This is an early version of a story I wrote for the Dreams show at Salonathon, at the Beauty Bar in Chicago.
When I was a little kid I used to dream that I had a broken arm and that I broke it, not in an accident or during a sports game, but that I just woke up in the morning in my bed, broken. I imagined how the gossip would trickle down, the speculation on why I wasn’t in school while I was standing in pain drinking a glass of grape juice using my “good” arm while my mom, who now had to take at least the morning off work, was engaged in a flurry of pre-call waiting phone calls, which included her saying multiple times, “No, he is not faking.”
When I was a little kid and awake, I used to try and break my own arm, just so I would be able to live out what I so often dreamed about. I used to stand on my bed, facing the wall, put my arm behind my back and fall onto the floor. It would hurt and it would make a hell of a sound, but I was always fine. I remember I tried so often to break my arm that I got exasperated and started crying, not because I was hurt, but because I thought I might be unbreakable. One time, my Dad came in the room and saw me tangled on the floor, crying and he said, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” and I said, pulling myself together and trying to cover my eyes, “I fell.”
At the doctor’s office, I dreamt that the doctor would tell me, after a hushed conversation with my Mom in the hallway, a conversation which ended with her gasping and the doctor half-heartedly putting his hand on her shoulder, that they were going to have to remove the arm.
I said to the doctor, “But all I want is a cast. I want to show up to school late and have girls that don’t know how awesome I am sign it.” The doctor just let me keep talking. “I want to show up to school late, walk into class with a note and have the whole class look at me, at my brand new unsigned cast. The teacher will try to calm the class down but everyone would be looking at me and grab their markers and hold them with anticipation. The students that didn’t bring markers to class would be asking other students if they had extras. Money might be exchanged. It would be a privilege to sign my cast. ”
When class was over, I dreamt that there would be a line, a line sort of like the line at a wedding where you greet the bride and groom after the ceremony. Everyone was nice to me, even the girl who I once gave gum to that said the gum I gave her was stale. She said, “Chris, I am so sorry.” Her apology, in my dream, was not about my arm, but about everything, about the whole fucking world.
I dreamt I had to sit out of gym class and pretend to sulk on the sidelines as the other kids played basketball. In the dream, one of the really popular kids, Justin, who was popular because he was tall and had a mane of red/blonde hair that bounced like an Irish dancer when he ran, had no idea at the time that he would never grow another inch after 15, yelled to me, “Hey Chris, we could really use you out here.” I looked up at Justin and smiled, half-smiled and pointed to my arm in a sling, and said with my eyes, “I wish” but what I really said, in the dream, to the tall popular boy Justin was, “Your hair is really beautiful.” I turned red hot when I said it and I knew right away that I made a mistake. I tried to cover my eyes with both of my hands but I had a broken arm in a sling so it probably looked like I had one eye covered with one hand and the other was trying to claw into my mouth like there was loose gold in my teeth.
When the gym teacher, Mr. Hayward, who had a clipboard, a mostly bald head and a goatee, heard what I said, he blew his whistle hard and said, “I think we are done for the day.”
Only ten minutes of the class had gone by and we were in school. What is there to be done with the next 40 minutes? That’s what everyone was talking about, something they will never have to be worried about once they leave high school, and enter the world of shitty college classes that end 30 minutes early or days at work where your boss tells you to leave early because he has an BBW escort coming over to the office to introduce him to the art of pegging. But I was not dreaming of a world as fucked up and complicated as all that, I was dreaming of a place where…well, I was wrong about that.
As everyone walked to the locker room, confused and delighted, I sat back and realized that I had nothing to change into. I was already in my street clothes and was already ready for my next round of sympathy.
As I got up to leave, Mr. Hayward said, “Chris! Hang tight. I want to talk to you.“
I stayed back and waited for Mr. Hayward to come to me. I stood up from my fiberglass bench seat and I saw his bald head glistening and his whistle was bouncing around his chest.
“Are you single?” I asked as he approached me and my head, which has just started cooling down starting searing. I said, “Mr Hayward, I didn’t mean that, I’m sorry, I meant to ask you something else.” I took off my dusty hat and rubbed it awkwardly into my pants.
Mr Hayward grabbed me and I struggled and shook him off me. I loosened up because I was not mad at him, and I wasn’t mad because he was a good and fair coach. He held my hand and waited for me to stop breathing so hard. He held my hand and asked me a question I wasn’t expecting, “Did you forget your rape whistle?”
I started to cry and I cried so much that my tears started to fill the gym and Mr. Hayward and I started to float up in the gym, up near the frosted angled windows and we could see birds perched on the Elm trees. He started swimming and swam all the way across the gym, which was now a pool and he said, “Chris, you’ll learn to swim like that, don’t worry. One day, a lot of things are going to come true for you.”
“Mr. Hayward,” I said, “I know how to swim, I just have this bum arm,” and as I went to look for it, it was gone and just like that so was the water and I fell to the gym floor and broke both of my ankles, both femurs, both knee caps and 4 fingers on the only hand I had left. I screamed and wailed and Mr. Hayward blew his whistle and told me to “Man the fuck up” because my new procession line was about to begin.
All of the kids from all of the schools in the world were waiting outside, holding markers, stickers, all ready to sign me. They came in politely at first, but while I was trying to “man up” they started to “mob up” and I yelled to them, “I’m not ready yet, I don’t even have any casts yet. “ But that didn’t stop them. They signed me everywhere, my head, my clothes, the part of my leg bone that had burst through the skin, and even the phantom cast protecting the phantom arm I had imagined to be in the sling that they let me wear because they thought it made me feel better. They were signing the underside of my tongue when I woke up. I shivered, checked to see if I had 2 arms and began to glow about one day, getting that kind of attention.