Teenage Dream (3:48)
This, admittedly, is not a very good idea—this day of dreams and having them, this concept of waking up at some point; as you let us know later, much later than this, after pinwheels stop like blades on a helicopter, the weight of air causing full tilt, that things shift when we least expect them to; that what seems finite seems daft when looking at old photographs of what once meant the world.
It is one thing to feel this—wind through hair after school lets out, crossing the river with the windows down to buy snacks that the vending machine in the dusty grey-slicked concourse could not offer us—their pressing of buttons and their turning rings; us highly aware of the risk of crush, or fall, or puncture. We buy coffee because we are grownups now—half cream, three-fourths sugar, one-fifth vanilla, mocha, caramel, peppermint. We stir with our red straws until they melt and bow. We burn our tongues.
This will keep us awake, we say, although when our parents ask us what we do, we say nothing, as if we sit, slouched in a corner, staring at tiles and try to count the intersections in the grout, the cross-sections, the space where nothing was filled. Nothing. Before we were teenage, we would tell them everything—the number of people in the car, the four to a backseat, though don’t worry—we were wedged so tight if we hit a tree we would not go anywhere, that our discomfort means safety—like how needles work, or the fear of eye contact in a city greater than ours despite our desire for sweetness.
I will tell you my dream as a child—a girl selling lemonade, wide-eyed, pig-tailed. A shadow appears behind her and places its hands over her eyes. As I think about yelling, as I think about being a hero, I feel fingers over my own eyes as everything smokes to black. I am older now. I now know that this means nothing. It is past the time for regrets—none are left.
It begins with a gun—we are used to things ending with guns, with holes miraculously poked through skin, through tendon, with ripped sweaters wet with blood, a touch with the tips of fingers to confirm its redness, to coat ourselves in ourselves in a red not found outside of ourselves, all shades a hair off—dying leaves, flat-crisp shale near the edge of rivers, the clover lining the side of highways as I drive you to the airport an hour away. Anything else seems inauthentic—the woman drowning in chocolate because the camera only picks up certain hues—the starkness in contrast from the gray.
When I was a child, I was not scared of these things: the shine of a knife more menacing—the fear in sharpness, the dramatic blade, the ability to separate skin from skin with a subtle movement: if a piece of paper can cause this much suffering radiating from the side of my finger, then this must be more majestic and terrible: a slick gashing, a fast trickle.
I would jump, I would say—I would see the bullet coming, & I would jump—no run up, just a simple leap in the air, my feet higher than where my chest once was, & the bullet would float by, pulsating, corkscrewing, until it wedged itself into a tree (for safety), a cow (for laughs, all the laughs), a person I meant to protect (for irony, for sadness, for drama, for story).
My mother had a dream where I saved everyone: we were swept off our feet & carried into the streets despite our sadness. She told me this when I was much older, that I was destined for such things, that the skin in her dreams is tougher than what it looks like awake: each hair, each hole, the hash marks on knuckles like alligator, like papaya. The blade would break—the bullet would shatter: there is no need to jump.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. New work is forthcoming in Drunken Boat, TriQuarterly, & Mojo.