When I wake, my sheets are drenched in my sweat. My heart is trying to fight its way out of my chest and I can’t catch a breath. Then the tears come.
I was in my old car, a mini SUV with an awesome sound system. Then I wasn’t.
I want out of this dream. Maybe I can dream myself into a new one. I roll over, squeeze my eyes shut tight, and clutch my teddy bear.
Sleep doesn’t come. I just keep running the dream through my mind. Over and over — a scary movie on a loop.
Finally, I give up and get dressed. Maybe the answer to my insomnia can be found in the TV in the common room of these student apartments. Pillow and blanket in tow, I wander into the darkened room and locate the remote control.
I settle into a comfortable position then hit the power button.
“Hit Channel 247,” a quiet voice says from the end of the couch.
“Who is it?” I whisper, as if anyone could hear us from the bedrooms on the other side of the building.
“Someone who shouldn’t be here.”
“Ding! Let’s tell her what she wins, folks.” The words sound light, but they’re anything but.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. It’s been a hard day, but don’t worry about it. What’s wrong with you, dear Writer?”
I shrug, not wanting to talk about it. I mindlessly switch the channel to 247 like he told me to. It’s a music channel. JukeBox. The song is a slow Ballad called Believe.
I can’t hold back the flood.
“I had the weirdest nightmare, Teacher. It felt so real. I was jamming out in my old car. I’d cranked the music up to listen to my favorite song, now I can’t remember what it was.”
Teacher scoots closer on the couch. Only when he holds my hand do I realize that I’d been flailing my arms in a panic. “Take a breath,” he says. His voice soothes me, then sends me over the edge.
“It was stupid, really, really stupid. Everyone else had stopped. Everyone else had seen the two sports cars drag racing. Some even honked at me, but I didn’t hear them.” By this time I’m telling the story through sobs. Teacher takes me in his arms and lets me finish.
“The white car hit me first and spun me around, then the red car hit me. I kept rolling over. I heard a woman scream. That’s when I woke up.”
A nightmare had never affected me like this. Maybe that’s why I lost control. He holds me as I let my fear out on his purple Shazam! T-shirt. I only know it’s purple because it’s one of my favorites. He hands me a box of tissues then, but I think it’s too late. My snot’s all over his shirt.
“What bothers you most about this nightmare, my dear?”
“What if it’s true? What if I’m dead?”
“What if it is? What if you’re dead? Are you scared now?”
Then I can’t breathe, I can’t think. I can’t answer.
He gets lost in thought as I try to focus mine. “That’s really what I was pondering tonight,” he says. “How long is too long?”
“What are you saying?”
He doesn’t address my question. “What scares you about that nightmare? What about it brought you here?”
Shaking my head to loosen the confusion that has such a tight hold me, I notice the music has stopped. When I open my eyes, what I see freaks me out. I’m not in the TV room anymore. We’re sitting on the double swing under the huge juniper tree in the school gardens. Right next to the river.
“I didn’t come here,” I gasp, then I forget it. This is Teacher, after all.
“You were lost. You sought answers,” he prodded. “So what frightens you? Why do you think it’s in the past and not in your future? Isn’t that what most people would assume?”
“Yeah, well.” I run the glimpses over quickly. “Well, I don’t have that car anymore.”
He nods, his hand on his chin, caught mid-stroke as if he had a beard. “And…”
“I remember that day, but I stopped in time.” A chill runs through me as the memory resurfaces. “I hit the brakes a breath of an inch from the white car.”
Again, the chill takes my breath.
“What if I didn’t? What if I really died?”
“Would it make that much of a difference?”
“Well, yeah. Why am I living if I’m just spinning my wheels? Aren’t we supposed to be working for a goal? Aren’t we on a journey in this life? Aren’t we supposed to get somewhere?”
“Why do you think you have to do anything? Why does life have to be a journey? What if it’s just a ride or a game?”
“A game?” The thought works its way through and around my brain.
“Yes, what if this is all just a game? What if that near-accident was a do-over moment in the game of your life?”
For the first time since I awoke in tears, I can breathe deeply. “It’s not a mistake? There’s no finish line?”
“I’m suggesting that maybe there is nothing you have to do, no finish line you to reach. How does that make you feel?”
I smile, the relief tickling at my heart. “Good, Teach. I feel real good.”
“Do you think you can go back to sleep again?”
“Yes, thank you.” My relief is so great, I wrap my arms around him and place a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you for being there for me.”
But when he leaves, I can’t help but think that he’s still troubled. If his question was answered, it was not the answer he wanted.
Because I can’t help him solve his problems if he doesn’t include me, I return to a peaceful night’s sleep after that, dreaming of Super Mario Brothers and Zelda. I can do this.
Until next time, dear friends, I remain
The Dragonfly’s Student