Young in LA (Part II)

Mia: Maybe I’m not good enough!

Sebastian: Yes, you are.

Mia: Maybe I’m not!  It’s like a pipe dream.

Sebastian: This is the dream!  It’s conflict and it’s compromise and it’s very, very exciting!

La La Land

During the days, you’ll strive and sweat and cry.  During the nights, you’ll look out the window of your apartment or car and see the indigo darkness draped over the hills, the street lamps glowing in adagio.  They’ll look like souls huddled in fervent prayer.  Your dreams.

But here’s the thing.  The dreams dreamed in the City of Dreams, are tricky.  The City of Dreams is an illusion, a mirage in the desert.

What you dreamed of at 22, will come true.

And having what you once wanted, you’ll look back, your youth spent.  You’ll think back on the City of Dreams, the feeling of being young and hungry, and every so often a desert wind will evoke false memories of bittersweet paths taken if not for a single gesture, word, or action, and you’ll wonder where the time went. 

And you’ll wonder if what you got, was what you really wanted.

Or if you’d be happier young, having nothing but dreams again.

Fathers

It is summer.  He moves his tusks, snorting in the mud, speared out of a delightful nap.  He grits his teeth, snaps behind him.

The older beast is deft, dodges the wild slash of his son’s deadly horns, and drives his tusks in again, safely out of reach.  And again.

He grunts and snorts, watching his father through vengeful eyes, feeling blood pound as it courses through his veins.

Every day he is stronger.  And he takes solace in that fact, in the gnarled growth of his sinews, in his strength.

The daily nudging is a reminder that he is not yet a master of his fate, that in the eyes of the world, he is still prey, that he is still young.

He bristles and snorts and feels his own hot breath, but moves sullenly, slowed by the curdled rage of youth.


He remembers this as he watches his own sleeping boy.

His child, his creation, so beautiful.  So beautiful, but he knows the boy is still defenseless against the predators of the night.  Reflexes still unsharpened, movement unrefined, muscles not completely knit.

And for this, they must move or die.

He knows the next part will break his heart, but he lifts his tusks anyway.  There.  He nudges, and nudges so that the little one will go forth into the world, nudging even though he is nudging his baby away from him, nudging even though he knows it fills the little one with annoyance, annoyance that will soon evolve to rage, nudging even though he knows it pushes the boy away, and it will eventually alienate them from each other. He nudges because he must.

He remembers his father’s tusks.  He has wondered if they were really as piercing as he remembered.  Maybe not.  After all, it must have been filled with love.

Nightmare

I used to have this recurring nightmare that haunted me ever since I can remember.

First, a normal dream, its web of sights and feelings with no logical storyline.  Usually bright, carefree.

Then I would feel it coming, a creeping terror.  A slow, syrupy feeling of suffocation, ringing in my ears, something locking down my limbs.  Darkness invading the edges of my vision, a nameless horror.

By flailing and thrashing for my life, I could eventually wake up.

But the waking was agonizingly slow.  By the time I did, I was covered in sweat, panting, my sleep wrecked for the night.

The worst part is that I could feel it starting, but be powerless to stop it.  The darkness would wrap up my limbs, make me unable to move, and I would be powerless in its grasp unless I flailed in a soundless scream.

At some point, I had enough.  Maybe I was around 10.

I knew it was a dream, after all.  Perhaps I could face the fear.  And so I tried.  When the darkness started to cloud my vision, I relaxed.  But its grasp grew tighter.  And when I waited, the creature began to appear.  A dark, demon-like dwarf.  I never saw its face.  I only saw its heathen movements at the edges of my vision, moving faster than a child, a little beast.

When it began to appear, I kicked and punched violently, even as I felt the pins and needles in my arms and legs and stomach.  As I felt like I was being gored by the darkness itself.  Without any reason or logic or name.

As I grew older, in my teens, I decided to try something different.  When the dwarf came, I decided to fight it.  Only I didn’t really fight it.  I picked it up and heaved it as hard as I could, as you would pick up and heave a cockroach, resolve accompanied by a full-body scream that blocked out any sensation of actually touching the little demon.

First it was here, now it was there.  Then I ran.  Straight into the wall of dark, nameless, fathomless syrup that I would have to kick and thrash against in order to wake up, knowing all the while that the dwarf would be coming back.

I never found out where this nameless, faceless terror came from.  And why.

As I entered my teenage years, exhausted with this particular nightmare, I decided to try something different.

I knew it was a nightmare after all.  And so instead of flailing and thrashing for my life, what if I just saw where it took me?  Instead of fighting it, what if I did nothing?

It worked.  When the darkness came, after a momentary tightness, it faded, as smoke would.  Expecting a fight, and getting none, it was as if the darkness just decided something wasn’t worth it.  Although I would never know why; of course, the darkness was without rhyme or reason.

And it continued to work.  When the dreams came, I just paid it no attention.

During these years, something else was happening; I became disinterested.  This transition to adulthood, and young adulthood, was accompanied by a lot of realizations about my limits.  I gave up on certain dreams.

Maybe in shutting down parts of myself, the bright, clear edges of youth faded.  And with that, maybe the vivid, crystal-clear and fathomless, reasonless darkness, also faded too.

And when I entered college, that’s when the dreams almost stopped altogether.  There were isolated moments of terror, here and there, but I didn’t even have to fight it, or even give up, anymore.

The terror came, and my mind’s eye looked at it, grew disinterested, and looked away.  Although I could feel the creature there too, beyond the darkness.

The last time I felt the creature, it felt almost sad.  Like it was waiting for me, but I refused to come.

The dreams faded altogether once I started my first job.  Because when I started working, I didn’t have time for anything else.  For recollection, for deep reflection.  I worked.  I started traveling for work, all around the globe.  I woke up in hotel rooms and sometimes had a moment of terror – but because I didn’t know where I was.  I was fully conscious.

I went back to sleep with a smile on my face because I knew I was free of the demon dwarf and the smothering darkness.  I had left them behind.  I traveled everywhere, for nearly a decade.  To Bali, to Dubai, to London, Beijing, Seoul, Shanghai.  To Tokyo, Merida, to Panama.  I met with clients.  I left my previous life behind.  I lived out of hotel rooms, I became deep friends with other career itinerants from a home base in Hong Kong.

But one day I grew tired.  Endless traveling is a great career perk in your 20s.  Less when you’re thinking of starting a family.  I began a period of reflection, perhaps for the first time in a very, very long time.

What dreams had I left behind?  Who had I become?  I hadn’t kept any journals, and I had completed purged my emails and letters multiple times, mostly for heartbreak-related reasons, so it was hard to find a compass.

I began spending some time in cafes and restaurants, eating by myself.  Reflecting.  Thinking.

And then I saw it, in a dark corner of a vegetarian restaurant right around closing time.  This vegetarian shop, on the 2nd floor on Henderson Road, was staffed entirely by deaf workers.  It was a completely silent shop, except for the sounds of other diners, clattering dishware and the beep-beep of credit and Octopus cards making payment.

I was the last diner in the shop when I saw that little bastard.  The demon dwarf, who had terrorized my dreams and childhood.  I couldn’t believe it.  Would you?

In a dark corner, next to where the shop had stacked extra chairs, it was sitting there calmly, eating a meal.  By now I was over my fear of it.  I was more curious, for various reasons.

It was a memory of my past, my past that I’d been trying to find.

Maybe it meant something that the creature would come find me.  I had never allowed it to get close to me.  I had never said anything to it.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been so afraid, maybe it was trying to tell me something.  Or remind me of something.

After finishing my sweet and sour fried mushrooms, I approached it.  It didn’t have a face.  It had a top of the head, in a shape, that was its whole head.  It was more of a pitch dark shape in reality.  A shadow.

“Why were you always chasing me.”

It got up.

“Well now you’ll have to chase me now, m*****f****r!”  It bolted, scurrying away into the space under the chairs.

I ducked, looking for it.  But it was gone.

The Age of Ambition

When I was growing up I would lie awake at night until it got very quiet and then go outside.  We lived on a hill that looked down on a canyon where the coyotes lived, and they would howl not only when the moon was out, but also straight up at the dark sky.

The night would smell crisp, like you could reach out and snap it, and the darkness rolled over the hills like a living, breathing thing.  On the other side of that darkness was something, and the night, like a tarp, would shudder from something moving very rapidly on the other side of it.  It felt full and crystalline, like just one false movement would spark the air and set the whole valley aflame.

Then I would go back inside and have dreams of immense power. My mind went straight into that darkness – there was never any light – and reached for something, but it was always just beyond my grasp. It was living and breathing, but it was just beyond me and my mind reached fruitlessly into that darkness and tried, and tried again, because it was just this side of a complete thought, and without knowing what that thought was I knew that was what I was looking for.

It was infinite, and every time I reached, I was disappointed but for some reason I had the power to reach even higher, soaring with infinite strength and hope. That search took me so far beyond my conception of the world that I felt like I had tasted infinity – and it was bittersweet, because I would never reach it, and when I woke up my arms and legs were swollen and my back was crawling stridently and I would have an erection the size of a flag pole, and I woke up vowing to prove myself.

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