The crisp, clean air of the morning fills my lungs as the persistent sun peeks around my curtains and illuminates the room in a gentle, almost illusory way. It being December in Michigan, one would expect it to be snowing, but due to global warming, that isn’t the case. Irritated at how early it is, I tug the curtains closed, so that the light in the room is compressed to an imperceptible beam between two pieces of mint colored fabric. I sluggishly lift myself out of bed and drag myself to the adjacent bathroom. Too dark to see anything, my hand runs along the wall near the hanging towel until it finds what it is looking for: the lightswitch. I flick on the energy draining light, and instantly regret my haste, as my vision is left blurred. Blinking rapidly and rubbing my eyes doesn’t seem to do the trick of fixing my vision, what is going on?
Pushing the thoughts away, my hand finds the bleak, metal handle of the faucet and rotates it, so that room temperature water cascades into the ceramic bowl. I cup my hands under the stream and splash some of the overused liquid onto my face. I pull my hands away in agony my face a pincushion. With clenched eyes and a face of fire, I grasp for the towel hanging by the lightswitch. I raise the pink, cotton towel to my face and attempt to wipe away the pain. When the towel comes away, it is damp with the water that it soaked up, but the burning persists. I open my eyes, squinting hard into the mirror, and when my vision finally rests on a blurry version of my face, I see the obvious raw skin of third degree burns. What is going on?
I inhale deeply a couple of times, try to stay calm, it’s probably nothing. Trying to keep my mind off of what is happening, and about to head downstairs, I realize that the sink is still running; perfectly clean water, now wasted, with nowhere left to go except the sewers. Rotating the handle back to its resting position, I watch the last few drops fall to their doom and quickly exit the bathroom.
I carefully walk down the stairs and into the kitchen, where I find bacon and eggs still cooking on the stove, instead of on their usual plate, ready for my consumption. The stove, left on, is still emitting gas, but I quickly turn it off before the food burns. Mom must have been late for work. I walk over to the cabinet, stand on my tip toes, and retrieve a plate, on which my breakfast sits as I make my way to the table.
With the first bite, I feel my entire body begin to ache, a tired ache like I just finished a marathon. But before I am able to concentrate on the pain, the clock that reads 6:57 distracts me; I only have three minutes before I have to leave. I rapidly shovel all of my breakfast into my mouth and rise, still chewing, plate in hand, from the table. Sooner than I can react, my legs give way and I hit the floor, hard and with a shattering crash. I look around and should be startled by the dozens of glass shards littering the floor, but instead am left speechless as I look down. Where my right leg was, is now nothing: a blank space with no explanation, a leg, there one minute and gone the next. My heartbeat gets faster in my chest, and my body begins to tremble in confusion, what is going on?
An unknown urge inside me tells me that I still need to make it to school, so, through the confusion, fear, and pain, I focus on one thing: getting to the car. One step at a time. I balance on my one remaining leg and hop, supporting myself against walls, stumbling through muddy vision and trying to ignore my burnt face, until I reach the door and somehow miraculously, make it to the car: backpack in tow, car keys in hand.
Feeling a little more at peace that I am almost at school, I feel myself relax. A sense of calmness surges over me until I glance in the rearview mirror and am just able to make out the exhaust fumes of my car glistening against the frigid air, polluting the Earth, and when suddenly I hear a car horn. Time stands still as I realize that I have drifted into oncoming traffic. A van, the color of untouched snow, comes barreling toward me and I feel the impact of our cars like an unmovable wall. I watch out the window as my car spins like a windmill in an unknown direction, and I feel like it will never stop. My head flies back and smacks the headrest as the airbags explode in deafening silence around me, and as the car stops moving, so do I.
I startle awake; gasping for air, reaching for my leg, rubbing my eyes. Almost instantly I am able to conquer my rapid heartbeat, reminding myself that it was just a dream.
As a nine year old, it would take me hours to come off the adrenaline rush as the dream was fresh in my mind when I woke, now, it is second nature. People keep assuring me it is normal, but having the same dream consistently for years leaves me with a lot of questions: Why does it happen every night? What does it mean? Is this healthy? The list of never ending wonders spins through my mind every morning that I have jumped awake since the first day I remember it, so many years ago.
“‘As I sat in the park on my lunch break people watching, one girl stood out from the rest. She was wearing a bright dress with flowers on it, her hair pulled back in pigtails. A few minutes before, her mouth was being stuffed with individually packaged sugar-candies. On a sugar high she was now running around trying out every available play structure: down the slide, across the monkey bars, and on the swings. She was living her life like any kid does: not realizing her crimes. You see, almost immediately after consuming the candies, she became excited at the immense possibility of fun that the park held, and didn’t even realize as she dropped the 5 wrappers and they fell to the ground. I was guilty of this as a kid, as were most of us.
“Do I blame the girl? No. That is like blaming a puppy for having an accident in the house when they were not told otherwise. I blame the parents. As I waited out my lunch break to find her parents, I found them doing just what I expected: not paying attention to her. Now how will that child learn that the Earth is not her trash can when her parents will never be paying enough attention to reprimand her. The answer: she won’t.
“That little girl will grow up polluting the same water that went into watering those flowers that her dress was inspired by. She will grow up not caring if one or two of her napkins blows away as long as she doesn’t have to chase them in the wind. She will be most of you. You can go home today and completely ignore my heeding words, or you can be the change: be the reason your great grandchildren have a clean place to grow up. Be the reason this earth even exists in a few hundred years, because trust me if we continue on this path of destruction, it won’t.’ Thank you.” I say as the clapping begins.
In the years I have been a part of this writer’s group I have never felt more accomplished than today: the first time I was brave enough to share an excerpt of my writing. Being an environmental lawyer is one thing: sitting in the office reading and deciding how to deal with a variety of cases, living the same day over and over, dreams included. But today was different. Today was the first time in along time that I felt my voice was truly heard; I wasn’t just another person checking yes or no to if a company can build in a protected area of land, my opinions mattered, even if it was only to a crowd of 20, half of them who were already asleep when I began reading.
“Life is unexpected. Coming out of college I knew what I wanted to be: an environmental lawyer working in a firm. When I booked my dream job, I was unhappy and my nightmare continued. Next, I tried my hand at writing, but when I published my first and only book that sold a couple of copies, that dream went down the drain and every morning I woke up frightened. When I looked back on what all of this had in common it was that I truly wanted to educate the young people of today’s world on how to treat this Earth so that there will be a world to continue living in. That is how I became your teacher.” I explain to my class of impressionable fifth graders. They stare back at me: some with wide eyed faces, eager to learn and listen, some with glazed glares, eager to take a nap. I know I might not make a difference in all of their lives, but if I can get through to just one, I will be satisfied. They are my one chance, my one chance to change the world.
Flipping the channels I just so happen to come across a national conference that is being broadcasted. I only had to listen to a couple of words of this young man’s speech to realize that I would not be changing the channel any time soon.
“If you want to be selfish, keep living life like normal, but if you want others in the future to have a chance, this bill should be something you should vote to pass.”
I sigh, realizing that I missed most of his speech, until a spokesperson adds, “Thank you, everyone, that was senator Jim Timothy.”
The clapping begins and grows louder and louder on the flat screen, but I am left dumbfounded. My memory fades back to a 5th grade boy staring sleepily back at me. Jim Timothy.
The next morning, just like every other morning, I startle awake.
The Never-Ending Nightmare