Novelist and playwright Veronica Gonzalez Peña creates an original piece for NeueJouranl — a fictional time-code for a nocturnal rumination.
In the dream we are in the back of a station wagon—like children, little kids— it’s ample and we are lying down in that long rectangular space, like a coffin. When we arrive, we step out; who has been driving us? I look at you standing there and I am you. We are so alike. And then we are in your room. I’ve never seen it, of course; it is your childhood room, where you’d tell stories to your younger sister, deep into the night. It is small and cramped, just as you’ve described it. But in my dream it is long too, rectangular and narrow, like the back of that station wagon, like that coffin I can’t stop thinking about. And so I wake from your room, force myself awake. My heart. I wake up panting, and my heart, it is racing.
You read, curled up like a cat in one corner of the couch. You read voraciously. Once in a while, as you read, you make low noises in your throat, sounds you are probably not aware of, but which I note. They say something to me about you.
Sometimes you get up from the couch and sit at your small desk and start typing, writing and writing. You work on a typewriter because it gives you some distance, you say. It keeps things from getting too intense. The sound of the letters hitting the page, the time it takes them to get there after leaving your fingers, the sound of it when they land, the clacking. It’s the only way you can write, you say, distance. I sit at my computer, my desk across the room, my back to you; my writing is silent by comparison. Sometimes we work like this for hours and hours on end. I leave the room more often than you, leave the apartment, go outside to see the light, and when I return you are still there, hunched over the noise of those letters hitting the page.
This is when you are happiest, you say, our backs to each other, both working away. Or else when we are in bed, in each other’s arms, telling each other things, talking in whispers though we are alone. After you father died,your sister would come into your bed and you would tell her stories, things you’d make up. You would work hard to make the stories turn out okay, though what was driving you at your core was terror. You never told her this, how hard you worked to make those stories okay. She would settle into sleep, and you would be overtaken by that deep dread.
Often, I fall asleep before you do. Though I sometimes wake in the middle of the night and look at you there, all curled up like a baby, curled up like you do on the couch when you are reading.
The first time you disappear I am terrified. I call your sister and she says there is nothing I can do. When you come back, days later, I am angry and you tell me you just do this sometimes.
“Well, I don’t like it,” I say. You turn to me, “Of course not,” you say. Of course you don’t. It must be terrible for you. You are so tender as you say it. I can see that you know it is awful; I can see your concern. Why can’t you help yourself?
I am not quiet. I know of quiet people, writers who extricate themselves from life, who live in the woods, or near the sea, and work and work and think. I want to be like that. I want to be like them, but I am not. I get angry. I scream and cry. I throw myself at you.
This was not a dream: We were in a group, people drinking scotch and champagne. It was a celebration. You were sitting with your hand on her knee and though I didn’t know you yet, your fingers were long and when you kissed the side of her head. I looked away.
Your eyes are big and dark, they are black, almost, and even when you smiled at me at the end of that night, those heavy lidded, deep-set eyes looked a bit sad.
You rushed at me at the end of the night. I had just met you. And as I was leaving, you came from out of nowhere and grabbed my arm and kissed at my cheek and said good night. I was putting my coat on. You were excited and you just missed my mouth. “I really enjoyed talking to you,” you said. Though we had barely exchanged a word. “I hope I run into you again,” I said. “You never know,” you replied. “You never know when I’ll show up.” And then I finished adjusting my coat and when I turned toward you, you were gone.
Did that really happen? How could you appear and disappear like that? My coat partially on and the place dense with music and talking.
We end up together. We drive to the desert. You say you knew this. At that bar. That we would some day be together. In the desert you tell me about your father. I want to say I’m sorry. I want to take you in my arms, but I know that there is nothing I can say or do to match what you have just told me and so I lie still and silent there next to you. At some point I reach for your hand, and you let me take it. And like this we lie on the hood of your car, looking at stars, for a very long time.
Sometimes when you have to do things, the things a son must do for a father who died long before his job was done, your rage turns inward and you become gray and flat. The grayness fills our car as we drive delivering his paintings to a collector two states away, a seven hour drive. The collector will want to talk about your father. You will avoid this. The flat gray is palpable in our car, but I know I cannot say a thing and so I stare out the window, wanting to cry. How will you ever move beyond it if you cannot speak it.
Once in a Japanese restaurant, the couple two tables away from us sat quietly fighting. It was strange, for it was a silent battle they were fighting. In a crowded restaurant where everyone else was talking. My eyes were drawn to that woman’s eyes, which were red and wet with tears. The man just stared at her, for long periods at a time, every once in a while trying to wipe her face for her; she wouldn’t let him, kept pulling herself away, her black shoulder-length hair falling onto her cheek, dipping into her mouth. I tried to look away, but couldn’t. I ignored my meal, ignored you, in order to stare at the two of them.
It is me. I am crying and talking, with you looking on. Yes. I remember now. I am angry. I am louder than I should be, in a restaurant where everyone else is quiet. You keep trying to reach for my face, to touch my face, my long, dark hair wet and sticking to the side of my face.
You remove a strand from my cheek. “I don’t like it when you disappear,” I say. You turn to me, “Of course not,” you say. “Of course you don’t.” You look into my eyes. I am crying. “It must be terrible for you,” you add. You are so tender as you say this. I reach my mouth up to you and you kiss me for a long long time.
In my dreams, these dreams I have, I am either dying with you, or I am on a boat and you are sinking deep into the ocean below me, and I know I can- not pull you up. This, or else you are leaving; you are far out of my reach. I do not chase you because I know it will not make a difference. I am passive at your leaving because I know there is nothing I can do. Still, I want to be able to chase you. I want it to make a difference. Better yet, I want to be the one who gets chased. I want to say no, and have you run beside me begging me for words. I want you to tell me your terrifying stories and for you to know that I can take it, that I can listen and absorb your dread. But I am not really like that. I am not a silent listener. I am not kind and gentle. I am not merely receptive. I yell at you to wake up, I tell you that you must, I am not patient in your slow death, I am not quiet in your self-imposed coffin.
Artwork: Josephine Meckseper, Untitled (Coors Light), 2014 © Josephine Meckseper. Image courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York