Laura on the Lake
She is happy, now,
in my dream by the lake.
I see her cascading chocolate
hair and citrine eyes set
deeply in grinning cheeks,
soft cheeks I don’t quite
kiss. I don’t quite embrace
her; she plays in the shallows
with my Aunt’s granddaughters—
who did not exist, then—
near what was Grams’ house before
she became only impressions too.
The sun doesn’t need to shine
because light comes from every cloud:
a day overcast with contentment
bottled in a night’s fitful reverie.
I cut my finger. I go inside the
labyrinthine house, corrupted by
my dreaming mind. Grams’ living
room, family room, dining room
all lost in a knot of hallways
leading to bathroom cupboards bereft
of bandages. Gauzy visions are,
sans gauze: nothing to wrap around
my unconscious wound. Winding back
out of the ruins, I look for her
again. Laura is gone. She evaporated
when the sense-making of my brain
found the classic error. The class
error I made in high school: putting
her where I wanted her to belong,
at my grandmother’s house with my Dad’s
family. She only smiles in my dreams,
(she only smiled thusly in my dreams?)
then obliterates as my back turns.
I emerge as the sun parts the clouds
and lucidity dawns. Looking in
all directions, I now see
only my Aunt and her family, only
the emotionally and financially secure.
I know I am dreaming; yet I try to
conjure her by calling and calling
her name at the growing light
at the end of the pier. I recall her
but she does not reappear, no matter
how I will it. I promised she would
belong with me forever. My promise
surfaces from the long-gone lake,
is shuttered in the long-gone rooms,
of houses sold to strangers, and never
regains the flavor of darkened backstage
lips nor of flesh parked on country-lanes.
Teenage sweetheart, tempestuous:
she loved boat-rides and singing but
also storms, werewolf stories, and
dark woods by her step-father’s modular
home. I dreamed escape, upward mobility,
and places where she and I belonged
together. There she is,
in dreams, stripped of her inherent potent-
tragedies, her rat-bite temper, the
geysers of frustration and vivid,
justified sadness: inherited despair.
Piers and tears both became rivers; Laura
reached the edge of youth and uncovered
the mouth of her chasm, her visage
a photo just before the fall into an abyss,
while I meandered, a decade later
into an ocean, and another ocean–
we are both long-gone from that lake…
but I kept beckoning
her until awakening.
* * *
In the latest dream, Laura and I enter our home together after an apparent lapse in our relationship. She and I started dating when we were each fifteen though a year apart in school; we stayed close for almost eighteen months, blew-apart just before my senior year, then relapsed just after I turned eighteen. Some limbic memory of mine retains the possibility that Laura and I are on hiatus. That degree of Romeo & Juliet Effect must carry such hidden properties, like elicit drugs leaching from fattened nooks in the body during a metabolic shift. My step-father asks me to help him move a Chevy Nova, Laura’s step-father drag-raced a Nova fifteen years ago, and so yesterday’s adventure hits my brain-nooks like a seismic wave. Laura and I are finally adults; other people’s fears and opinions are irrelevant. My belief and vision of this were so deeply and tightly held that impressions remain, like the impressions of glaciers remain as lakes to this day. Each of us was unhappy in Cassopolis, yet if we could just be anywhere else together, free of the aura of poverty that threatened my family and choked hers, then we might both be happy. In a quasi-paternalistic way, I held myself responsible for ensuring that her like would get better. I took it too much for granted that mine would be secured.
Of course, I wouldn’t be in Michigan helping my step-father move cars and boats if my future were secured. The only other woman I dream about is my current girlfriend: N. Interestingly, if someone had speculated what the love of my life might ‘be’ like when I was fourteen, before Laura, they might describe someone like N: a scientist (botanist) and biology teacher, who happens to be an older woman with two artistic daughters. Laura loved singing and the theater, like me, but she was dyslexic, emotionally erratic, and very into horror movies. I loved her with the heat of a brand-new furnace. Laura did love to hike with me, indeed, and N is quite the hiker herself. My longest love, AC, was an avid hiker but I must be at peace with her memory; two years together, in the afterglow of a camp-counselor romance, yet AC never revisits me in dreams. K hasn’t since we apologized to each other. A, not even when we were dating (sorry) and I laughed at Ashley E. in her last appearance. Naturally, N is in my dreams– shepherding her kids, removing her bra under her shirt, and even cavorting with another woman (an insecurity of mine that we are not going to explore) — she is current and complete: my present. For Laura to appear at intervals forever, but not other exes, is as intriguing as it is… beautiful. Why my first romance? Primacy Effect? Or something unresolved…
The last I heard about Laura, she was rumored to have checked into a psych ward — she had a young child by then. She sent me a message when we were both nineteen that she was engaged and already pregnant but reliable sources told me the man jilted her. By then, my rescue fantasies had lost all of their romance and become brotherly. Moreover, K and Ashley made better ‘villains’ to dwell upon in my lonely years (unfairly and fairly, respectively) — Laura became a fond remembrance coupled with a sigh: was she okay? Is she alive? I will never know. Awake, I am not certain I ever want to know.
Yet, as I said, the Romeo & Juliet Effect was most powerful with her. I punched my father in the face when he forbid me to date her again. In hindsight, we should have JUST IGNORED each other but my teenage angst, the years of being infantilized, still clung to my eighteen-year-old ribs and my father mistook me for the still-green seventeen-year-old that had lived in his home earlier. I punched his left temple so hard it wrecked the frame of his glasses. Fully expecting a boxing match, I prepared the seeds of vicious jabs saved over years — and my superior footwork— for fertile testing grounds*. I digress: I went to greater lengths for her. Far from the relaxed hours spent drinking wine and watching bad television with AC, Laura and I were always fighting for pockets where we could express our passion. I caused controversy with my Aunt when I brought Laura to a family gathering without asking. School administrators were hot-and-bothered by our displays of affection. Even my band-director chaffed me about rubbing against my girlfriend while in uniform. From every angle, someone older was trying to pry us apart while I gradually steeled my resolve to be committed, to rescue her and empower myself. The skeleton of Romeo & Juliet Effect is psychological reactance, which is people’s resistance to being commanded. Its flesh is passion, our unrequited. She and I had a romance filled with longing, without consummation. The final step was always in the future, unrealized but expected as if inevitable, ultimately right. Seriously.
This morning I discerned that this all comes from my vision, not my memories. Laura is a maraschino-cherry version of herself in dreams, drained of all the tart notes that made her distinct and replaced with only syrup. She always appears as her best self– unlike N, who can appear as any of her facets. Laura is always fully clothed, never raises her voice, and she loves me with a steady calm. Inside of our home together, I started to wonder how we were going to pay our rent. I knew I needed to get a job. I started to think about my Masters degree, then anachronistically about when Laura and I should wed: at twenty or twenty-one? Neurons short-circuited. I am thirty-one; I’ve already been away to East Lansing, later to Washington–
–now my brain flies me to Maryland–
–then I am awaking in Michigan, alone–
The rest only matters in poetry.
*To my surprise, he wrestled me to the ground. To this day, he may mistakenly believe that he over-powered me but that was actually my golden opportunity. His arms were too high, protecting his face. That was the moment for body-shots. I took a deep breath and readied. I knew what came next: addle his soft mid-drift. I was going to pummel his viscera and show him how strong I was, strong enough to hurt him. I was grown! I could force my will upon his body! My will faltered when I recognized: Dad hadn’t thrown a punch. He made no additional moves, nothing to indicate that he wanted anything other than to stop me from punching his face again. The prospect of body-shots reeked of something malignant, something alien and evil, when I sensed that my father hoped the physical part was already over. The element of surprise dissolved and what surfaced instead surprised me: we started to talk. I wrote a whole piece on it which was never ready to be posted…