Cyrus Dudley’s Dream:
Facing the Giants
The giants are coming. I am alone to face them.
Darn my mother! Her stupid text distracted me: “Did you pack carrots in your lunch?” Carrots? Suddenly carrots have great meaning in the world? And if I didn’t bring them, if all my food in my paper bag was suffering from carrot-loneliness, what was I supposed to do about it? Was my mother going to come swooping into school with my little baggie full of carrots, peck me on the cheek, drop them in my lunch bag and swoop away again, her motherly duties done for the day? No! She’s at work, doing her dental hygiene thing, nowhere near carrots unless she’s cleaning pieces of them out of her patient’s mouth.
Thank-you so much, Mom, for texting me about the carrots. Before your message came in, the hallway contained nothing but Shannon Baker who, rumor has it, is weirdly religious but certainly not dangerous. In other words, the coast was clear. Then, Mother, you vibrated in my pocket. My head was down as I typed in the code to unlock my phone and then hit the button to bring up your message and then twice read it, wondering if I was somehow missing something, but no, even the second time, the text remained completely dumb: “Did you pack carrots in your lunch?” Thank-you for that question, Mother. You have killed me with it.
Because all the time I looked down at my phone, my feet auto-piloted their way through the halls toward Spanish. I only stopped a few seconds ago as I stared at your ridiculous message before deleting it, yet by the time I was ready to take another step, by the time I looked up again, there they were: Three Giants. Seniors.
Mother, I am a freshman. A small one. You did that to me. With your genetics and your diet of tiny-calorie foods like carrots, you made me a small person. And since you decided to have me take violin and piano lessons instead of karate or mixed martial arts lessons, you made me not only small but defenseless. So now I am going to die because Giant Seniors at this high school, it’s a well-known fact, have a moral obligation to kill freshmen, especially if three of them come hulking down the hallway with no one else around and they happen to meet one of me.
As these Giants come closer, and I either literally feel their footfalls causing vibrations through the floor that are measurable on the Richter scale or else it’s just in my mind but either way it’s terrifying...as they come closer and their shadows cast a darkness over me, I think, Mother, put these words on my tombstone: Carrots Were His Demise.
I increase my vulnerability by looking, I’m sure, like some rabid woodchuck as I try to decide which side of the hallway to cling to as these monoliths approach. I choose the right, slightly favoring the leer of the Giant with his hands shoved in his pockets over the one swaying back and forth like a Clock of Doom. I’m certainly not going to get anywhere near the Middle One. He’s as broad as a freight train, and I wear actual smoke is pouring from his ears. The hand-pocketed Giant, though, was clearly the wrong choice because his hand is emerging from its cave, rising in my direction and Oh, Mother, I forgive you! Whatever your vegetable obsessions, I forgive you and love you and wish you were here to give your small son one final kiss!
“Put it here, Dude,” speaks the Giant. Stunned, I raise my hand to his. We slap a high-five. The Seniors pass on by.
Yea, I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and discovered I must be something more than a rabid rodent, an insect ripe for squashing, a small boy with a big death wish. I must be...okay. Pretty cool, even. He said, “Put it here, Dude,” and I was the dude who put it there, palm to palm, with a slap that wasn’t half bad, if I do say so myself. Good God, Mother, text me another one. Slap me five and fill my lunch bag full of carrots, but you’ve got yourself a winner of a son.
Reality Check: Dream 17
ü From Principal Connelly’s personal notes: “Spoke to Cyrus Dudley. Couldn’t get him to tell me who locked him in the locker this morning. Mandatory self-defense courses for freshmen?”
Shannon Baker’s Dream:
The prayer from this morning still sounds in my ears as I enter the school: “Oh, God, let us be ever mindful of thee. And Lord, if it be thy will, we pray that You hasten the hour of your re-appearance, for we, the faithful, have long endured the wait. Keep us ever pure and steadfast as thy children, adrift on our raft of righteousness in the filthy sea of unbelief. Amen.”
My father’s deep voice still resounds in my ears. The school, as I enter it, is just as my father described it in his prayer: a scum-covered sea of unbelief and blasphemy. Everywhere I look, students violate the laws of God with their immodest dress and lewd behavior. “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” says the Holy Book, first Thessalonians 5:22. Abstain? The people I go to school with follow some Bible of their own; every true scripture I can think of in the real Word of God is reversed in their unholy scripture. The verse they follow reads something like, “Embrace all appearance of evil.”
My father urges me to live in the world but be not of the world. I know what he says is true, and I try my hardest. I know he faces hardships during his day, but does he really know what it’s like here? “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” How many time has Dad left us with that exhortation? 1 Corinthians, 10:31. I recite the last part with him every time, practically since the moment I learned to speak: “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” All! Every sight, every breath, every sound I take in, I must strive to convert into a dedication to my God, my Savior, my One True Lord.
How, though? How do I convert the sight of that tattoo of a devil cavorting with a snake, the one resting on Megan Brogan’s lower back as she bends near her locker? How do I convert the lacy strands of her thong that I see underlining the tattoo? Or there, my Jesus, over there! Tell me how to deal with the sight of that girl’s tongue with the silver ball pierced into it. Such a defilement, such an adornment alone is a sin, I know, yet how do I convert what I overheard some students saying about the purpose of the piercing, that it is meant to enhance the pleasure of oral sex, an even more heinous sin? How do I erase the images practically forced into my mind? “Do all to the glory of God.” I want to, how I want to!
How, though, when I am surrounded with unholy talk--whispered, spoken, shouted, even. Sometimes, my Lord, I have counted the number of seconds I have been able to walk through the hallway between classes before I hear someone utter a vile or a profane thing. In these hallways supposedly devoted to education, I have never been able to count higher than five. No more than five seconds can I move amongst my own classmates, my peers, my generation, without iniquitous words being uttered. One, two…
“Jesus, what is my mother thinking?” the boy on the left says to his friend. His friend wears a shirt with a squirrel on it. Beneath the squirrel are the words, “Always protect your nuts.” Innocence turned to filth. How, my Lord and my God, can I do all to Your Glory when all that surrounds me opposes It?
I walk into my biology class. Mr. Gunderman greets me with a smile, which I return as warmly as I can. I have always been taught to respect my elders and my teachers. Yet even that is hard when they act as they do. Mr. Gunderman has a devil’s brand, a tattoo, on his forearm. I realize he’s simply being fashionable, that the school sanctions teachers displaying such things, but where do I turn, Father in Heaven? Where do I turn for relief when even my teachers refuse to follow Your precepts?
He writes on the board, boldly: “What is evolution? Theory or fact?” Mr. Gunderman turns to us with a challenging look on his face, his eyebrows raised high. “Does anyone want to comment on this question before I provide the answer?” he asks. I know I should say something. I definitely should say something. Here is a clear opportunity to do something for the Glory of God. “Because, contrary to what some would have you think,” Mr. Gunderman continues, “there is a definitive, indisputable, scientifically-based answer.” I know, as soon as he says “scientifically-based,” what my teacher is about to teach. I can practically feel the hand of Jesus under my own, trying to get me to raise it and say what I should say. Do all to the glory of God! So many things I don’t know how to convert into God’s glory, but in this instance, I know my duty! I should speak! Shamefully, I resist for too long, and Mr. Gunderman turns to write his answer on the board: “FACT!!!”
“No!” I stand and yell, and all the students in the class turn to look at me. Mr. Gunderman spins around, his marker pointed like a weapon. “Evolution is not a fact, Mr. Gunderman. It is definitely a theory.”
I hear the giggles around me. To my right, someone whispers, “Oh, Christ.” Mr. Gunderman tilts his head and holds up his hands to quiet everyone down, though I can tell from the tone of his voice and his half-formed smile that he thinks he’s entertaining a lunatic. “All right, Shannon, what is your explanation for the vast array of life we find on the planet?” I take a deep breath and say a quick prayer: Jesus, stand beside me and let me be Your defender. Amen.
Suddenly, the words from Genesis come to my mind. I should not rely on my own wisdom in this moment; I should simply speak the Words of God.
“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” The class erupts into full laughter, but I continue. I tell them how God, in seven days, created night and day, the heavens and the earth, how he populated the seas and the land with all manner of creatures. Mr. Gunderman tells me I’ve said enough, but I feel the glory of God in me, and I will not stop reciting: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth on earth.”
“Shannon, I need you to sit…” yells my teacher, but he stops mid-sentence. The room suddenly becomes silent except for a few quiet gasps. At first, I don’t understand what everyone is reacting to. I keep speaking the Words of God, scripture I’ve heard a hundred times but did not know I knew so well: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
Something feels odd near my feet; there is a lightness there. I look down to see that I am no longer standing on the tile floor. I am floating a foot above it and slowly, I am rising. The words of the Bible continue to come from my mouth. I no longer need to try to recall them; I have become merely the vessel, the microphone through which they flow. My voice takes on a clearer tone--not louder, just purer: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed.” The garden, Adam, Eden--I see it all so clearly in my mind’s eye! As I rise, a warmth more comforting than any blanket, any bed, any earthly sensation envelops me.
The class below me shouts in surprise as the ceiling opens and a shaft of pure white light surrounds me. Up, up I go until I am above the school. I need no longer move my mouth to speak the scriptures. I am the scriptures! The Word of God and I are one thing. God and I are one. I look around as I rise through the sky. The height does not frighten me, for I know I am safe, more safe than I have ever been. Others, a very few others, are rising through the air as well, released from the bonds of the sinful Earth below. My father waves and smiles, as do my mother and my two brothers. Others, very few others, dot the sky and ascend along with us.
I feel the arms of Jesus around me. Below us, like a giant tidal wave, a sheet of flame appears on the horizon and spreads slowly across the land. The town, the houses, the school--all are in its path. “My Lord, then will they burn?” I ask of Jesus.
He answers, his voice at once magnificent and terrible and infinitely comforting: “Yes. But you, my daughter…” He called me His daughter! God praise thy Holy Name! I rise into the Glory of God and Jesus tells me, “You, at last, are saved.”
Reality Check: Dream 18
ü Internet site Shannon Baker views most often on library computer: christiantattoos.com.
Megan Brogan’s Dream:
I get out of the car, shut the door on my mother screaming that I’m a whore.
I walk down the sidewalk and turn left toward the school. Something in me feels strange—like a bubble where my heart should be, like the air in my lungs isn’t air but something lighter. My chest is a welcome, open space like a perfect living room where people greet you and you instantly feel at home. The room inside of me is bathed in light.
When I reach out to push open the front door of the school, the door doesn’t open when I touch it; instead, it bursts into a thousand paper flowers, and the flowers float down the hallway past all the rooms, amidst all the students who turn to look with wonder as they float past them.
I am not surprised at any of this as I almost float down the hall myself, light-feeling as one of the paper flowers. Meredith Sutton says to me, “Hey, are you seeing this?” And a light blue paper flower lands in her hair for just a moment as if to say, “Meredith, you are beautiful,” and then it floats away, gently carried by an invisible current.
I say to Meredith, “Yes, I’m seeing this, and you are beautiful.”
“Why did you say that?” Meredith says.
“Because I know it’s true and the blue flower told me so.”
Meredith blinks and says, “Oh.” I reach over to a locker, touch the locker door, and it explodes into a thousand paper ribbons, paper snakes of healing and comfort that undulate and rise a foot above the rest of the lockers and follow the flowers down the hallway. “You’re beautiful, too,” Meredith says, and I know she’s telling the truth, not just returning my compliment.
Meredith reaches out to touch the locker door next to the one I just transformed into the paper snakes, gorgeous serpents with love on their minds. I know she hopes that when she touches the locker door it will transform gently and perfectly for her, too, but it doesn’t. It stays metal. I reach over and touch her hand as it touches the locker; I feel the lightness within me reach down my arm and through my hand and across my fingers and into Meredith and beyond Meredith and into the locker door. The locker door bursts into a shower of warm feathers that smell like lilacs.
The feathers don’t follow the paper flowers and the paper snakes into the current flowing down the hallway. Not at first. They swirl around us, tickle us with their texture and their lilac scent. Meredith smiles. I smile. A feather lands on her nose. She blows it off and then that feather seems to become the leader of all the feathers—it circles around Meredith’s head, inviting all the feathers to circle around her head until she is gone. Meredith is nothing but a laugh surrounded by feathers. They spin once more around her head and then parade away down the hallway.
I touch more lockers. I touch the walls. I hold Meredith’s hand. She touches the opposite wall. She jumps and touches the ceiling. Everything we touch explodes, not violently but kindly, with the intent of the sun warming the day after a cool night. No one is afraid. Everyone watches Meredith and me as we turn the school into lightness and swirling paper, feathers and gentle snakes, a swirling chaos, a parade of dreams.
Added to the current are the sounds of laughter and the sighs of wonder and the bursts of surprise as each new touch breaks the school from brick into breath, from metal into music. I look over at Meredith, she over at me. We are in love with our loveliness and no one minds and no one knows to think there’s anything wrong with love, with exploding things into beauty. Touch, touch, touch. We look down. We look at one another. Everyone looks at us.
The floor. What will happen if we touch the floor? And yet we are touching the floor. The floor remains its brown linoleum, freckled with feathers and flowers. What of the floor? we all think.
I reach down and take off my shoe. It bursts in my hand into golden-hued strands of cotton candy that flow into the current of the hallway. I take off my sock, toss it into the air. It folds into a pink paper rose and rises, touching more as it rises, transforming more as it rises until nothing is above us but the sky filled with gentle rising smiles.
I reach out with my bare toe. We all hold our breath. Slowly I dip it to the floor. No one is afraid. Everyone wants to know. Everyone believes in the transformation of light and love and letting go. My toe touches the floor. We all join the stream, paper dolls in a perfect current, headed to a somewhere that will never let us down.
Reality Check: Dream 19
ü Number of colleges to which Megan Brogan applied: 12.
ü Number of colleges within 500 miles of her home to which Megan Brogan applied: 0.
ü Number of colleges to which Megan Brogan was accepted: 0.
Meredith Sutton’s Dream:
Clearing the Air
“Today’s incredibly tasty and thoroughly nutritious lunch will be your choice of bean burgers or regular hamburgers…”
“Why are they called hamburgers when they don’t even have any ham in them?”
“Well, that is one very interesting question, Marie.”
Mrs. Proom whispers to Delia and Marie, “Girls, come on, keep it moving.” I’m standing in the corner of the secretary’s office, taking deep breaths, trying to calm down.
“The softball team will be on the road today, seeing if they can extend their winning streak by beating the Manchester squad. Should be an exciting match-up--see it if you can! A special shout-out to April Marriott—go, April!”
The daily sports, always the last thing. My time is almost here. Mrs. Proom looks over, gives me a little smile and mouths the words, “You ready?” I nod.
“And that concludes today’s announcements!” says Delia.
Marie leans into the microphone and adds, “Try to have a decent day even without the sound of our lovely voices, everybody!”
“Okay, okay, enough already,” says Mrs. Proom. “Shoo, shoo. Back to class.” Delia and Marie leave, giving me a strange look on the way out, like I’m invading their territory.
“Good morning,” says Mrs. Proom over the intercom. “We have an added important announcement this morning, so please listen closely. Meredith Sutton would like to have a few minutes of your time. Listen, everyone, please.” She gestures me over to sit down next to the mic. “Get in close.”
“I don’t know how long this will take,” I say.
“Whatever time you need, Meredith. You just go ahead.”
I thank her and lean toward the mic. I press the button. I take in another deep breath, then let it out, then realize the whole school is hearing my deep breathing. I let go of the button. “Oh, God,” I say.
Mrs. Proom puts her hand on my shoulder and kneels down to talk to me. “Meredith, your voice is important and welcomed. What you have to say matters. Just start talking. You’ll be fine. Okay?”
“Okay.” I press the mic button again and take the plunge. “Hi, everybody. This is...this is Meredith. Uh, I asked, you know, the school, uh, people if I could speak to...if there was some way I could talk to you, talk to everybody at once, and they said this would be the best way to do that, so...here I am.” I’m sounding like an idiot. This is a bad idea. But Mrs. Proom is still smiling, and I guess, since I’ve started, I have no choice but to keep talking.
“There’s some nasty rumors going around about me. And I need to say, to tell you all, that that’s all they are--rumors. First off, I know some people think that I’m, like…” I take my finger off the button and say to Mrs. Proom, “I kind of need to use a bad word.”
“I trust your judgment. Say what you need to say.”
Button down. Onward. “I know some people have been saying that I’m, like, a slut because I broke up with Greg and then started hanging out with Carl, like, the next day. But listen: me and Carl have been friends since second grade. I’ve always been able to talk to him, and when me and Greg started having problems, Carl listened to me! I mean, he really took the time to listen. I didn’t cheat on Greg before we broke up. That would make me a slut, and I’m not a slut. I’m--what can I say?--a girl, and girls really like it when guys talk to them, listen to them, and so when Carl was listening, you know, I guess I started to develop feelings for him. I’ll admit that. I had feelings for Carl before I broke up with Greg, but we didn’t act on them. But when me and Greg broke up, well, you know, it was just...nice to have Carl there to sort of pick up the pieces. So it might have seem rushed and slutty, but it wasn’t. It was just the logical next thing, that’s all.”
I pause. I can hear my final word “all” echoing through the hallways. It’s pretty cool to hear your words sort of bouncing around the school. I feel myself relaxing. I glance over at Mrs. Proom and she gives me a big thumbs up.
“Do I have any more time?” I ask her.
“If you have more to say, Honey, you have more time. I think it’s wonderful that you’re clearing the air like this.” Clearing the air. That’s right. That’s just what I’m doing. Like the air about me is filled with fog, like my reputation is all smudged and unclear like the bathroom mirror after somebody has taken a hot shower and you need to turn on the fan and wipe the mirror so you can really see yourself. That’s what I’m doing. I’m clearing the air so people can see the real me!
Mrs. Proom leans in and says, “I mean, really, Meredith, what are you interrupting? Math, science, English, French? As if conjugating verbs or calculating orbits matters more than what you have to say? I don’t think so.” She winks at me and pushes the microphone closer. “Keep talking.”
“Uh, so, hi, it’s still me, Meredith, and I have a few more things I want to say to, uh, clear the air. So yeah. About the whole thing where some people are saying that I’m a slut for being with Carl and all, I pretty much explained why I’m with him and everything, but here’s the thing. The main person spreading this whole rumor about me, she is the major slut, not me.” I put my hand over the mic. “I shouldn’t mention last names, should I?” I ask Mrs. Proom.
She’s putting a second coat of super bright red polish on her nails. She stops blowing on them for a second and says, “Who do you want to mention?”
“Honey, the fact that Megan is a slut is hardly news to anybody. Go for it. Look, just stop editing, stop asking. You’ve got things to say, important things that people need to hear. Sing it out, Sweetheart!”
All this time I thought Mrs. Proom didn’t even know who I was. I love this lady. I grab the microphone by the throat and pull it in close.
“Yeah, Megan Brogan, I’m talking about you!” I let the word “you” bounce around the walls for a while. Megan’s in gym class right now, so I bet the echo is really great in there. I can just see her standing there, holding a volleyball, thinking she’s all that in her super-tight short-shorts, until now, when I’ve just said her name and all eyes are on her.
“You want to tell everybody what a skank I am, Megan? Well, what about you? What about how you got totally smashed last weekend and you were hitting on anyone with a dick and even on a couple without one, what about that?”
“Ew, nice,” purrs Mrs. Proom, sipping her coffee.
“I’d like to know how you get off spreading rumors about me when I know for a fact, a total fact, that three guys scored on you in one night, plus you gave head to two more the next morning, so don’t even try telling anyone about me being a slut for going out with a guy who happens to listen to me. The only way you get a guy to listen is when you tell him you’re not wearing any underwear, you total sleazebag!”
God, this feels good! By the time I’m done twenty minutes later, I have taken on everyone who has said a nasty thing about me since fourth grade. Mrs. Proom has been urging me on with “you go, girl” and “amen to that” like a crowd in one of those holy-roller churches. I have picked up that microphone and paced around like I’m center stage and killing it on The X Factor. Cleared the air? I have cleared it, scrubbed it, turned it into crystal. “And just one last thing…to Delia and Marie, our morning announcers, I’m taking your job from here on out because you two totally suck!”
I put the microphone down. I take my finger off the button. Mrs. Proom reaches over to turn off the power to the intercom, then stands up and gives me a loud high five. “Now that’s what I call education!” she yells, and as I walk back to class with my cell chiming every three seconds, texts pouring in telling me what a hero I am, I think, damned straight. Damned straight, I taught them all today.
Reality Check: Dream 20
ü Text conversation between Greg Wallace and Carl Moore:
Greg: Meredith’s hot for you. Want her?
Carl: What about you?
Greg: No longer interested.
Carl: U sure?
Greg: Go for it.