me. Soon I was wagging my eyebrows at Stephen while holding my hand up to the glass, where a chocolate shell cannoli sat. It was like my tragic, star-crossed lover. He sighed but smiled with amusement and bought one for each of us.
“This is, like, the best cannoli I’ve ever had,” I mumbled. “It feels like I’ve lost my virginity.”
Stephen chuckled at me over his own mouthful. “Your cannoli virginity. That’s the most appropriate thing I’ve ever heard.”
“You bet it is. And I owe it all to you.”
As the words reverberated in my ears, my cheeks reddened a little. Thankfully he didn’t notice.
We also stopped at a record store and a tattoo parlor. I found out there that Stephen used to collect Vinyls like me and that he’s afraid of needles. I told him about how I’ve always wanted a tattoo, and planned on getting one once I was eighteen. He just shook his head and babbled, “Nope, nope, nope. Can’t stand needles.”
Then we walked into a small, out-of-the-way bookstore. Stephen and I split up, him to go look at biographies, and me to go look at nonfiction books. I was going to need an atlas—that was certain. Once I picked one I set out to find him.
Without warning, a shiny, silver book caught my attention. No matter how I turned my head it reflected eerie, silver light directly at me. Warily, I picked the book up and stared dully at the cover. It read: The Official Collection of Greek Mythology.
“How was your weekend, Blake?” I’m back in high school. Dirk’s leading me into his office.
“It was okay.” I shrug. “Diane left me alone for most of it. I also downed an entire pizza pie.”
Dirk laughs good-naturedly before becoming serious. “Blake, I want to talk about the dreams again.”
“So, have you had any more of them?”
When I answer, I look at a memo board on his wall. “I didn’t Friday or Saturday night but I did last night.”
“Who was in it this time?”
“The girl. But she seemed younger this time. I was reading to her from a book. Then, I was with someone else. I don’t think I’ve ever dreamt of him before. He was brunet and had harsh facial features. He was. . . .” I run a restless hand through my hair.
“He had hit a woman. She stood her ground, but she was furious. She demanded an apology but never got it because he up-and-left.”
Dirk held my gaze intently. “That’s pretty intense. Now if you’re ready, let me ask you another question.” He pauses seriously, “Do you ever wonder if you’re gifted?”
I stare dumbly. “Um . . . excuse me, what?”
“If you’re gifted. Such as, do you ever wonder if these dreams are some sort of supernatural, higher power reaching out to you?”
For a moment, I’m speechless. Then I reply: “I mean, I’ve wondered if the people in them were dead. But no, I don’t think I’m gifted. Probably more like cursed. And most definitely abnormal.” I chuckle darkly at that.
“Abnormal, more often than we expect, is a good thing.”
I can’t look at him any longer so I look down at my hands. “Mr. Carpenter, I’ll be honest. I have no clue what you’re—”
“Blake,” he interrupts, “do you believe in myths and legends?”
Then my eyes shoot back up to his. Before I can do anything to stop it, he bores a hole deep into my mind of incessant suspicions. Suspicions of what exactly is reality and fantasy. If there was in fact a difference.
That was five days ago.
I didn’t know what I would find in this book: answers or disappointment or just more confusion. What I hoped to find was even less clear.
The book started off briefly but intensely, bringing up wars in ancient history. It explained what the Titans were and how the Olympians overthrew them, starting with Zeus. It included a detailed description of all the gods and goddesses as well as the higher-up mortals that coexisted with them. My heart skipped when I came across one of their names.
Andromeda. The name of my guitar.
My heart beat erratically as I skimmed through her story, searching for any mention of siblings. There was a mother and father, Cassiopeia and Cepheus, but no sisters. Not even a brother. My breathing slowed down. The artist’s interpretation drew her chained up at sea, yet she looked on with silent defiance.
I didn’t know if she was the girl I dreamt about. If she was, our stories didn’t line up what so whatsoever. Then I wondered: could a story from ancient Greek mythology have gotten lost or changed?
I held onto that thought, and while there was no evidence to prove it, there was no evidence to disprove it either. Humans have always had character flaws. The story may very well have changed, either by accident or on purpose. I shoved the book vehemently back in its spot.
Perhaps Dirk was toying with me. Putting ideas into my head while he knows I’m impressionable. The thought made my stomach churn. Since that conversation, Dirk talked to me about the dreams one more time—exactly three days ago. He made some suggestions. Usually, they were helpful. But this one was different. As soon as I left his office that day, it was like the wool was pulled from my eyes.
“Blake, can you communicate with them consciously?”
“Er, how do you mean?”
Dirk Carpenter smiles wryly. “You said it feels like a movie scene. Essentially, they’re already scripted. What I’m asking is, can you change the script, so to speak?”
“Like lucid dreaming?”
“I’ve never tried it.”
“I’d really like you to. I think that could help you out a lot.”
I nod. “I probably won’t succeed, but if I do. . . .” The question trails off.
“Talk to them. See what happens. Tell them to stop bothering you, because frankly it can’t be good.”
Silence fills the air. I still don’t reply, so he continues. “Blake, this has been happening to you for a long time and it’s only given you anxiety. So, it needs to stop. And whatever they tell you, don’t listen. These characters have an agenda of their own. They all do in every myth that’s ever been written about them. They only want to create trouble for you. And if they don’t stop, don’t be afraid to solve it physically.” I expected him to start laughing, apologizing, but nothing about it was a joke; his expression never wavered.
I sit stunned in my chair. My dreams did give me anxiety, that wasn’t a lie. But even so, how did I know the people didn’t mean to give me anxiety? Who knows, maybe they were there for good reason. That reason was lost to me but I had to consider the possibility.
Although I disagreed, I merely nod and ask if I can leave. He smiles at me, as he usually does, and lets me. I don’t notice until I shut the door that his smile never, ever reaches his eyes.
By the time I lie in bed that night, chills run down my body. My stomach and head buzzed with anxiety. All of a sudden I didn’t care who they were or what they wanted. I couldn’t yell at the girl or, God forbid, hurt her. Whether she was some sort of mythical character or completely made-up—it didn’t matter. I realized then that I trusted her. That night, I decided I needed to leave Long Island at the earliest opportunity. I needed to leave Diane and be rid of her toxicity. And now, I needed to be rid of Dirk’s, and that hit me harder because it was cold, sadistic, and personal. Only a sadist simpers while messing with another’s mind.
Absolutely nothing he has ever said to me was appropriate for a trained psychologist. Not only did reason tell me that but also my psychology classes. No psychologist would tell a schizophrenic their delusions were real. Similarly, no psychologist would tell me my dreams were real, much less that I’ll solve them by acting violent.
Or manipulate me and completely lie, I fumed as I marched through the isle. By the time I found Stephen adrenaline circled through my veins. I could have run to upstate New York.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” I lied.
Stephen eyed me incredulously. “Are you sure?”
“I’m fine.” I reiterated the lie as calmly as I could muster.
We left the bookstore to walk to Grand Central Station. He cleared his throat and changed the subject. “So is your plan worked out?”
“I’m going upstate. That was my plan even before I got stranded.”
“Do you need any money?”
“No, I have enough money.”
Despite me he stopped to reach into his pocket. “Do me a favor and take some any—”
“No, I won’t take any of your money,” I interrupted firmly. “I’m grateful for your hospitality, but you don’t have to do that.”
Stephen pursed his lips. “Really,” I go on, “I have plenty of money.”
Truth be told I didn’t have an awful lot—hardly an adequate amount to move with, but I wasn’t going to take anything else from him. All my life I’ve struggled with accepting help from others and I already accepted enough from him.
The rest of the walk was quiet. There was a mess of emotions inside me: anger and anxiety and sadness all meshed together. They overlapped like colliding ocean waves, constantly fighting for dominance. Like a wild game of tug-of-war. However, I was no stranger to the game, and forced myself to tug harder than all of them.
Feelings threaten to take over until they consume you, until you are nothing but them. You must maintain your identity during those times by locking up the waves. At some point, when you allow, you’ll let open the door and set them free. And when you do, be sure to tame them best you can. Feelings are as vital as breathing to us but that doesn’t mean we have to be their slaves. You simply can’t afford to be; the only other choice is giving up your control, your identity, your sanity.
I know because I learned all of this the hard way. How else did you think I survived foster care?