Ian Emery’s Dream:
I arrive at school ten minutes before the first bell. I go to the library, nod to the librarian. She gives me a puzzled look, no doubt reacting to the extra-long bike cable and two padlocks draped around my neck.
In the back corner of the library is a concrete pillar painted blue and yellow, our school colors. Right next to it is a comfortable stuffed chair. I take the cable from around my neck, wrap it around the pillar and through the loop on one end of the cable, then padlock it. I take the other end of the cable and put it around my ankle. Before attaching the padlock, I glance over at the magazine rack. I consider what I’m about to do. I know I have several interesting books in my backpack, but a magazine or two might help. I step out of the cable, take a couple issues each of Outdoor Life, Time, and Bicycling, and return to my chair.
A freshman boy has the end of my bicycle cable in his hand, showing it to his friend.
“What’s up with this?”
“Hi,” I say, stepping between the two boys, taking the cable back.
“Hey,” the thief says. “That yours?”
I sit down with my magazines and proceed to cable and lock my ankle to the library pillar while the freshman says, “Dude, what are you doing? Are you even allowed to do that?”
I pull out the sign I have constructed for my project. I place it on the floor next to me. It reads, “ENOUGH.”
The bell rings and the boys walk away from me. I hear the talkative one saying I am seriously whacked. I take the first book out of my backpack. It’s called Shadow Divers, about deep-sea divers who discover a sunken German U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey. I read for about 20 minutes until my eyes get tired. I close them, and I’m just getting that first floating sensation that happens at the beginning of sleep when someone taps my hand.
It’s the librarian, looking at me through her round glasses. “Excuse me, what’s your name?” I don’t answer. I smile at her and close my eyes again. “No, uh, you can’t--young man!” I open my eyes. “I am an adult in this building and I am making a reasonable request, which is asking you to tell me your name.” I nod and smile. “So?” she insists, “are you going to tell me your name? Because if you don’t, because I am making a reasonable request, that would be misbehaving on your part and, and, well, I’ll need to refer you to Mr. Connelly. I don’t have a choice.” I keep smiling. She walks away quickly, looking like a duck. Maybe a penguin.
Morgan Haynes and Diksha Jones come over to me. Morgan says, “Hey, Ian.” I nod.
Diksha points to my sign. “Enough,” she reads. “What’s up with this?”
“Is this, like, performance art or something?” Morgan asks. I shrug and smile.
“Whoa, look at this,” Morgan says, grabbing the cable that has me linked to the pillar.
“Ian,” says Diksha, “are you serious? How long are you going to do this?”
“What if you have to go to the bathroom?” This I’ve considered. In order not to have the bathroom issue be a serious impediment to my project, I stopped eating and drinking at 5:00 yesterday afternoon. I think I’ll be fine. Hungry, but fine.
Mr. Connelly arrives, stomping across the floor of the library like a determined rhino. I’m not sure why I’m comparing people to animals, but, while I’m at it, Morgan and Diksha, when they see Mr. Connelly coming, scurry away like chipmunks. Chipmunks on cell phones. The word is getting out.
“All right, Ian,” says Mr. Connelly sternly. The librarian is behind him. “It is Ian, right?” I nod my head a little. “Is your name Ian?” Mr. Connelly repeats, and I repeat my head nod. “No. That’s not going to cut it with me. I asked you a verbal question; I need a verbal answer.” I tip my head once more, trying to do it exactly as I did the first two times. “That is definitely one count of clear insubordination. I need you to unlock yourself from that pillar and get up.” I take a deep breath. This is what I came for. I keep the smile plastered to my face. A forced smile hurts after a while; I never realized that.
Behind Mr. Connelly and the librarian, a small group of students has gathered. Cattle. Mr. Connelly glances back at them. “Hey,” he says, “just move along, guys. There’s nothing concerning you here.” The cattle thin, pretending to disperse, but when Mr. Connelly turns his attention back to me, they regroup. Others straggle over.
“Look, Ian, I’m going to be straight with you. If you’ll unlock this cable and come with me now, I think we can write this whole thing off as a cute little prank. Maybe a detention, two at the most, but that’ll be that. This is a one-time offer, though. If I walk away from here, it’ll be to call your parents, maybe even the police. Things are going to get a lot more complicated, you follow? So do the right thing. Let’s go.” If I allowed myself to speak, I might say I am doing the right thing, according to my plan. I just keep the smile going.
Mr. Connelly lets out a heavy sigh and turns around. He almost runs into the librarian. I nearly laugh, but I stop myself because I’ve pledged no sound will escape my lips today. Silence and smiles and a sign that says “Enough.” I can’t hear their whispered conversation, but it looks like it’s going something like this:
“What should I do?”
“I’m going to go call his parents.”
“But what do I do right now?”
“He doesn’t seem to be hurting anyone. Just let him sit there.”
“For how long?”
“For how long?”
“Until I get this figured out!”
Of course, all that’s just imagined, but it probably went something like that because now Mr. Connelly is walking away and now the librarian is staring at me and now she’s turning to walk away, too, and I would definitely have to come down on the side of penguin to describe her movement.
Now that the adults are gone, the herd gathers around. “Ian, this is so cool,” says Delia Nutting. “But what does ‘Enough’ mean? You have to tell me.” I shrug again.
“He rides his bike to school every day,” Alan Sargent guesses. “I bet this is some kind of crunchy-granola protest against global warming or something.”
“No, I bet it’s for shooting a commercial, like a reality-show thing,” says Caroline Upton, holding Alan’s hand.
The theories fly, and I close my eyes to listen to the humming. Not cattle anymore. Agitated bees.
“I’ll tell you what it means,” comes a very commanding voice. Along through the crowd marches Janna Terwilliger, student body president and self-appointed official pain in the ass. She stands next to me. “You want to know what ‘enough’ stands for, huh? You want to know what Ian’s silence stands for, why he’s cabled himself to this pillar? I’ll tell you right now!” The crowd is getting a little agitated. This ought to be good.
“Janna, get back to class!” shouts Mr. Connelly, returning from the office.
“Take out your cellphones, everybody! Record this! This is oppression in action!” Janna yells, and the bee-cows comply.
“Look, people, no, put away your cell phones. You’re being rebels without a clue, here.”
“No cellphones in the library!” squawks the librarian, killing off any bit of peace Mr. Connelly was hoping to establish.
“Somebody call the press! This is oppression!” shouts Janna. By now the herd has expanded to fill half the library, and the mood is quickly shifting from vague curiosity to possible stampede. Wherever this goes, and it’s going somewhere fast, no one can say I directed it. Started it, maybe, but this noise, that shoving, these threats...they sprang up like tiny turtles emerging from the sand.
I sit back, a spectator at the zoo, and enjoy the sights and sounds playing out around me. So this is what happens when someone locks himself in the library, refuses to speak, and puts out a sign reading “Enough.” I always wondered. Very entertaining.
Reality Check: Dream 59
ü 1st line of note e-mail sent to Ian Emery’s parents from Principal Connelly’s office: “I regret to inform you that your son is suspended from school for two days.”
ü Headline in school newspaper: “Pillars of Democracy: Is Peaceful Protest Dead?” by Janna Terwilliger.
Alan Sargent’s Dream:
For the past two weeks, even before The Night, I’ve been having this argument with myself, sort of like the devil and the angel on the shoulders thing, only I don’t know which is which. It’s just one side and another.
One side says, “You should do it. Just do it.”
And the other side says, “Why? There’s nothing wrong with her.”
“Except every night you have to call her and three times during the day, plus texts.”
“But I don’t want to be a jerk. We did have The Night.”
“So what, The Night? Everybody has The Night nowadays. For most guys it’s just a night.”
“I’m not most guys.”
“News flash: You are most guys. Just do it. Get it over with.”
So that’s how my mind is going in the middle of study hall when Caroline texts me: “We have to talk.”
One shoulder guy practically screams, “See that? You’re whipped. Be done with it!”
I text back, “Sup?”
“Next period, back of the aud?”
My two debaters have moved off my shoulders and met in the middle of my chest. They’re duking it out big time, and the only thing winning is this sick feeling of being trapped. I text back “k.”
There’s a cage in the auditorium built around some lighting equipment. Henry Owens, my theatre techie bud, introduced me to it a year ago. It’s got a lock on it that’s never locked, and it’s usually pretty dark and secluded, so me and Caroline go there and fool around. Except lately Caroline hasn’t wanted to, especially since The Night. Since then it’s always been these intense talks about where our relationship is going and stuff. I usually end up saying “I don’t know” and “I’m not sure” a lot.
We’re leaning against the chain links inside the cage. Caroline’s looking down at her sneakers, and I think she might be about to cry. My guys are still at it:
“Now is the perfect opportunity! Do it! Do it!”
“What, do you want to be a total asshole? Why would you be like that?”
Before I can get myself together enough to say something to Caroline, she steps toward me and plants a big kiss on my lips. This throws me totally off and all I can think is, “Hey, maybe she wants to fool around, after all,” but before I can even get my hands geared up for action, she steps away.
“Alan,” she says. “I don’t know how to say this.”
Well, that’s new. I thought we were pretty much past the “like” stage. The battling dudes in my chest have shut up, at least. We’re all just trying to figure out what’s going on.
“Well, yeah, I kind of figured you liked me. I mean we, you know…” What do I say here? I’m not going to use the most f-bomb, that’s for sure. But even backing off a little is too harsh. “I figured you liked me. We did screw.” No. “We did have The Night.” That’s wimpy as hell, and I don’t even know if Caroline refers to it that way. “We did go all the way.” Middle school much? “I mean, I could tell you liked me by the way we cuddled.” Puke-worthy. “Had sex” is too clinical, “made love” is too married. “Well, yeah, I kind of figured you liked me. I put my thing in your thing.” Words suck when it comes to crap like this.
It’s really hot in here, in this cage next to all the lighting equipment, and really cramped. I’m not getting any closer to understanding why she kissed me or why she backed away or what she’s thinking over there, leaning against the fencing, her eyes shiny with tears. I just begin to open my mouth when Caroline speaks instead.
“Alan, it’s just not going to work. I mean, I know we’ve been close and it’s been fun at times, it really has, but we don’t have the same goals. We’re just kids! It’s not like we’re engaged or anything. I don’t want to hurt you; that’s the last thing I want to do because you’re a really great guy.”
She’s breaking up with me. She’s gotten past the silence and into the message and it’s taking her about a thousand words to get it out, but the message is: We’re done. She is saying it. The battling dudes inside me aren’t battling anymore. They’re high-fiving like we all just won the state relationship championship.
I’m doing my best to keep a serious look on my face. It would be really bad to bust out laughing right now as Caroline’s trying to tell me how I’m patient and good and she’s sure I’ll find somebody else. I crouch down and drop my head on my hands, hoping I looked bummed out instead of what I actually am, which is completely stoked and feeling like a could throw a back flip if I weren’t inside this cage.
“Oh, Alan,” Caroline says, and she kneels down beside me. I have to be careful here. I don’t want her to take me back out of pity. Deep breath. Get rid of the smile. Look up.
“Caroline, I get it. I’m glad you said something, you know? I wouldn’t want you to feel trapped in a relationship you didn’t want.”
“No, it’s not like that. I don’t feel trapped. I just want us to…”
“You just want us to be able to be our best selves, right? I get that. That’s what I want, too. We some space to be able to do that. To…to be able to find ourselves.”
“Yeah, that’s right. We need some space. I’m so glad you understand.” She smiles. I smile back. It’s a sweet moment. The Academy Award goes to Alan Sargent. Thank-you for the gold statue of the naked guy and thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for my freedom!
“Are you going to be okay?” Caroline asks, standing up. “I should probably get going.”
“Oh, yeah. Just…”
“One last kiss good-bye, okay?”
One inner dude gets worried: “Hey! What’s the deal?” But the other one gets me and says, “Chill.”
Can there be anything sweeter than lips to lips, tongue to tongue, hand to boob when you know that’s all it is? Lips, tongue, boob, good-bye. I savor it, and Caroline walks away. I’m sitting in a cage in the dark in the heat, and I’ve never felt so relieved in my life.
Reality Check: Dream 60
ü Note to Bill Watson from Dee Granger: “Check to make sure lighting cage is locked, back of the aud. Kicked two kids out of there yesterday.”
ü True/False health class question: “Having unprotected sex only once rarely leads to pregnancy or the spread of STDs.” Alan Sargent’s answer: True.
Henry Owens’ Dream:
In science today we learn that God is real. Astronomers have found heaven, and with extremely high-powered telescopes, they have been able to see that God does sits on His throne with His attending angels all around Him. With extremely high-powered microphones, these same scientists have confirmed that God’s voice is glorious and kind. The transcripts of His conversations demonstrate that He loves us and knows us all, every single person, even me. God mentioned me specifically, how pleased He is when I’m a good boy, how He has a reward waiting for me.
Our math teacher confirms today that Santa Claus can, in fact, visit every house in every country of the world in just one night. Modern mathematicians have also shown that the likelihood that Santa exists is nearly 100%. He loves everyone, too, just like God does.
At lunch, the cafeteria people have replaced the posters of the food pyramids and the celebrities urging us to eat vegetables. Instead, the posters just tell us how proud we’ll be if we eat everything on our plates. We get served spaghetti and meatballs, cheesy white bread with garlic, and ice cream for dessert--all my favorite foods--and, when I ask for seconds, my favorite cafeteria woman piles it on and says, “Wow, what a healthy appetite you have!”
During our game of kickball in gym, Coach Simmons tells me that I need to go down to the office. When I arrive, I find Mom and Dad sitting in the waiting area along with my younger sister Muriel. They have brought her from the middle school to have a family meeting. We all walk into the conference room, and as we go, Dad holds Mom’s hand, Mom holds Muriel’s hand, and Dad puts his arm around my shoulder.
In the conference room, Mom and Dad sit us down and tell us that they were only kidding about their divorce. They never meant what they said about falling out of love with each other. “How could we have meant it?” Mom says as she leans her head on my dad and Dad pulls her close. “How crazy is it to think that two people could be so in love as to take the huge step of getting married and having children, and then fall out of love just because of some misunderstandings and difficulties?”
Dad says, “No, we were just kidding about the whole thing. In retrospect, it was a bad joke, but we hope you’ll forgive us. Oh, and also, Uncle Norman doesn’t have cancer anymore. The doctors made a mistake about that. He’ll be just fine the next time we see him.” I’m so happy about that because it hurt a lot to see such a vibrant man who always seemed to have a fishing rod in his hand turn into a skeleton covered in loose, hanging skin.
Before sending me back to class and bringing Muriel back to school, my parents have one more bit of good news for us: Grandma Ellis woke up! She’s finally finished with that long, long nap she was taking in the decorated box. I can almost taste the chocolate nut bars she’ll make for us again, and I can’t wait to help her unpack all her things, pull up that stupid “for sale” sign on her yard and move back into her old house.
In art, we take seeds and uncooked macaroni and form pictures of the things we love. I make a picture of my dog standing next to the tree in our backyard. Ms. Collison tells me not to worry about smearing the glue. She praises my pictures and talks to me about what kind of dog I have, and I tell her that it’s a cocker spaniel and for ten minutes I tell her more things about my dog. She nods and smiles the whole time. Her homework is just like the homework I’ve been getting all day: Mrs. Collison wants us to just appreciate the beautiful shapes and colors all around us. Nothing to write or do except enjoy how rich our lives are.
In history, we learn how America is the greatest country in the world, how it was discovered by people like Christopher Columbus who only wanted to find some land where everyone could be free to be their best and do their best. We learn that Americans have always treated our neighbors in the world with respect. We learn that every war we’ve ever fought was to protect not just the freedom of Americans, but the well-being of even those who opposed us.
As I listen to my history teacher explain how we won in Vietnam and we’re winning now in countries like Afghanistan, I find my thumb looking extremely delicious. I can’t keep myself from sucking it. It brings me wonderful comfort. I look around and see that Minji Ryang is curled up in a ball on the floor, fast asleep. Daniel Fraser has a stuffed animal under his shirt. It’s okay, though. It’s all okay. We’re safe and cared for here in school and even in our whole, wide lives.
Reality Check: Dream 61
ü Text from Henry Owens to Zander Paolino: “Heard from a friend you might have something to help me escape things a little. True?”