I wrote down the dream because something happened to me that day. But by the end of the entry, I was too drained to go on. Reading it now makes me frustrated, angry. In my other hand I’m clutching my rosary till it digs into my palm. How can I write so…what’s the word? Poetically? How can I write like that when my daughter is dead? Only dreams can make one do that, which is why I’m beginning to think that dreams are a distraction at best and something that can kill me at worst. But if I’m going to make it, whatever that may even mean, I’m going to have to stop the fantasies. I’ll tell you now what caused me to write the dream in the first place. As my alarm clock went off, it was somehow set to the radio, and a curious report began, which I later found in the paper: The NASA’s Solar Events Observatory, with its constant eye on the sun, imaged one of the most significant solar flares ever recorded. The solar flare emission peaked last Sunday at 3:00 a.m. on the right side of the sun and was categorized as an X5.1-class flare. World-renowned cosmologist Dr. Nyson comments: “It just goes to show you that the sun is what gives us all life, it’s truly and literally, the light, the life-source, of our existence. But, as I’ve said before, the universe is out to kill us. It momentarily gives us life, our brief, flickering moment, and then snatches it. As for the sun, to us, such a flare could burn the planet to ash quicker than we butter our toast, but to the sun, that flare was barely even a yawn, barely an early morning stretch.”
Last Sunday is when I had had the dream, and 3 a.m. is when I’m usually in the full rhythm of sleep. What a coincidence that I had flown into the sun and subsequently the largest solar flare occurred? It makes me wonder, and it might explain quite a bit, if not a part of me, my soul, my spirit perhaps, had really been shed and cast into the furnace, so to speak. Ever since I lost her, I’ve felt like I no longer have a complete spirit, in every sense of the word, all except for spirits, those that are consumed, those that lighten my burden. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I might as well mention it now: I was a recovering alcoholic, and it feels as though I’m about to embrace that stigmatized label again. It is with the greatest of resistances, through God, that I’ve been able to drink only some nights, and never enough to wake up with so much as a headache. But I fear that these spirits, as the slow replacement of my own, will allow me to lose myself not in dreams and not in reality, but in numbness like no other. I can already feel it now. I’ve been able to fight the urges some days, and some days not. But as time passes I become more afraid…I’m so alone.
The loneliness hasn’t ceased. On the contrary, it grows every day. It swells as a chasm in the chest. I miss her. I miss both of them….
All fetuses have life-nurturing bodies in which for months they swim in a secret sea of sustenance. All babies have mothers. Yet I have mentioned the mother, my former wife Lily, only twice. Once at the beginning of this black notebook, and again when recalling my daughter’s name. The thought of Lily is painful, but maybe writing about her will act as a kind of catharsis, just as writing about my beloved daughter has helped me, although in the smallest way. Nonetheless, in the ever-growing void, light, however infinitesimal, is a welcome change….
I was an English teacher at Tiaro Middle School back then, and still am. Although the institution has allowed me time off, I don’t believe I can ever return. I can picture them all: the children, little bodies cramped into individual desks, their eyes so uninterested and devoid of shine, their mouths perpetually pulled into a parabola by sheer boredom, their chins dotted and downward. My methods never worked. Pop quizzes, power points, discussions, workshops, relevant Mad Libs, field trips, a slackness on the rule against food and drink in the classroom, and eventually free-for-all learning, which devolved into a cafeteria kind of madness. Every attempt was a failure. I couldn’t reach any of them. The only thing that mattered to me was making things matter in others people’s lives. I tried to teach the classic literature that I grew up with: Fitzgerald, Salinger, Hurston, Lee, even a greatly failed attempt at Faulkner. I wanted to instill and share with them a love of knowledge. Unable to do that, I went to see Father Joseph about some ways in which I could try to inspire my students on a different level. He mentioned that I could use the Holy Spirit as a teaching tool. Once they accept the Holy Spirit, they could learn everything I wanted to teach them, the entire syllabus and more, he said. Father Joseph suggested I sit in on the Bible study sessions led by a new volunteer named Lily, and so I did (I hadn’t attended Bible study since I was a kid, and, even though I remembered my classes fairly well, I thought at the time that I might still be able to acquire something, a ‘refresher’ of sorts, if nothing else).
The study took place in a room in the church I had never seen before, obviously designed for the children. One wall was covered in painted polka dots the size of saucers. The largest polka dot floated in the very middle of the rest and had been painted to look like the earth. The other wall was blank, save for a painted cross that looked three-dimensional. Motley patterned and sized couches, about three, took up most of the space, along with a beanbag in the farthest corner (there was a mini-fridge adjacent to the beanbag, where I imagined juice or popsicles for the children were stored; conversely, the study rooms of my childhood were simply four walls and a ceiling; that was all we needed), and a pink and white podium that Lily stood behind. She smiled at me with closed lips and distant eyes. The room was chilled by air conditioning, yet I could pick up on a pocket of warmness in her direction. A kind of harmless and soothing radiation. I took a few steps in her direction and the light in the room seemed repelled by me, or attracted to her, which for sure I couldn’t say. Ink-black lashes, chlorophyll irises. Her eyes were more than just distant, they were immensely contemplative of the unbroken world around her. They belonged more to a bird of paradise than a mere mammal. I could tell by her gaze that she had the love of knowledge. Cardamom freckles were sprinkled beneath her eyes and over the wide bridge of her nose, giving her an adolescent air, but I knew that was deceptive. Her bottom lip bulged slightly larger than the upper one, jutting not in a pout, but in an assurance of herself. She wore a maroon dress that covered most of her skin, which alone exuded an authority of decency, yet I could see that, too, in the way she stood so upright.
She said, “Are you lost?”
She pronounced the word ‘lost’ as if she meant the opposite, as if she found me. In a way, she did.
“I’m Peter,” I said, massaging the palm of my left hand with the thumb of my right. “I’m sitting in.”
She raised her convex chin some. “To learn?”
“I imagine so.”
“We have frozen treats. Help yourself,” she said while turning to point to the mini-fridge with her chin. In that slight turning motion I saw how her eyes didn’t just absorb the light, they fed on it and attempted to gain something that they didn’t have before, something she desperately needed. I knew the pallid and artificial fluorescence of this room wouldn’t do, though.
“I mean to watch you teach. You have a way with the children, I was told.”
“Not me, no.”
“But you’re able to use the Holy Spirit?”
“To let the Holy Spirit use them. Please, sit.”
For some reason that I still don’t understand, I chose to sit on the beanbag, and I’m sure I looked ridiculous throughout Lily’s presentation and discussion. She was phenomenal with the children, like they were her own. I’d never seen such enthusiasm. They were mesmerized by her. Although I didn’t doubt the Holy Spirit played a role in this theological learning, I knew that Lily’s habit of being deserved a portion of the credit. The way she leaned forward or knelt when speaking to the group. How she asked the questions, how she truly wanted to know what they thought, rather than forcing them to think a particular way. They all responded to her, every last one, and I knew she was close with them. For that length of time, they were her children. During the study, her eyes looked toward me thirty-six times (I counted). Each glance was accompanied by the slightest rise of her right eyebrow. At least she found me amusing, I thought.
The subject of that day was a bit peculiar, if not simply coincidental. She spoke to the children about Saint Peter, my namesake and one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. Saint Peter, knowing himself unworthy, requested to be crucified upside down, rather than in the same way of our Lord. I must admit that I may have heard only half of what she was talking about. I was too enamored with her features, her physical presence. A sin, I know. But it proved to be love, not lust, and so I know He has forgiven me at least that much. I noticed that when she spoke, shaking her head some, it seemed her hair was a continuous cascade of curls, each the color of a water-dipped walnut. Sometimes she would put her finger in one or more of the curls, and wrap them tight around the skin of her knuckle. I couldn’t see but I imagined the red line that appeared there, the impression. I had wondered if she did this out of anxiety, nervousness with speaking in groups, but then I thought that it was probably me. Ridiculous me sitting on the unusually hard beanbag, not saying a word, only staring. How I picture it now…I must have seemed so strange. I took her stolen glances as interest, but, at the time, never thought that it could have been a symptom of timidity. As it turned out, she had been interested in me. Near the end of the study, after the kids’ energy seemed to deplete, and they all slumped over each other like ragdolls that giants were tired of playing with, she called on me to participate.
“Well, of course,” I said, without knowing what I just confirmed.
She smiled knowingly and the flecked, soft bulb of her nose expanded and retracted.
“Peter is my name after all.”
By now she knew I was teasing her, and I wasn’t so sure that she enjoyed it, but her tone was facetious.
“That’s a time out for you, Peter. Vanity is unsightly.” She looked at the children and they snickered. Now that I think about it, there was one child who hadn’t participated as zealously as the others. He wore a full three-piece suit, like a miniature man, and sported a bowl haircut. You could see in his face that time out was a real prospect, a potential and shameful danger in this room, and perhaps in his life as a whole. By looking at the aloofness in his expression, I knew Lily was strict. She demanded respect, not just verbally, mind you, but through action….