Someone once told me that when writing down or recording your dreams, you should write in the present tense. This helps you relive the feelings, messages, and symbolism in a powerful way. It also helps sharpen your memory of the dreams.
William Shakespeare said, “Life is but a dream within a dream.” This memoir is an account of my “dreams” within this dream life. Inside each fantasy, we find metaphor, even if it requires scrutiny. The symbols and signs are there in the details. The truth behind my life is captured in each momentous sojourn.
This story contains snippets of my life defined by poignant moments of love and sex. To give grace to the power of dreaming and floating backward through time to relive the wisdom I now hold in my heart, I’ve written this memoir in the present tense. Because, after all, the present is the meeting point of the past and the future—one single spot amid the absurdity of this existence. It’s the spot that carries us through space, over and over again.
I awake on the morning of November 11, 1997 full of zest. There’s no school in recognition of Veterans Day, and I venture out for an exciting day ahead. Keeping busy today will also prevent me from overthinking tomorrow’s outing with Justin. He’s been the object of my deepest desire since sophomore year, and now, after two years of friendship and flirtation, I have him within my grasp. So, I’m grateful to have a full menu of events in front of me today to divert my mind from all things romance. I start by taking myself out to lunch at the new bagel sandwich shop in Brettwood Village. Next, I put in job applications at Applebee’s and The Buckle. I’ve been working at Hometown Buffet for eight months now, and I’m desperate to get out from behind a cash register. Moreover, I want to secure a fun job I can maintain when I’m at college next year. But I can’t decide if I want to segue into hostessing and serving or make a transition into retail, so I choose to let fate decide. Whichever job contacts me first is the direction I’ll go.
After my stop at The Buckle, I head to the Foot Locker where Marcy works so we can finalize our evening plans. In celebration of a successful volleyball season, the team has pitched in to buy our coach a kitten. Marcy, Natalie, and I are making the surprise delivery tonight.
After procuring the money from Marcy, I stop by Granny’s for a late afternoon visit with her and her new puppy. The pain from Uncle Louis’ death is still prevalent, but our new furry friend is excellent therapy, so I make sure to drop by a few times a week. After leaving, I drive to the pet store to collect our kitten. Marcy arrives back at my place just before sundown, and we take her car to pick up Natalie before heading to Coach Kiick’s. The drive out to Latham is long and confusing (Marcy, Natalie, and I are all out of our element in the country), but we finally arrive full of pep. The surprise is a success, and we proceed to fill up on cake and soda with the entire family—it’s Coach Kiick’s birthday today as well.
With darkness looming, we decide to call it a night. And considering the trouble we had on the drive out, we ask for a shortcut home. I say my final goodbyes to the kitten, and we make our way out.
“Shotgun!” Natalie and I shout in perfect unison. Since we both acted in accordance with standard shotgun rules—at least one foot was outside the house—a foot race must serve as a tiebreaker. As my fingertips graze the door handle first, I clutch my prize. Our fates are sealed.
About fifteen minutes into the drive, we’re officially lost. However, we’re all still vibrant and full of sugar, so we continue our misguided adventure with little concern. We’re driving down a well-paved road when we hit thick gravel without warning. The car begins to fishtail, and Marcy loses control before the vehicle flips twice into an eight-foot ditch. There are no guardrails or streetlights.
Marcy emerges unscathed. Natalie has terrible lacerations on her face and hand. I can’t move any part of my body and am having trouble breathing.
To worsen the situation, my seat is broken, and I am sitting sideways without the ability to hold my head up, exacerbating my struggle to take in air. Marcy disappears like an action figure, running into the darkness to find help. Natalie maneuvers herself around me to support my head. She nuzzles herself into me, and at last, I can take in full breaths of air. Now, we are both occupying the seat for which we had previously battled.
“It feels like my arms have been amputated,” I say to Natalie.
“Your arms are right here,” she responds, lifting up my left wrist.
When she lets go, my entire arm drops like a sack of potatoes. We look at each other but exchange no words. I then notice how my leg is thrown atop the dashboard. I had no idea it was up there. I stare at my Doc Martens Mary Janes, trying desperately to move my foot any which way, but it remains limp.
“I’m never going to walk again, Natalie,” I say with little emotion.
My head is cradled in her hand as she looks down at me with her doe eyes. It’s interesting to be in this moment with Natalie. Our friendship dates back to our years at the Lutheran School Association—I’ve known her longer than any other student at Warrensburg-Latham High School—and we’ve always had a knack for bringing out the silly side in one another. We’ve acted like fools for hours at a time on her dad’s riding lawn mower, and together, we perfected the art of shooting a steady stream of water through our two front teeth. We carpooled to school every day of my sophomore and junior years, and she’s the first person I picked up the day I got my license. Now, we’re in this crumpled Toyota in the middle of the country, sharing the most honest moment in both our lives.
I see her trying to think of a response to my statement, but there are no words worth speaking. Instead, we silently translate a singular message: “We will hang on together until help arrives.”
Our wait continues, and as time passes, breathing becomes my sole focus. I don’t think about why I’m having trouble; I just relax and work with what I can get into my lungs. My process is hindered when Natalie becomes too dizzy to hold my head and has to take short breaks to regain her bearings. She is losing a lot of blood, and the color has completely drained from her face. She gently rests my head over the top of the seat, and as I hang there, I close my eyes and pray for the sound of sirens. We get into a rhythm and continue to follow this process—our teamwork is seamless. I think we both know our conditions are worsening, but the mood is calm and the desolate country air is smooth and silent. There is nothing but stars and cornfields for as far as the eye can see, and the temperature is unseasonably warm.
Just as swiftly as she vanished, Marcy returns with Coach Kiick. I notice the fear in my coach’s eyes when she first sees me, but she keeps herself collected and holds my head so Natalie can lie back and rest. It feels like my lungs have a semi-truck parked on top of them, and I begin to convey some of my panic to Coach. My anxiety quickens when my chest and neck become increasingly sensitive—it becomes painful to have anything touching the area. Even my shirt collar begins to feel like barbed wire against my skin.
At last, I hear the sweet sound of sirens. A few moments later, I’m flanked by two paramedics, and I can hear many more outside the car. Their voices are soothing, and as soon as I receive oxygen, I relax. A blood pressure cuff is placed around one of my biceps, and the paramedics begin speaking in numbers and foreign terms. After some poking and prodding, one paramedic looks me straight in the eyes and says, “We’re going to get you out of this car now.”
The next thing I know, I’m in the back of an ambulance with a few EMTs working around me. I don’t really know what’s going on until one of them turns around with a pair of scissors and says, “I’m going to need to cut your shirt off.”
“No,” I protest. I explain to him it’s my favorite top that I just purchased from American Eagle in Springfield.
He stares at me with kind eyes, but my plea is useless. “I’m sorry. I have to.”
I look away in anger as he shreds my cute top and the camisole underneath. A few seconds later, a different paramedic holds up my jeans and asks, “Do you want to keep these?”
My instinct is to say, “Are you fucking kidding me?” But I’m stunned into silence as I stare at the denim stained with Natalie’s blood. I silently shake my head and try desperately to erase the image from my memory. My annoyance elevates as the paramedics continue to engage me in conversation. I realize they are only doing their jobs by keeping me alert, but I’m nearly naked, clueless about my condition, and watching people hardwire me to different machines and monitors. I have zero interest in small talk at the moment. Luckily, I’m not experiencing any pain. I only feel discomfort when something touches my chest or neck; otherwise, my motionless body is at ease.
Eventually, there’s only one EMT in the back of the ambulance with me. He snugs me with blankets, then secures me to the stretcher with large seatbelts and takes a seat on the bench beside me. He tells me we’re heading to the hospital now and places a gentle hand on my shoulder when we start to move. As we pull away, all I can hear is the haunting sound of gravel crunching beneath the tires.
Years of Wonder
At the age of four, I’m an independent ball of sass. My Uncle Louis has given me the nickname “Miss Priss,” and I’m charged to take on life. When I reach first grade, I’m in my element during school hours. I welcome knowledge; I excel in socializing. My vibrant imagination makes daydreaming a regular activity. I’ve memorized the book Rapunzel. I cherish romantic movies and take pleasure forcing Ken and Barbie into deep conversation. I often romanticize about growing up and becoming larger-than-life.
When I saw Mary Lou Retton earn two perfect 10s on the vault to capture Olympic gold, I turned to my dad and said, “I want to do that.” The following week, he had me in front of coach Cheryl Ogelsby, and I joined the local gymnastics team. After a couple years of bi-weekly practices, gymnastics has become my heartbeat—I am most alive when dancing and doing flips in a leotard. I appreciate the adoration and confidence my dad gives me. He calls me “Precious Angel” and makes me feel like a star.
I take a lot of my social cues from my mom. She’s happy, in charge, and seems to know about everything going on in the world. I sometimes think I know better than her, but our debates always end with her quipping me into silence. She’s a school psychologist so I should know better than to engage in verbal disputes with her, but my opinions are steadfast, and I often have a difficult time keeping them to myself.
My older brother, Wally, and I attend the Lutheran School Association. The teachers are nice, and I have a vibrant group of friends. I enjoy hanging around the boys (they’re fun with loads of energy), and I’ve become close with some of the girls (we spend time at each other’s houses and draw pictures for one another). Lola and Jenny are my best buds, and the three of us live in Decatur’s West End—an alluring part of town full of nature, one-hundred-year-old homes, and brick roads.
My family of four resides on North Woodlawn Ave. Our white bungalow is the first house on the block, and our street ascends into a large hill. I used to fly down the hill in my Hot Wheels with both feet on the hood and a baby bottle secured between my back teeth. Now, I’m able to balance on my scooter all the way down. Jenny’s house sits at the other end of the hill, Lola lives directly across the street from me, and there are kids in nearly every other house in-between. Wally and I expel all our energy with the neighborhood crew. Sometimes, the girls separate from the boys so we can do our own thing. Other times, we’re all together playing tag or prison ball—a territorial game that requires strategy and quiet communication. When Lola and I are in reclusive moods, we play “School” under the giant evergreen in her next-door neighbor’s backyard. We have a makeshift desk and each wright elaborate stories for the other to grade. We also like to dress up in Lola’s princess-like gowns. We’ll assume perfect posture and speak with pristine diction while discussing fairytale musings. The summer I turn eight, Lola tells me she’s moving to a Chicago suburb called Park Ridge. My mind is jostled by the idea of her absence. How will this block properly function without her? We take pictures together the day before she leaves, and I start to cry watching her roll away in a giant moving van. The first night she’s gone, I sit and stare into her dark house from my dormer windows.
At home, Wally and I share quaint living quarters upstairs. We have a playroom between our bedrooms where we read, watch TV, and play Nintendo. Wally’s a cool big brother…though he sometimes makes me scream. He likes to take my hand and slap it on my head while shouting, “Quit hitting yourself! Quit hitting yourself!”
The worst is when we are left alone and he attempts to chase me down and act like he’s going to drool on my face. I’ve become pretty quick on my feet, and if I get on my back and start kicking, I can usually thwart him. If he comes up with new tactics for a takedown, I can usually get myself out of battle pretty quickly. Otherwise, we get along well, and he never picks on me outside the house.
I cocoon myself in the warmth of our household. My mom makes great food, and the four of us eat dinner together every night, where conversations bounce around school, current events, and sports. Fridays are always pizza night, and Wally and I are allowed to drink soda on weekends. The four of us play board games, watch movies, and take fun summer vacations.
When the first day of third grade rolls around, I’m bummed Miss Rapp isn’t my teacher, but I’m stoked to see all the classmates I missed over summer break. The LSA is a small school (about sixty kids in each class), so everybody knows everybody, and we all get along pretty well. I waltz into my new classroom full of zeal when, out of nowhere, I’m taken aback by a thrilling new discovery.
There is a new boy in class, and I’m drawn to him in a way I’ve never experienced before. His name is Robert, and he has shiny blond hair and the biggest brown eyes I’ve ever seen (it’s as though he holds some sort of superhero power behind them). He sits in front of me and we quickly become friends. He’s always doing things that make me laugh, and I feel a special tingle inside when he smiles at me. As time progresses, I find myself increasingly curious about everything he does, and I go out of my way to be noticed. Eventually, I decide to stake my claim.
I approach him after recess one day and tell him I want to be boyfriend and girlfriend (I also tell him I need his answer at 3 p.m.). My staredown with the clock begins at 2:50, and the instant the minute hand is vertical, I tap his shoulder. He glances to the side and nods his head.
I feel like I just won the lottery, and an aura of maturity washes over me. When I watch Little House on the Prairie, I feel like I’m in a league with Laura and Manley, because I too have a boyfriend now. The most satisfying feeling is knowing the cutest boy I’ve ever seen calls me his “girlfriend.” I conduct myself properly when he’s near and do everything I can to make him smile.
By fifth grade, Robert and I have been “going together” for two years. We schedule our first kiss after school in the band room (a few other couples are on the docket as well). But when it’s our turn, I get nervous in front of the crowd. When some of the onlookers get bored with the show and start saying, “just do it already,” I become paralyzed with fear. This ordinary room I visit every day has now become an inescapable dungeon of doom—I start white knuckling the handle of my flute case so it doesn’t slip from my increasingly sweaty grip. After what seems like an eternity, Robert leans in to give me the sweetest kiss on the cheek. My stomach does a flip-flop as he steps back, looks into my eyes, and graces me with the kindest smile.
The first school dance comes about shortly thereafter, and we share a few slow dances (leaving room for the Holy Spirit between us, of course). On Valentine’s Day, he gives me a gold necklace.
Midway through sixth grade, I emerge as a basketball star, and the newfound confidence makes me want to explore other masculine options floating about. Robert and I eventually cut ties, and I move on to Jared—a dark-haired cutie with super long eyelashes. If our teachers aren’t paying attention, we’ll hold hands in the hallway or on the playground during recess, and we sometimes talk on the phone in the evening. During the class trip to St. Louis, we sit together on the bus. On the ride home, he puts his arm around me as I lie my head on his shoulder. Jared remains my boyfriend for a few months, but my feelings for him suddenly change when springtime arrives. I lose the desire to have any closeness with a boy, so I tell him I want to be friends and nothing more.
When I’m not in school, I’m entranced by on-screen romances. I allow my favorite couples to guide my heart: Zach and Kelly, Winnie and Kevin, Maverick and Charlie (the love scene in Top Gun left a permanent impression on my heart). I express my passion by choreographing gymnastics routines to my favorite songs by Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Debbie Gibson.
Although not yet conscious of the dangerous territory in which I am journeying, I know one thing for certain: Love has become my addiction.
This is really heartfelt…
This is really heartfelt story and not easy to write. You have a strong voice and the writing is tight. I like how you have brought in the backstory in the second chapter. Well done!
Thank you, Ruth! I…
In reply to This is really heartfelt… by Ruth Millingto…
Thank you, Ruth! I appreciate your feedback.
Your honesty and vulnerability shines through. Well done!
Thank you, Kelly! I…
In reply to Poignant by Kelly Boyer Sagert
Thank you, Kelly! I appreciate your feedback.
I am so impressed with this Amanda. What an introduction to your story. I found the writing impeccable and you had me emotionally invested from the outset. Congratulations on your fantastic work - I need to read more!!
Thank you, Charlotte! I…
In reply to Exceptional Work by Charlotte Valentine
Thank you, Charlotte! I appreciate your profound feedback.