Years end, and dreams fade, but you don’t, do you?
I dreamed you first, I think, and met you in the middle of the bridge, driving alone at night. The streetlights flashed across the corners of my eyes, marking my speed like nautical knots. I left the ground alone, and drove on suspended above the bay, where the lights kept time until three of them flickered out before my eyes. I drove in darkness for a count of one. Two.
And then there was you.
I felt you first, like eyes on the back of my neck that made me want to drive faster. Maybe because it was the middle of winter or maybe because the car was too empty, even of noise, with no music on for the first time in months, I went cold in my core and my shoulders rose up toward my ears.
But please don’t think I never thought of you before. I often think of you when I drive over bridges, or when I see a window left open past sundown, even if the window isn’t mine. For two weeks I slept with all the lights on. On the third I transitioned to just one. I locked every door three times and never walked alone without sunglasses and headphones, twisting the cord like a talisman. For six months I slept in two shifts, waking in the night to stare stone-eyed at the ceiling for an hour or more, and my dreams were all sound and fury. But these were half-thoughts, fragment sentences that I spoke at your memory, half turned away. If I could have dreamed of you then you would have had no eyes.
Once a year I drive through the night to the island. In an empty car on an empty road I have time to spare, and with soft music underwriting them my thoughts run deep and slow. As a
rule, I always turn the music off when I drive across the bay, and if the air isn’t too cold I roll the windows down. I cross the bridge in twenty-four deep breaths, one for each month of the year just ending, one for each month in the year to come. I count in eight threes or six fours or two twelves. I keep time in streetlights so I don’t miss a breath.
For six months I have been half awake. They say every face you see in your dreams is one that you have known. You live across the ocean, out of my sight, never absent or present in my dreams. As I approached the bridge I remembered my rule and my twenty-four breaths, and half asleep in the rhythm I was sure that I could not reach the island in a car full of noise. I had not heard silence in half a year. January asks us to open the door and move on. When I reached the bridge at midnight, I turned the music off and I opened the windows.
For three deep breaths I knew only air and light on the bay. I remembered another lifetime, a year ago or less, when I was the one who advised deep breaths and second chances, who knew how to listen, who, if asked, could define forgiveness. I listened to my next three breaths and remembered that I used to be kind but I couldn’t remember why. The middle lights of the bridge were fixed before my eyes and I counted them down as I gripped the wheel and breathed for a count of three. Two. One.
And the lights went out. And I saw you.
Did you ever pray?
Did you ever wake up wrapped in sweat and skin and sin, and did you understand why?
It was your hands on the wheel and your foot on the brake that left me halted in the middle of the bridge. I know because my hands haven’t been mine in six months, because it was you who wanted the doors locked and the ceiling watched, and because when I knew self-pity I knew you for the first time.
The streetlights are glaring above my eyes in a never-ending line, and if I should go on breathing I wouldn’t know where to begin.