I am disgusted with myself for somehow getting myself trapped in the series of events that led to me lying, dizzy and delirious with heat, in the sand at 3:00 in the morning. My clothes are damp with sweat, my body aching with fatigue. I can hardly think of where I would be tomorrow, my bank account drained, no job to fall back on… it’s funny how years of hard work can be destroyed in a week. I laugh weakly. Life is funny. I laugh harder. Life is pointless. I laugh until my raw throat constricts and I’m left inhaling sharply and writhing to the side. The burning sand bites into my neck and ankles, and despite the flaring pain, I can’t summon the will or strength to move. The silhouettes of moving people and beach chairs blur and mix, warped and growing as light swallows them...
A cool, soft hand slides into mine and lifts me off the ground. I am standing in the middle of a smooth sea of powder-white sand, unaltered by footprints or tire tracks. The hand holding mine is not the only thing that is cool and soft, so is the sand, the air, the moonlight dancing across the ground and rippling like water. Everything is in definite contrast to where I was before. I look to my side and see that whatever hand lifted me off the ground is gone, along with its owner. I do not stop to question the situation, nothing here matters that shouldn’t matter. I take a step forward and, instead of sinking into the sand, I glide off the top of the dune and drift away. Nothing is wrong. Everything is perfect. Life is beautiful. I am okay.
I am not okay. I wake to the glaring light of a swinging lantern burning into my eyes and making them sting with tears. Drunk people stumble around, clumsily grasping red plastic cups and mumbling incoherently to each other. I watch one man roughly flinging his arms around another's shoulders, laughing with low, wheezing breath. At least he seems happy. I gather enough strength to raise my hands, I stare at them for a long time until I have to let them drop back down. Hands calloused and smooth from years of shaping wood, hands trained to move with the buzz of the jig or scroll saw under them. Hands that were made for molding and moving wood until it told a story. I am a crafter. An unemployed crafter, now. Recalling my bosses’ advice, an unemployed crafter who needs a psychiatrist. I groan. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault, I had said, but that isn’t the thing that saves your job. Saves your whole life. I stare at the feet of people passing by. It must be at least 4:00 AM by now. My eyes drift lazily and watch the passing feet, and before I realize it I’m crying. Hot tears drip down the side of my face, making the sand stick worse. People step over me, not noticing, not caring. Why would they? I close my eyes and try to make the tears stop.
Something in the air smells familiar. It’s comforting and sweet and feels like home. I open my eyes. It is home, at least what my home once was. When I was a child, living with my grandparents. Before the divorce. Before I could never look at my grandfather the same way ever again. But here, none of that matters. I walk to the chain-link fence covered in kudzu vines and unlatch it. I look at the yard. Nothing has changed - my makeshift hammock tied to two trees was still there, just as it had been, slightly faded and torn bed sheets with fabric marker drawings all over it. I laugh, and the sound bounces and echoes away. I had made the hammock with Nathan, who had been my best friend since… forever. We had went to the same college together, and still met up afterwards and went on long drives, just talking, in his beat-up car he had saved for when he was a teen. He was the only friend I’d ever had who I could easily say ‘I love you’ to and have him say the same to me without it being awkward or romantic. But after I got my dream job for a major gift industry in Florida, I moved and... I hadn’t seen him in years. We just lost contact. A strange kind of missing and nostalgia rose in me, and I walked on and went inside. Everything was exactly the way it had been at my very last visit- before the divorce and my grandmother and I moved into the small apartment that had always felt so far away from Clemmons street. Everything smells like my grandma did, rosemary and lavender. My grandfather never really had a scent except faint gunpowder from his hunting trips - the same trips that resulted in the large stuffed pheasant hanging above his gun closet in the kitchen, the one I had always felt bad for. It was so beautiful, its beak frozen open forever-
I regain consciousness to feel an enormous emptiness inside me, and I fight back a new flood of tears. I want to go back to the dream, to go to the second floor and curl up in the huge soft comforter that used to be mine, and never leave. The night sky is fading, I must have been sleeping for longer than last time. My head throbs, and in spite of my discomfort, I can’t help but to wince incredulously. I didn’t drink that much - I wasn’t even completely drunk at this stupid beach party when I had fallen and, out of a surprisingly crushing force of unwillingness, stayed there. So why am I hurting so much? Maybe because you lost your job and you’re sinking in debt and the one part of your family you loved is dead and you have no friends and no future. Maybe because I’m not the grown-up person I pretend to be. I’m still young, I still want to be loved, heard, seen. I still want the feeling of security and warmth from someone else, if nothing else. Because I have nothing else. I should feel the urgency of the oncoming day - the oncoming life - I have to face, but all I want in this moment is for someone to be there for me. I close my eyes once more - the day can wait. Almost instantly, I’m asleep once more.
Arms are around me, supporting me, comforting me, holding me close. I am safe. I don’t open my eyes, I relax, and feel an odd surge of joy. This is all I really needed. I smile, and my face feels odd with the unfamiliarity of it. The arms lift me, and I feel the weightless freedom of when I was flying over the moonlit dunes in my first dream. I feel myself swinging through the air, and don’t bother to wonder where I’m going. I feel myself set gently on the ground. An arm shakes me gently, and I hear the worry in a voice that asks, “Jessie?”
My eyes snap open. The first image that swims into view is the face of someone I never thought I’d see again. The second image is a familiar car, but almost unrecognizable - refurbished and with a fresh clean coat of green paint. I feel a sudden rush of startled energy and roll over, quickly pushing myself off the ground. Nathan stands up, and I can’t help myself, I tackle him in a hug like a little kid. He hugs me back, and I can sense him smiling. I'm smiling, and I mean it, and it's wonderful.
“Oh my gosh, it’s been forever.” I say into his shoulder. “I really missed you, Nathan.”
“I missed you too, so bad. I have so much to tell you about how things are back in NC. So much has happened.”
We pull apart, and he shows me his left hand. A gold band wraps around it, glinting in the clear morning light, and I grin hugely, feeling real, genuine joy for him. I forgot how that feeling was.
“That’s amazing, Nathan! I’m so happy for you!” I love meaning every word I say with such certainty and gladness that I can feel my heart surging out of my chest. I forgot that feeling too. I forgot how much I missed my best friend.
He smiles back. “Just engaged. Remember Alicia?”
“Oh my goodness - of course I do! You both dated forever in college, she was so nice - how is she?”
We stand there talking for a long time, my head spinning with delirious joy, and we both catch each other up on how the last couple years of our lives went. I leave out the part about how things ended for me. He could probably tell that something was wrong, but we both leave out mentioning it - we can trade bad news later.
“I was going to the beach to check it out, there was a crazy fight going on nearby at that party, and the police were there. Did you see it?” He shakes his head quickly. “Of course you didn’t- you were asleep. I’m sorry about moving you, I was just worried you might have been sick or hurt or something, you…”
“Yeah.” I shrug. “A lot happened. I probably should ask…” I make a futile attempt to brush the sand off my legs, embarrassed of my appearance despite the fact I know Nathan couldn't care at all. He looks well-off with a clean navy polo shirt and khaki shorts, whereas I was dressed in a wrinkled multicolored tee and sandy sweatshorts. “What are you doing here, anyway?”
“I’ve been checking out some of the houses down here along the coast, Alicia loves Florida and she thought it would be nice."
“Really? Well, the places are expensive, but it’s definitely not the worst place to be.”
“That’s what Alicia said. In fact, she came down with me too.” He smiled. “Hey, why don’t you come over to our hotel? I’m sure she’d be glad to see you, and…”
“I can explain everything.” I smile wearily. “That would be amazing.”
The morning sun streaks through the windows as we drive off talking together, and despite everything, I have a feeling that I am - at least for now - just fine.