Cassie, looking at 2006
from Dancing Lessons
My eyes are darting wildly from chair to corner to the sunny window, anything to avoid
the faces in the room. It is late afternoon. The room is well lit but it feels dark, and cool,
I am not sure where I am.
A gentle, persistent voice asks “what do you see?”
I say I am depressed because I know this will make sense. This is a documented
I am up late, staying with friends of my father’s. They live on a rural property. We are
staying overnight, but we will be home in time for school next week.
My father is there. I share a room with my sister and the children of the other family.
Their youngest is a little younger than my sister, their oldest is a little younger than me. I
am the oldest.
“I am always the oldest,” I say to myself.
I cannot sleep. I am vigilant. None of the things I am scared of are real, I know this.
There are no monsters, ghosts, poltergeists.
I am almost sure. I told the others, “I am eleven, I know these things.” It was daylight
then and dogs were playing near us, two red setters. Behind them and also everywhere,
dry eucalyptus leaves stirred by wind and a setting sun.
My father is crying in the next room.
That which is not real presents the gravest danger. It covers our eyes, makes us blind,
and we cannot watch our feet.
A bullet, for instance, is not real. To fire a bullet is to fling out one’s arm during a dream.
I heard of a war veteran, just home from Iraq. He had shell-shock, and would punch his
wife, lying next to him, as they both slept.
He was dreaming of another dream where ghosts were walking on a field.
When he wakes up he sees blood on his hands and on a woman’s face, also tears. When
he wakes up he is confused. Is it dusk, or dawn?
How long has he been drifting off?
One night, also a thousand years.
Weeks — yes, only weeks ago — I was making love with a returned soldier.
I was standing on a suspension bridge over a deep trench in the forest.
My partner bowed, lifted me high over head. “It looks effortless,” or so an audience of
ancient gods would think.
The river thundered far below, and white clouds skidded with infinite care across the sky
which was heavy with its own thoughts of rain.
And then, moments later, I was standing firmly on the bridge. And there was no partner.
The river has taken him, he drifts off.
“What do you see?”
I see the beach now. Hear ocean sounds. The delicate, sensual Pacific. That means peace.
It is late summer.
I am walking up the ramp from the hot sand towards the pavement, and then to the car.
The sand squeaks in my sandals. I have red stripes on my feet from the sun.
Our car smells of dog, and salt, and sticky soft drinks in paper cups. We are exquisitely
happy and we bicker, demand ice-cream. We are so happy that we do not feel it will ever
So there’s ample time to bargain: for pocket money, ice-cream.
During my first, long North American winter I left my husband. My friend Christine
stayed with me through the final months of that cold time.
Once she said “being near you is like being near the ocean. You are so vast that I cannot
contain you within my mind. I just gravitate towards you.”
I wanted to cry, but that was not a possibility.
I was unwrapping an endless rope of bandages from my body, from my bruised eyes. It
trails behind me, porous grey.
Now it stretches as far as the Great Wall of China.
Some day I will take a shower at an outdoor shower in my swimsuit, at the beach,
and my body will be clean.
The room seems very dark. Someone asks what year is it, what is my name,
who is the president.
I know the words, and I recite them.
In my dream my mouth is full of green shoots. My neck is bursting. I am green,
a growing thing, the strain is immense. I flower, coral colored blooms. They
fall to the ground.
The sun rises, sets, rises, endlessly and the flowers bloom and fall. So fast it
is like a storm of fireflies.
So fast my own lifetime is a blur.