Dream a Little Dream of MebyAdrian Leverkuhn©
Her name was Dreamaway and she was quiet, almost shy as a little girl -- some said she was as quiet as her name. She'd always been a fairly withdrawn girl and seemed to get along reasonably well in a full world of noisome contradictions. For reasons unknown her mama had given her the name long before she was conceived, and though not a soul knew why it seemed to fit the little girl perfectly. Needless to say the name had, from time to time, been reason for a fair amount of ridicule; over time the name morphed and cousins and brothers took to calling her DeeDee, and as a result she grew a little self-conscious about her name, and all it implied. And while her mother well understood the cascade of humiliation her daughter endured it surprised some when the girl's mother jumped on the bandwagon; perhaps it was more than mere wanderlust that sparked the odd name into existence. Perhaps it was a desire to escape the shadows that haunted all Dreamaway's family's hopes and dreams.
Dreamaway's people were from the hills of western North Carolina, and by that I mean not from a small town, nor even a smaller village; no, Dreamaway was born and had come of age inside a thirty-something foot long mobile-home on land that might have been called a farm were it not for the fact that most of the land was too steep and rocky to walk across. The family's farm had been, for all of their lives, hidden from the world below by forests of thick oak and hickory -- by a forest so thick that traffic on the road down the steep, hardscrabble hill was all but invisible. Dreamaway grew up in this private world, a home full of boisterous brothers and silent, hard-working parents. Yet Dreamaway was not quite a part of this world: she inhabited an insulated but hyperbolic world of her own that seemed to tumble along inside this small constellation of family, and the girl came of age knowing little of the world down the mountain. Her world might have been dwarfed by unknown rhythms within a universe of vast, lurking sin -- had she but known even the barest contours of the world -- but that other world had been defined for her by Preacher-Jim at the little Baptist church her family went to every Sunday. She had yet to be bitten by one of the preacher's rattlers so all knew her heart was pure.
Beyond the wall of forest temptation stalked the unwary: the lesson had been drummed into Dreamaway all her life. Conversely, behind their forest wall time had stopped, they were lost to the present and all of them were safe; in this insular world all the little girl's dreams derived from absolute good and unwavering evil. She knew of no other life beyond that which she experienced on the farm, or in church -- in effect she knew nothing of the greater world beyond the mountain, no other ways of being. Coming of age in the 1990s, all she had experienced was life on an isolated mountain in Appalachia, and even within that context she was considered by most to have withdrawn into a world of her own design.
Dreamaway's mother had instinctively known better than to waste time daydreaming about a better life -- which if you think about it made the choice of her daughter's name all the more odd -- and yet her mother did not pass on this restraint to her daughter. The girl was encouraged by her mother to daydream and she grew up wondering what lay beyond the wall of trees and with nothing concrete to base her musings she constructed vast, fantastic worlds to contain her flowering dreams that drifted by on the clouds.
She grew slowly, some said too slowly, but the little girl grew up with her bare-feet skipping through knee-high grass, her eyes always sifting the sky for drifting, cloud-borne dreams. She would look at clouds and ask her mother where they went, what secrets they might conceal -- but her mother had no idea -- she had never considered the matter. Dreamaway wondered if clouds had dreams, if their wispy musings lived-on once they were beyond the dark forest wall. She began to see the forest as something that held her back from the world, as something sinister. How she wanted to take wing on a billowing cloud and simply drift away...
Even so, Dreamaway helped tend the family's small herd of dairy cattle; she helped milk cows on frosty mornings and collected eggs on sunny afternoons and by the time she was in her teens was known to one and all as the sweetest soul that had ever drawn a breath -- even if she was still tiny and possessed of a faraway look in her eye. She managed to go to school one day for the first time when she was fifteen but didn't take to the experience very well and never went again: Dreamaway had the uncomfortable feeling she didn't fit into a world full of thinkers, she preferred to dream with the clouds instead and had no regrets. And no one seemed to mind, either.
So, in a world full of cracks Dreamaway somehow managed to slip through them all. She never went to school, never learned to read or write, and she knew not one thing about the world beyond the hills. She had no need for thinkers and remained at ease with her dreams.
In the end Dreamaway's mother taught her most of the things she needed to know about life and told her she would pick-up things as she went along. After all, the little girl knew how to handle copperheads and timber rattlers as well as Preacher-Jim, and besides that, she could cook up a storm. What else did a little girl need to know?
She met a boy from Elkin, Jimmy MacDonald was his name, one October day when her family went down the mountain for the first time in fifteen years to the Fair down in Boone; one thing led to another and before she knew it she was pregnant. She thought she loved Jimmy, whatever love was, yet despite all the wonder and joy she felt she knew there was something wrong about the relationship. Something Preacher-Jim had said about living in Sin. She knew she was doomed, her baby too.
Then she'd missed her period and told her mama, discovered she was with child, and within a few days learned Jimmy had joined something called the Coast Guard and was going away to someplace she'd never heard of. The cramps and bleeding that started that night had an air of finality about them -- and she knew the baby had left her as uneasily as it had come. She was crushed by the turns her life had taken but she picked herself up and brushed herself off and got on with with her chores -- because that's what you did. Still, in her heart she knew she loved Jimmy, and she missed him terribly when he went away. Dreamaway had been sure since she'd first laid eyes on him that he was the one to lead her away from the mountain, and onward, to her dreams. What had happened? What had she done wrong?
She stopped going to church soon after that; she was afraid her father would beat her again but he didn't, he almost seemed to understand her disenchantment. She worked hard and even prayed when her oldest brother died after being bitten by a huge timber-rattler at church, and she continued to look at the clouds and follow them as they drifted away just over the trees, forever out of reach. She dreamed and worked until Jimmy came by the farm a year later; he was different yet the same -- and she knew he loved her when she saw him walking up the hill toward the trailer.
He was, he said, going to be stationed at a base down on the coast and he told her them all that he loved her, that he wanted to marry her and wanted her to come and live with him while he earned enough money to make it happen. Her papa didn't have much to say about it; Sin didn't mean much to him anymore. But her mama was sad and angry and grateful all at the same time: life was all contradiction and there was nothing to be said or done about it. 'At least one of us will get away from here...' her mother might have said had she the stomach for simple truths, and that was that. Nineteen years old and blessed with the ability to love, both Dreamaway and her mother knew instinctively that this was the path life had chosen for her; Dreamaway understood she had to take this chance or be content to dream-away the rest of her life.
So one fine bright Spring day she packed her few belongings in a laundry bag and walked down the mountain; later that day down in Elkin she climbed up narrow, worn-down steps onto a bus with Jimmy and as day turned to night she found herself in a strange new world that might as well have been on the dark side of the moon. There were gates and ID badges, men with guns and huge white machines that Jimmy said could fly in the sky and she laughed at that until she saw one of them do just that -- then she shut up and began to pray. They walked across the base to where he said he had an apartment; they were going to live where married folks lived because Jimmy had told everyone they were married... and that, too, was that. She was too confused to say much else.
They made love for three days straight and after that she stayed indoors most of the time, stayed away from prying eyes and nosey neighbors who might condemn her for living in sin, and she didn't feel comfortable when she was all alone -- she felt lost and abandoned. Jimmy worked nights fixing flying machines; he came home early in the morning, his hands red and bruised, his fingernails lined with grease from working all night -- and then they'd eat together and make love and only then would she fall into a tender sleep of restless dreams.
One of the neighbors in their building had a television set and it was the first time she'd ever seen or heard of anything like it -- but she discovered she wasn't really all that curious about what was said inside the box -- she had her life with Jimmy and everything else seemed distant, and even a little frightening. One morning they went next door and watched as airplanes were flown into buildings so tall they could hide in clouds and she learned that some things that happened in there could touch her world.
Suddenly, in the days that followed everything was different. Jimmy was her life but even he was different now, and though she missed the herds of brothers and cows she had taken care of for so many years she had her own man to take care of now -- and she didn't know how. She didn't understand. If this was just the way it was supposed to be, the way her life was meant to play out, then she had to accept all this as her fate -- only something was wrong... very wrong. But only in her restless dreams did this other world intrude; soon she found herself waking from her dreams tired and breathless, almost like she had been running in her sleep. From what?
But in time things seemed to settle down; whatever else she might have thought or dreamed of, once Jimmy woke up they had fun. He couldn't afford a car but had saved up and bought a little motorcycle and they went riding around on shaded country roads in thick summer air and life seemed good, if not downright grand. Every day he had off they rode the back-roads until they found little stores out in the middle of nowhere, then they'd go inside and bask in wondrous air-conditioning and drink ice-cold soda, then they'd mount-up and ride some more until they came upon little roadside farm-stands where fresh peaches and strawberries could be had for a song. Warm breezes drifted through summer leaves while they bathed in salty coastal airs and everything felt so right and good. Life was all around them, just like the full, ripe peaches that filled their mouths. Her troubled dreams began to fade beyond even memory.
Even so, this new world was an overwhelmingly complex place to Dreamaway, and perhaps even to Jimmy; perhaps this was why they sought out simplicity on their rides. In time she came to realize the world was a lot more complicated than she had realized; she saw her lack of understanding as a weakness and wanted to learn more, for there was real life in all the danger and excitement going on around them, dangers that preachers and grandparents had warned her about all her life, but something more was going on, too.
Though she was possessed of a very useable past, and she clung to it tenaciously, she grew increasingly curious about the world, about the present, until it got too close - then she turned away from the startling newness of her life and bound her wounds with what vestiges remained of her life on the mountain. When she walked around inside big stores in the town near the base she felt very small indeed, almost like she walked in shadowy wastes in a land where hidden dangers always lie waiting. She would reach out for something on a shelf some days and half-expected a snake to strike out at her, to punish her for the sinful audacity of her choice to leave the mountain. Something was holding her to that life, something vital and important that told her this new life was incomplete. What? What could she be missing? Her dreams would grow unsettled on such occasions and her curiosity wane, and she would think of home if only for a moment...
'Home?' she say to herself bitterly, then truth would return. She never wanted to go back there, up there behind the wall of trees and back into the darkness; of that much she was certain. But... why did she feel so incomplete? Sometimes when she and Jimmy walked around in town together they'd sit on a park bench by the river and watch the little boats coming and going and they'd play a game, make up stories about where the boats might be going...
"Where would you go, DeeDee?" Jimmy asked her one sunny summer afternoon. "If you could go anywhere, where would you go?"
It bothered Dreamaway that she couldn't think of even one place she'd like to go see. She just didn't know where the clouds went when they slipped beneath the horizon.
Yet... she didn't worry too much because there was always Jimmy and he kept her grounded to the life that had claimed her: he went off to work each evening and she held her breath each and every time he slipped away -- until he walked in the door again the next morning. Then she would be swept away in the comfort she found in his arms, and she burrowed into the warmth of his love, never wanted it to end. There was nothing missing, she told herself.
Occasionally he went out on a big ship to take care of helicopters that pilots used to rescue people at sea -- but he always came back and she would breathe again and they would hop on the little motorcycle and ride out into the country and breeze along sun-dappled lanes until juicy peaches left streaks of goodness running down their chins -- and in the light of their love for one another everything was alright. She grew comfortable with this routine, wanted nothing more, even if her dreams still hinted at something wrong about her life.
One morning Jimmy came in and she knew something was different. He was quiet, he didn't answer her questions and he couldn't look her in the eye when he talked. Finally he told her: there was a war going on somewhere on the far side of the world, in a place called Iraq, and his ship was being sent there. He would be gone for at least a year -- maybe more.
"When?" she asked.
"Soon," he said. "Real soon."
Her stomach rumbled and burned in the all consuming silence.
They went to church later that morning and talked with the Chaplain about maybe getting married and the preacher looked at them oddly, like he thought they were married already, then they went for a ride in the country but everything was different now. The air felt wrong, the sunlight carried a hint of darkness - like the coming of winter on the mountain, and the warm breezes of summer had fallen before a growing chill in the air. When they returned to the apartment there was a pale yellow notice taped to the door: Jimmy was leaving that night; he had to pack -- now. They walked inside their apartment in a daze and she watched as he packed his things in a large green duffel bag and she felt herself dissolving when he kissed her and she held on to him for as long as she could... and then he was gone.
The air in the apartment grew impossibly bitter and Dreamaway felt the hard grip of an unshakeable coldness descend upon the emptiness that had gathered around her. She turned and looked at the barren walls that suddenly felt like a prison and she began to shiver; the only thing she heard over the hammering in her head was a clock ticking far away -- but it was as if the clock was in another world. The metronomic pulse kept her company deep into the night, but sleep never came for.
For weeks on end she heard from Jimmy day by day, letter by letter; once he called and seemed very excited with all he had seen and done since arriving 'in-country' -- and she felt hurt when he didn't seem to feel lonely at being apart -- and Dreamaway felt oddly detached from life after the call was over and she walked around in a daze for hours afterward. She went to church the next morning but found no comfort in the company of families and she walked into town after that and wandered through the near-empty streets down to the river. She sat on the same park-bench by the water's edge she and Jimmy had and looked at a boat drifting-by silently, apparently powered by broad white cloud-like sails that fluttered occasionally in the cold morning air. Seagulls wheeled raucously in the air behind a fishing boat as it lumbered downriver and soon couples began walking along the waterfront in their Sunday best, most hand in hand and so obviously in love, and she thought -- for a while, anyway -- she could just feel Jimmy's hand in hers and she closed her eyes and felt her face leaning against his sun-warmed back as the motorcycle swept into another turn and memories came to her in a frenzy and she wished more than anything else that he was sitting there beside her, that he wanted nothing more than to hold her, kiss her.
And then a cloud would pass overhead and she felt the chill of shadow, and it all came back. Of course he wasn't here, she thought. Happiness was, after all was said and done, something other people knew. She watched the clouds drift away, always out of reach, and she felt like crying.
She walked the miles back to the base in silence, her heart full of mounting dread, and so consumed was she with sudden fear she rarely lifted her gaze from the sandy gravel that lined the side of the road. She thought she saw other roads suspended in time over the road upon which she walked, then the base was just ahead and she tried to clear the disconcerting image from the sadness that had come for her.
When she walked up the landing to her apartment she saw the Chaplain and another man from the base and they told her Jimmy was dead -- but by that point she already knew that. They comforted her and gave her a number to call if she needed help and were soon gone; she walked into their little bedroom and sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at his clothes in the closet for a long time. Every piece of clothing held a memory and she held a shirt to her face and tried to breathe in his scent just one more time -- but nothing was the same now, everything was changing again. She held his shirt as she lay down on the bed and she felt the tears come. She must have fallen asleep at some point because she woke in the darkness when she heard Jimmy calling to her and she wondered when he'd gotten back -- then she remembered where he was and what had happened. A roadside bomb, an IED the man from the base had called it. She wondered if that was the other road she had seen on her walk home but dismissed the thought...
The next morning a knock on the front door woke her again and she stumbled out to see who it was and found the Chaplain and a woman from the base: they needed to talk with her. The woman asked if she and Jimmy had been married and she told them the truth while she looked at the preacher; the woman looked at the preacher and he just shook his head and they left her with some papers to read and sign but the simple truth of the matter was Dreamaway had no earthly idea how to read and she sat and stared at the paper all day. She had not the slightest idea what to do next, or who to turn to.