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Bubbling in the Future
That night, I dream I am taking a test. A standardized test, the kind that gives you a separate answer sheet where you have to fill in the bubbles. It’s in my English classroom, but none of the usual posters are up on the walls. It feels like my English class. There’s the same stain on the blackboard, the same rough patch of wood on the left side of the teacher’s desk. I am the only one there. I sit at my usual place in the dead center of the classroom, and the test is turned over on top. I pick up the pencil on the desk, and as if I know exactly what I am doing, I fill in my name in the lower right-hand corner of the answer sheet.
“Please turn over your paper.” The voice is deep and machine-like, coming from the wooden loudspeaker over the door. “You have as much time as you want to fill in all the bubbles. You must fill in every single one. Once you have done that, and are satisfied with your answers, you may put down your pencil. The test will then be taken from you. Please begin immediately.” I do.
The questions are not what I was expecting, but I go with the flow and follow the directions. It’s just a dream, after all. The first one reads: Whom will Sarah Jones date next? A) Adam
D) A stalker that she will meet on Facebook
I think D is probably the best answer. That poor child spends so much time on Facebook that it only serves her right. I bubble in the answer for D, and look at the next question. Something about what I will get on my next History essay. It hasn’t even been assigned yet! Hopeful, I fill in the A+. The questions go on: ranging from as normal as “Will Judy McCann get a laptop for her next birthday?” (Of course!!) to as odd as “What will be the name of Justine Sunshine’s next big hit?” (My Beautiful Life??) I finish the test, feeling very confused (a common dream-feeling). I put down my paper, wondering who will take it from me. The paper suddenly disappears off of my desk. My chair feels less solid, and the world seems to be melting away at the edges. Somewhere far away, an alarm clock is ringing loudly. Actually, it’s not so far away…
When I wake up, I can’t remember the dream at all.
I get to school fifteen minutes early, so I head to the art wing, where I know my friends are waiting for me. Sarah Jones and Cara Gibson are sitting at two of the computers in the lab. They will grow up to be future graphic designers. Anything artsy with a computer, they can handle. Which explains Sarah’s addiction to Facebook.
“OMG, guess what??” Sarah lights up the moment I walk in. “I just met this really cool guy on Facebook last night, and he asked me out, and I said yes!!!” Something about this rings a bell in my mind, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. “Cool, huh! And he lives in California! I’ve always wanted to live in California. I might go and meet him over the summer!!” I nod encouragingly. One of the reasons why Sarah and I are so compatible is that I never talk, and she can’t stop. Cara looks up from her computer to excitedly show us the almost-finished version of a new website that she was designing-something for artists trying to find good college programs.
Then, it hits me in the head: In my dream, I filled in the letter stating that Sarah’s next date would be a stalker that she met on Facebook. I hope it was just a coincidence. If not, then I hope to never have that dream again. It sure creeps me out.
I sit in the living room that night, half doing my science homework, and half watching the nine o’ clock news. There is the usual: this person was raped, a fire broke out in this building, this person was convicted of murder. Boring. Then, I hear something that makes my ears perk up: “And, in recent reports from her private agent, the international hit pop singer, Justine Sunshine has privately released a new hit single, titled ‘My Beautiful Life.’ We go to speak with Now! magazine correspondent…” The rest of the speech fades away. But I seem to have predicted the title of the new song during my dream. That, and Sarah’s new Facebook crush… something was going on there. I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to have the dream again. I could control the whole world. Me.
Who would pass up a chance like that?
I don’t have the dream again until the next Thursday. However, it fills me during my every waking moment, practically haunting me. I can feel its presence, creeping through pages of math equations and artistic doodles, through my gym sneakers and my science lab goggles, through the cover of my English journal. Its presence is like a fog: always there, but never obvious. I can’t get enough. I can’t get enough. I have to have this dream again. But whether it is because of my curiosity, or something far beyond my command is a mystery to me.
I sit in the test room again. A new sheet of paper sits at my desk, turned over just like the last one. The pencil lays pperfectly sharpened. Eager, I pick it up again. My pulse races. What questions will await me this time? From what it looked like, all twenty questions on the last test have come true as I predicted them. Did I have some sort of oracle-type power? That would be scary, but interesting. I am about to sit and ponder this, but the voice from the loud speaker interrupts me:
“Please turn over your paper. You have as much time as you want to fill in all the bubbles. You must fill in every single one. Once you have done that, and are satisfied with your answers, you may put down your pencil. The test will then be taken from you. Please begin immediately.” The exact same words as last time. I carefully turn over the paper. The first question reads: When will Mr. McFarland be fired? A) In the next week B) in the next 3 months C) in the next two years D) Never
I hate Mr. McFarland. He’s the strictest teacher around, and age is definitely getting to him. Half the time, he can’t hear what his students were saying, and the other half, he doesn’t care. My first instincts are to bubble in the first answer. I hate him.
Then I remember. Because of me, the poor guy could actually get fired. I don’t want that on my conscience. But it was only a dream, wasn’t it? I mean all that stuff that happened last week could have been coincidences. Could they have been? And everyone hates him. Even the other teachers think he should retire. I decide to compromise, and go with letter B. The school year is almost over, anyway. Now, realizing how much potential power I have, I don’t ever want this dream again. Shuddering, I look at the next question about how long it will take for the athletic department to get the spring uniforms in. I don’t play on any teams. I could not care less about spring uniforms. I bubble in a random answer and move on. But then, something stops me. Some athletes might care. There is someone out there who cares. All of my answers affect someone out there. I try to wrap my head around this. It scares me. I bubble in the shortest amount of time, hoping to cause the jocks some convenience. They’re always complaining about how no one at the school ever cares about them.
The questions are about my town for the first ten. How long will the restoration of the library take? What kind of dog will my neighbor adopt? I breeze through them.
And then comes number 11: How soon will the state of Pennsylvania legalize same-sex marriage?
A) 1 year
C) 4 years
D) twelve years
I honestly know nothing about this issue. I have no idea what to do. I bubble in C. A nice compromise, right? Now, I’m scared. This about more than my life, my town. This is about millions of people. This is about something large. The next question asks about next year’s Oscar nominations. I haven’t seen half of these films. I fill in answer C again. How can I stop this?
I try to be fair, but when you know what you choose will affect the final outcome, it’s really scary. I finish all twenty problems, checking them over a million times. I do not want to have chosen a “wrong” answer. All the same, who ever said that this was real?
I pick up the times that afternoon. There is the usual “this foreign country is having political trouble” and “that politician passed a controversial bill” and stuff like that. But a smaller article also passes my eye: Delivery Man Killed on the Job While Delivering Spring Uniforms
What was that all about? Last night, Martin Garcia, a deliveryman for AllAthlete clothing company, was killed on the job while delivering spring Uniforms for the local high school. Since the school requested early pick-up, he was out on the late shift at around ten o’ clock when a bulldozer, carrying debris from the recent restoration of the town library, crashed into his van and broke his neck. He died almost instantly. Delivering uniforms… Library restoration… I remember it from somewhere. The question is: Where? It sounds so familiar, yet so far away, like a song whose melody you know but whose words you don’t. I run through my head. Did I hear it in school?
Then, I remember. The dream. The uniforms. The second question. Somehow, this is not about me anymore. And all of my answers have indirect consequences. Everything is more complex than I know. By bubbling some answers on a sheet of paper, I had killed a man. He had a family, a life, people who cared about him. By causing the jocks some convenience, and improving the town library, I had indirectly committed a murder. I was a murderer. I cannot have the dream again. I do not want to control the future. I hate this. I hate my life. I can’t have that dream. Ever. Again.
I skip school the next day. I am going crazy trying to stay awake. I fake sick. I feel sick.
The problem is, I can’t remember which answers I bubble in until they happen in real life. It seems like I have a while to wait. Cara comes over to my house that night, with chicken soup and a get-well card that she drew herself. I want to tell her the real reason for my staying home, but once I say the words, I realize that they are coming out silently. I try to scream them. Silence. I try talking about the upcoming school play. My voice works again. I get the message. These are my dreams. No one else’s. They must be for my mind only. But that only makes it worse. Because there is no one who knows about this, no one who can help me, no one who can soothe my guilt. I killed a man. And no one can know that. So, I decide that the only way to stop having the dream is to stop falling asleep. Easy enough, right?
My parents raise a couple eyebrows when they see the dark circles under my eyes the next morning, but I don’t feel too bad. By fourth period, though, my lack of sleep is beginning to catch up to me. After school I get a double mocha espresso with extra caffeine at the local Starbucks. I feel revved up and ready to go.
After three days, I cannot go any longer. I exist solely on double mocha espressos and high-sugar energy drinks. I feel like I am moving through sludge, and I am waging a war against my eyes trying to keep them open. I can’t go like this any longer. But is the price having that dream again? That terrible responsibility again?
That afternoon, we are taking the national English exams. They are these huge standardized tests that count for about two-thirds of our grade, and the results are recorded in the state files. Besides feeling completely dead-beat and zombielike, I’m a little apprehensive. Why? I’m taking a standardized test in my English classroom.
“…You will be given two hours to answer the one hundred questions on the question booklet. Please bubble in the correct answer on the answer sheet. You may now begin.”
The first question reads something like, “Yesterday_ I was so hungry_ I could have eaten_ a horse_ Choose the correct punctuation for the blanks…” Whatever. I am so tired… Maybe if I fall asleep I won’t have the dream… But I can’t dwell on it… dreams… sleep… sleep… sleeeeppp p p p…
I jolt upright. My English classroom is empty. None of the posters are on the walls. The familiar test paper is turned over on my desk. Not again. “Please turn over your paper. You have as much time as you want to fill in all the bubbles. You must fill in every single one. Once you have done that, and are satisfied with your answers, you may put down your pencil. The test will then be taken from you. Please begin immediately.” I cannot. What if I make a wrong choice? The first question reads: How soon will a peace treaty be reached between the leaders of the provocative movement and the prime minister of Turkey?
A) Two days
B) Ten days
C) Two months
I don’t know exactly what the provocative movement is. My history teacher was talking about it yesterday, but I was too tired to listen. The questions, this time, are bigger. They address global issues, border disputes, laws that may or may not be passed. I read all the questions, a larger sense of fear mounting. I have to choose. I have to decide. My pulse races. It’s only a dream, I remind myself. It’s only a dream. But I am still afraid. I turn to the last question: Who will the next president of the United States be?
I can’t even read the answers. An uneasy knot forms inside of me. I have to decide this. I am the final line. None of the votes count. Only this. And suddenly, fury fills me. Why? Why should I have to decide this? They can’t make me do something this big, can they? I don’t want, and don’t need the responsibility. I fling my pencil on the floor. It breaks in half, and rolls under the radiator. Defiantly, I stand up, and march over to the door, a steely, resolute expression on my face. I stride confidently up to the door, jerk open the handle, and walk out of the room. And I never have the dream again.