The problem with writing about your dreams

January 24, 2010

A dream you have is already a story, and sometimes it’s hard to veer away from what exactly happened in the dream, to turn it into a new story. I remember taking an intro to creative writing class, and it seemed that every story I wrote had a character in it who had a fun/fantastic/magical dream. This part would be the best part of the story, and I finally realized that these don’t have to be dreams, that these could be the stories themselves. It’s so easy to write something surreal and unbelievable off as a dream, or to explain the inner world of a character by giving her a strange dream. Why can’t the dream be the entire story?

Here’s what came out of the last exercise. It’s pretty silly.

My sister found out first, and then I got my own news. We were both pregnant. Our babies would know each other from the start, just as she once comforted me when we missed each other in college. “Some day our babies will play together,” she had said. And then I ached for what I knew was very far away.  Over the months her body grew round and firm. She complained about her stretch marks as she stroked the soft blonde down that had grown across her belly.

“That’s how you know it will be a boy,” our grandmother told us. “The testosterone seeps through his skin.”

But my body did not seem to change. I felt full, but only as if I’d eaten too many gassy foods. My stomach stuck out slightly, like the beginning of a beer belly, and nothing more.  I pressed my hand hard on a spot below my ribs where I felt a fluttering. It just felt like digestion.

I asked my grandmother why this was happening to me. She laughed and she said, “You only remember what you want to remember, don’t you?” And I tried, but there was nothing in my memory of how, indeed I came to think I was pregnant.

“Oh it’s not that,” she said. “The girl in your stomach is you, no different from you. This is what you do. You hide far inside of a body, until you can be yourself and the body will be gone.”

My gradmother reminds me that when this baby is born I will die, but it will be fine, because I will be her.

“But what does it matter? Will it really be me again? When I am a baby I won’t be happy to have survived, I won’t remember that I survived.”

“You will be happy.”

I spend my days lying on the couch with my heavy pregnant sister, until her husband comes home and I leave them alone. I walk to the aquarium, a mile away. My sister will be jealous that I can walk so far without my feet swelling.  But it still doesn’t feel like I’m carrying much.

I read on a placard that one in 5,000 North Atlantic lobsters are born bright blue. “That is truly rare and beautiful,” a man next to me says. “I’ll never forget that. Do you know…?” He begins, but I stop him. His hair is brown, with one awkward streak of white. I picture him in a moment of fear, and I think of animals that change color when they are frightened, people who grow white hairs, or stripes on their cuticles if their hearts stop for a moment, and resume. I think to ask him if the lobsters have witnessed something violent, but instead, I stop him.

“No need to try to teach me,” I say. “When I am a baby, I won’t remember a thing.”


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