Issue 3: Minimalism vs. Maximalism
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program

Dream Lightness

Cynthia Audet

People will want to know your reasons. They will wait patiently, eating their cheese puffs and chicken kabobs. They will linger next to you, making jokes about the weather and the cruise to Alaska they just took and the weight they now need to lose. And then, they will lean in closer and ask “why both?” For the men, quote statistics and studies. They will nod if you talk numbers. They will nod like you are stronger than they thought you were. For the women, talk about your support group, how you spent those warm afternoons talking about sweating and cannabis cards and burns. Tell them about the fingers, how all those pale piano-playing fingers drove you crazy, how they never stopped fluttering, drumming knees and twirling scarves and scratching skin. The women will shake their heads. They will shake their heads and sigh as you tell them these reasons and sometimes, when they call you brave, you can shake your head too.

Never tell them the real reasons. That you were lazy. That you were tired of all those small circles; in the shower, in the bed, in the car. How you felt like a child who had lost her marble in the sandbox, knowing someday your fingers would find that pea-solid lump. How you grew tired of marking your calendar with a large black X and of appointments and machines that pressed you flat. Never tell them you just wanted to sleep like a child again. How you just wanted to sleep with molasses dreams and wake up feeling hazy and small and free.

People don’t want to hear that you like hospitals. That you liked watching your blood drip through those straw-like tubes into that clear plastic bag at your side. And that when you closed your eyes, that bag became a baby — your baby — nuzzled warm and quiet against your side. And at night you pulled that bag in close and relaxed against its warmth until two days later when they took out the tubes and sent you home without your baby and without your breasts.

When you get home you will look at yourself naked. At the scarred flesh. And you will ask, Am I really disfigured? You will touch the scars, the soft, thick skin, and they will remind you of the sticky wooden groves on your mother's casket only they are not cold. They are hot. And you will put the back of your hand against them to feel their heat and in the mirror, you will look like a young boy pledging allegiance with his hand turned the wrong way.

You will look thinner and in a strange way you will feel light. Not just in weight but in your thoughts and in your mind. You will miss the heavy lead jacket you had to wear during treatments. One day you will consider making an appointment with a dentist just so you wear that jacket again. But you don’t floss. And you don’t want to hear that you should.

At night, you will dream lightness. That you jump out of a plane but cannot fall. And you can only watch as everyone else spins and drifts back down to earth while your body remains tangled up above in some invisible net. You scream “stone...stone,” but the silence is heavy and smooth, enveloping you like a wave and you know no one can hear you. You can’t even hear yourself.

On Tuesday you start smoking again, you will call in sick and spend the morning burning holes in the arm of your father's old vinyl lounge chair, the one he gave you when he moved to North Dakota. The smell will remind you of the ants you used to burn on the sidewalk as a child. When you smoke all the cigarettes, you will pull out a burnt thread of stuffing and rub the wiry fiber between your fingers. You will think it is rough and proud. You will think it is like a pubic hair. And then you will pull out more of these threads until you have a tennis-size ball in your hand and when you squint it will look like you have a hand full of dirty mashed potatoes.

You will expect to feel different, more alive or something, but you won't. You will feel numb and lost in your own life. The circles will be gone. But now your mind will go in circles, around and around, trying to see everything from every angle. Does it really matter if you get wheat or white? But your brain will keep circling until you have spent fifteen minutes in the bakery and you are tired and want to go home. You will want to take off your bra. You will want to talk to your sister but you no longer feel related to her. You will buy croissants instead of bread, and a hot water bottle. And you will sleep with it at night and think it feels like a rubbery turtle until it loses its warmth and then it will feel like a life preserver — sticky and cold – and you’ll throw it from your bed. And for a moment, you’ll remember what control feels like, and then in the next moment, the feeling will be gone.

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