Category Archives: Dreams

Confluence dream of JD and heritage

Following is the text of the dream I remembered suddenly on Friday, and which I mailed to myself from work after banging it out in a moment between student conferences. I have changed nothing but the name of my biological father, so there are typos and mispellings still.


Dream last night: Sudden illumination while reading a student paper. No apparent connection.

A house on the water, lots of wooden decks and expensesive racing boats. Inside the house the rooms are big and dark, filled with mellow light from candle-like fixtures. Wood floors and walls, something immense and anduring about the house. I am on the bottom floor and JD is there. He has a friend who was a raceboat driver. JD doesn’t own the house, but is just staying there. I realize that soon he will have to leave, and will have nowhere to go. I am supposed to feel sad. I’m not sure if I do. We go outside when the raceboat friend drives by. JD to go in one of the boats, so we do. When we get back, I climb the steps to the upper deck, and everything changes. While the lower deck felt secure and solid, with guard railings and solid, heavy planks, the upper one is unguarded, the wood planks narrow, everything tilted and swaying against a rising wind. I can’t even stand up, I’m so filled with dizziness, and I crawl back down the steps. Somehow I f all into the water, and haul myself into the bottom of the boat, which is as narrow as a coffin. I remember, then, that I have fallen out several times, gotten soaked, but never been cold, despite the bank of blue-black clouds on the horizon and the whipping wind. Everything is soughing and whistling and ominous. I go back inside to the upstairs room, which is decorated in dark, hunting lodge type colors, greens and maroons against polished wood. Walls of bookshelves. A fireplace with an elkhead over it. JD is there, offering drinks, friendly and charming, and it occurs to me that he is hypnotic and handsome. I know him though. I remember all the friction between us, his last phone call, the stretching silence that has entered its second decade. But still, I do feel bad. None of this is his. Not the house, or the boats, or the books. His freind will get tired of him and kick him out. He has nowhere to go. The gloomy world will swallow him up, and he will never meet his granddaughter.

White people don’t help people like us…

Maria, my friend whom I helped when she drove over something spiky on the freeway and blew out two tires, was relaying a conversation she had a few days after the car was stranded. I had taken her to work the next morning, then called tire places for bids, then met the tow-truck operator and followed him to the low-bidder tire place, then picked up Maria to take her to her car. Someone she worked with saw her leave with me.

“Who was that white lady who picked you up?” that someone asked Maria a day or two later.

“My friend. She helped me with my car.”

“But she’s white. White people don’t help people like us.”

Maria relayed this conversation to me a week ago. It’s haunted me ever since. Imagine living in a culture where you spend your days on guard against those in power, the white people. My city is filled with immigrants. They come to pick the fruit in the valley, to sort it in the warehouses, to pack it and ship it. They stay to try to make lives for their children. They live in tiny rented houses (sometimes shacks), sleep crammed together on mattresses in overcrowded rooms. They work hard, and if they’re lucky, they find a way to go to college. Sometimes they end up in my classes. Maria was one such woman. Her four girls are beautiful and smart. Two of them are good friends of my daughter’s (Zeke was a damas in the youngest’s quinceneara the night Sadie got so sick). Maria has no bone to pick with white people. “People are people,” she says. “What’s color got to do with it?” Being Chinese, Thai and Mexican herself, she is well used to the challenges of being a minority, but she lives as though those categories do not exist, refusing to let divisions exercise power over her. Many of the people in the nursing home where she works, though, are minorities too, underpaid, struggling to send money home to Mexico, and perennially suspicious of the white people who question their citizenship and their loyalty. It makes me sad. All week, I’ve been thinking of it, of how I am just a “white person,” to those who have been hurt by those in power.

To be continued…

Going home to the holly bush

I am home. My mother is trimming the holly bush, which I seek but don’t find right away. I find her only after the strange man on the ride-on lawnmower clim*xes on the side lawn. How did it happen, the four girls in my bedroom, in awe because nothing has changed since I left 26 years ago? The yellow curtains and inside shutters are closed. I open them, let in the light. There is the view of my youth, the concrete wall of the trench (say moat: it’s so much more romantic, but there is no water; there are no crocodiles), the little patch of lawn rising above it. Then sky. It is the nature of the view, looking up from the basement into the clouds: gray, green, gray.

There is a roaring from outside. “She’s mowing the lawn,” I tell my sisters, and I look for the electric Flymo, which we used on the side lawns in the latter days. It was lighter and easier to move than the old gas Flymo, and we needed something light for the side lawns, which dipped steeply from the driveway towards the trench that allowed light into the lower rooms on two sides of the house. But a man drove by on a ride-on, bent over, grunting. And then he wasn’t grunting anymore, but making strange high noises, gasping in rhythm with the pulsating motor of the machine.

“What’s he doing?” Leah asked.

“Mowing the lawn,” I said. “I’m going to tell Mum.”

Nothing has changed anywhere in this house that lives only in my dreams, replaced by high-rise condos. The burnished wood floor upstairs, with the worn persian rugs all in a row, one for each section of hallway; the heavy front door with its frosted glass and security grill; the rooms on either side, filled with antiques and with heavy velvet curtains at the windows. It is as it was. But when I open the front door, a little dark woman with graying hair stands up from where she has been polishing the front steps. “Where is Mum?” I ask, as though I know her, as though she should know me, although we never had maids when I was young. Everywhere I look there are people, trimming hedges, cutting roses, raking the gravel, polishing the window. The garden is trim and orderly, not verging on wilderness as it so often was in the past.

And then I see Mum by what should have been the holly tree, but it is not. It is some carefully shaped evergreen, curled and curlicued. I cannot hear the river. I walk over to her, but it’s not a short walk anymore. The gravel driveway scrolls beneath my feet like a treadmill. Mum gets no closer. The gardeners and maids continue their work as though I do not exist.

And then, in one of those strange, jet-dream flickers of change, I am sitting on the lawn in front of Mum, and the poodle-tree is once again the old holly bush with its dark green, thickshiny leaves and red berries clustered in a way so pretty and Christmassy — although the sun is shining and roses bloom.

I tell my mother about the man on the ride-on mower, and she says, “Oh I know how he feels, I’m all boiling and roiling with hunger.” But she doesn’t use the word hunger. No. She is young and pale and pretty against the green and red holly tree, and I float away from her, away from the 200-year-old house that is long gone now into the river, nothing to mark it but the willow tree we planted. The holly bush is gone; my mother is gone; the front door lets in no light. My room is rubble. I wake.

Playing chess with my mother

My mother called me last night. I was preparing to visit a friend, and had chosen to wear a dress she’d given me, a silky flowing dress, very elegant, something she had worn often. It was a coffee brown, a perfect match to a coat I wear for work that she gave me before she died. It took me years to wear the coat, because it was too expensive, too consciously classic, for me to feel comfortable in it. And it was brown, my least favorite color, the color of my school uniform from the old days in Ireland. When I finally put it on, a few months ago, I was surprised at how good it felt, the expensive material soft and almost suede-like, though it was not made from any form of animal product. It was warm, and it fit me perfectly. So there I was, dressed in a coffee-brown, silk dress and my elegant coat, planning to visit a friend, and as I was trying to pass through the door, my phone rang. I fumbled to reach it, pockets, purse, backback. But I couldn’t find it, and it went to voicemail, and then I heard my mother’s voice. She was narrating a chess game. “Pawn to b3” she said. “Knight takes d7.” I threw my purse down, tore off my coat, ripped open my backback, desperate to find the phone. But every time I thought I’d found it it was something else, a book, a stapler, a turtle paperweight, my dog’s leash. And my mother’s voice droned on, part Tennessee accent, “nahn,” she said, “fahv.” Part Irish. “Tomahto,” she said. Not tomaydo.

And then the phone clicked off, and she was gone.

The chess game was good, though. I could see all the pieces, see the skewers and pins and forks. Color-coded lines mapped out the game, the best moves, the potential mates three or four moves down the line. It reminded me of a chess computer game my friend and I have been playing. I always liked chess, though for years I knew nothing more than the basic moves and how to castle, but my friend has taught a fair few people how to play, and last week he bought a chess set for the work release program where he works so the inmates can play. He’ll teach them, patient and thorough as he always is, and maybe some of them will learn something beyond the basic moves, will be caught up in the intricacy and challenge of it and pledge to work to become better.

My friend taught his nephew, who became state champion in high school and is now a more consistent and thoughtful player than he is. It’s a race these days, to see if my friend can improve his game enough to beat his nephew regularly, and as he’s learned so have I.

But why my mother? I’m unsettled today, thinking of how clear her voice was as she spoke those words that would have meant nothing to her. I was so desperate to talk to her, and then she disappeared, and I woke into a world dominated by chess sets. Then they floated away, and only the gray morning light remained, my sleeping dogs pinning me to the bed, and my hand reaching for a phone that doesn’t exist.

If you’re not with us…

Not about the classroom, not really, my dream. It’s about now, today, living in the U.S., in a world where we must be guarded against terror at all times. Classrooms are supposed to be safe, secure. We shouldn’t fear for our lives in a classroom. Same with being alive here, in this historically powerful and allegedly peaceful country. But not anymore. Now it’s a world of “Orange Alert,” of “War Against Terror,” of bifurcation: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” I guess that makes me with the terrorists. But I’m a pacifist. And I dream of a bodyguard in my classroom, a murdered bodyguard — and in the end my dream’s not about education at all, but about the state of the nation — a world in which we accept living in a place where the administration strips us of rights in the name of protection, where if we’re not fearful, we are automatically on the side of the enemy.

I don’t accept any of it. Not the fear of strangers or muggers or rapists. Certainly not the fear of terrorists. I walk my dogs alone in the Canyon. Several of my friends won’t walk there at all, let alone alone. I walk my dogs on the dark walkway behind my condo at night and early in the morning, when the path is lit by starlight only, or so shadowed by the sun’s absence that I have to feel my way in certain spots. I can’t see the gang graffiti at night, and if I could, I would ignore it.

I will not eulogize those who think they must protect us from threats, whatever those threats are. I rode my horse over big cross country fences for years, knowing that the wrong jump, a tilt in balance at the wrong time, could leave me like Christopher Reeves, or could kill me. I did it anyway. I don’t need protection from my own willingness to take risks. Nor do I need it from terrorists. And yet I conceded in my dream. Is that what’s happening to me, giving up, simply accepting the country’s plunge into f*scism?

Dang. It’s been a hard week, and I’m tired, and I have to drive three hours across a mountain pass. I’ll focus on something I can do something about, like driving carefully, and forget about my dream. That’s what we do, these days, isn’t it?

Sequel dream

I had a weird dream last night. I had been asked to speak a few words at the memorial service of a man who had been guarding my class. That’s right. Guarding it. I didn’t know what the danger was, but he’d been called in to sit in the back row of one of my classes, he and two henchmen, all three uniformed. Whatever the danger was, it was great. And I accepted both the presence of the unidentified danger, and the necessity of the guards as though it were the most natural thing in the world.

A couple of colleagues went up in front of me, the final one a tall thin man who works in our writing center. He stood speechless, his face drained, till someone prodded me and I went up to relieve him of his stage fright. There was scattered applause. The venue was terrible, a podium in the center of a room, so I had people behind me, and people in front and to the sides. I couldn’t address any part of the room without ignoring another part.

I launched into a eulogy on the dedication and reliability of the man who had guarded my students. Before I’d walked to the podium, I’d tried to take some notes on a napkin, and had come of up with a couple of phrases I had thought would do, but the ink wouldn’t stay clear on the napkin, so I had given up. When I spoke, the phrases I’d been trying to remember skittered out of my mind.

“When Mike joined the class to keep us safe,” I said, “he proved his dedication to our students and to this campus by being always diplomatic, dedicated and discrete.” It was a horrible line. I knew it. It didn’t mean anything.

I went on to speak about the day I arrived in class to find him not there. He was always there before me, sitting in his appointed seat, being discrete, no doubt. I spoke of the students’ growing concern as he didn’t show up, especially since he had been appointed to give a career talk about what it meant to be a bodyguard in a college classroom. After class, I said, I had immediately called the dean because it was clear that a bodyguard of Mike’s quality would never simply not come to work. Eventually, he had been found, or rather, his body had been found.

At about that moment, I began waking up, and in the suspended weird space between waking and sleeping I remembered that I had been dreaming this dream in sequels for several nights in a row. I had dreamed the event that had required us to call in a bodyguard in the first place. I had dreamed Mike’s appearance and his “discrete, diplomatic, dedicated” service. I had dreamed his disappearance and my anxiety about it. I had dreamed the week in which he was gone, and the weekend in which clues were added together to reveal the location of his body. And now I was dreaming his eulogy. All the previous dreams and the current one rose up in clarity and detail, as clear as the just-passed weekend. And then I woke up, and I was left only with the sketchy details of the current dream, and with the knowledge that for the past few nights I’ve been dreaming of Mike’s installation in my classroom and untimely demise. Weird. Like watching a favorite show on television, each night being left with a cliffhanger to bring you back to the following night’s edition. But in my waking hours, I’d had no memory of any of the dreams. Maybe it’s my mind’s attempt to hint that I really ought to be watching television like just about everyone else in my universe!

What intrigued me the most about the dream was my absolute sanguine calm about the necessity of having a bodyguard in class, and my matter-of-fact acknowledgment that Mike had been murdered in the line of duty — i.e. guarding my students. What on earth does that reveal about my subconscious attitudes towards my job!?

Does anyone else have sequel dreams? It felt weird.

Changing the dream two

Continued from here:

None of this, of course, is a complaint against my mother. She simply did what everyone did back then, made an association between maths and Latin and getting into vet school. It’s false, at least in this country, at least now. But back then, if you wanted to get into vet school in Ireland, you got high grades in everything, including (especially) maths and Latin. She was saving me grief, saving me from a dream I could never have realized.

But her not believing in me, and my dad’s view of me as not too bright, colored everything. When I told Mum I won the English prize, she told me not to lie. It was impossible, in her world, for someone to get C’s in both the exams (composition and literature), and win the English prize. She only believed me when the picture came out in the Irish Times, me holding the certificate and the check, with two of my friends flanking me. Why didn’t I show her the certificate? Because by the time I had evidence, she had denounced me as a liar. It didn’t seem worth it.

But it’s not that bad, really. A few years later, when I was in college in America and made effortless As in every class I took except English 101 (hah! What irony…), I realized that she was just operating under perfectly reasonable assumptions. No one in the U.S. who got C’s in a class would win an award for that class. C’s aren’t very good grades. A B is OK. A’s, well, even those are often barely deserved. So it made all the sense in the world for her to assume that I couldn’t possibly, ever, under any circumstances, win an award when I’d received C’s in my exams. And when I realized that fact, everything else fell into place too. No wonder I was never good enough. My perfectly reasonable Irish grades looked like failures to her. And because I couldn’t please her, I gave up.

Dad, on the other hand, knew better. Why did he never say anything to convince her differently? I suppose because he went to Trinity and Oxford and worked at CERN and found maths and science easy, because he truly believed “Anyone can do English. It’s a soft option.” Because he was scathing of what I loved. In the end, I gave up trying for him, too. Early on, oh so early on, I simply gave up dreaming.

It’s easy, looking back, to realize how own’s right-meaning and perfectly loving parents (and they were), were simply shaped by what they understood of the world. In Dad’s world, everyone knew that English was a soft option that any moron could do. There was no point being proud of getting a good grade on an English essay, of winning the prize for English. Anyone can do that. Splitting the atom. Probing the mystery of the nutrino. Those are worthy goals.

In Mum’s world, grades of C were tantamount to failure. It’s just the way things were. A “B” elicited, “Is that all?” She didn’t mean to be discouraging. It’s just what she knew of the world, in the same way that she knew me going to a little regional university for my MA in English was a waste of time because it wouldn’t “mean anything.” She had high expectations because she came from a world in which everyone overachieved. Just being normal wasn’t good enough. It didn’t mean she didn’t love me. In fact it was a mark of her love.

It’s easy to say, “Just change the dream.” It’s not easy to do it. Others have changed my dream for me all my life. When I did leave home at 17, and eventually came to the States and went to college, I pursued my own dream, such as it was. Now, in many ways, I have realized what is a perfectly reasonable dream. I have a job I like, my own place, a loving daughter. The dream I can’t change is my family. I love them. It’s true I want to be able to smash the walls down, to assert myself, to say, “Things will be different now.” Some days I make progress towards that vision. But some days I don’t. I can’t beat myself up for not changing the dream because part of the problem is that I’ve always beaten myself up for it. I just have to accept what happened, whatever failure I brought upon myself — once again — and try to move forward.

So I failed, on my birthday, to connect to dad. Norman is right. I’m sure he was thinking “Happy birthday.” He probably mumbled it. Even if he didn’t, we did celebrate my birthday the night before. He made me a chocolate cake using “Mum’s special recipe.” These things mean everything. It’s my own hopeless paralysis that kills me, time after time. But I shake free of it. I take another step. I commit to trying again. That’s what I’ve always done.

A’s in the U.S. don’t mean much to those raised in Ireland. But they mean a lot to me, because they got me here, to graduate school and beyond, to a tenure track job. OK, it’s “only” a community college, a real disappointment for my mother whose father was dean of the medical school at Vanderbilt, for my father who worked at CERN. But I love teaching community college students. I understand my students’ struggles, because they mirror mine — in some slantwise way.

Over the years, I’ve made my working life into my own dream, changed my parents’ dream to my own. It’s a start. Other dreams will follow, do follow, slow though the progress is.

Changing dreams

“I’ve figured it out,” I told Mum that day 27 or so years ago. “I want to be a vet.”

I was the one who looked after the goats and the donkeys, who took the cats to the vet, nurtured the puppies, nursed the geese when they were sick. The vet knew me well. I’d show up with dying birds and sick abandoned dogs, and he would fix them or put them down or whatever he needed to do. Once I found a rabbit with myxomatosis when I was out riding my pony. I saw a piece of tattered fluff deep in a tussock of grass, then saw the ragged ears, the swollen face with puss-seeping blind eyes. I slid off my pony, looped his reins over my arm, and looked for a rock, a big one. I found it and stood over the rabbit, who lay so deep in his suffering that he didn’t realize I was there, or didn’t care. I swung the rock down hard, fast, and pulled out at the last minute. I couldn’t do it, couldn’t bear the crackling of the skull breaking, the blood, my own role in violent killing, even though I knew the rabbit was dying, and worse, suffering terribly in the process. In the end I wrapped him in my sweater and rode three miles to the vet, as fast as I could, where the vet slipped in the needle and the rabbit’s life slid away without a sound.

One day, a donkey was hit on the road outside our house. I sat with his head on my lap while someone called the vet. When he came, I held the donkey as the vet did his thing. Once again, the life force slipped quietly away, leaving behind the dead weight of a lifeless head in my lap.

Eventually, I began hanging out at the vet office, not to participate in bringing about death, but to give shots (lift the scruff and make a little tent, push in the needle quickly, no hesitation, and then it’s over, vaccinations given, illness averted). I helped at surgeries, held equipment, caressed the foreheads of deeply sleeping dogs as they lay with tongues out on the stainless steel table. I wasn’t afraid of blood. When my friend’s horse needed twice-daily penicillin shots, I rode my bike to her house and jabbed. You rub the area with rubbing alcohol, thump three times hard with your fist, then drive in the needle. Pull back to make sure you haven’t hit a vein. If there’s no blood, you push it in slowly and steadily. It’s thick stuff, a big needle. Horses are usually pretty good if you don’t hesitate, if you are matter-of-fact about it, and you talk to them. You change sides, places, every time, and after a while you don’t think about it. You just do it.

So the vet asked if I wanted to be a vet, and I said yes, and then I told my mother. She said, “You can’t be a vet. You’re no good at maths and Latin.”

That was it. Dream over. I guess it was just a little, hard idea in my brain, something self-contained, a cancer that hadn’t gone invasive. It wasn’t spread through the fibres of my being, hadn’t metasticized till excizing it would mean killing me. She cut my dream out neatly with her words, left nothing behind, barely a scar. I just gave up.

Loren suggested I change my dream after I wrote about my visit to my dad. It’s something I’ve been mulling over, something that has haunted me for years. In a sense, every day, every moment, is an attempt to change the dream. Most of the time I succeed….

To be continued…


I’ve been dreaming a lot lately. I’ve only ever dreamt when I’ve slept enough, which doesn’t happen often. I take that back. I suppose I dream, but just don’t remember the details. When Sadie was in the hospital, I hardly ever slept. Nothing like anxiety to get you into skinny jeans: the not-eating, the restlessness. Since she’s been home, clearly recuperating, I’ve been going to bed as early as I can, and sleeping hours. And the last three nights I’ve remembered my dreams.

Dream one:

Esperanza’s in danger. I’m the only one who can save her. I remember only bits and pieces. Shadowed halls, imminent menace, my heart pounding as I splash through acidic water in search of her. Huge lamps snap on in far recesses, spilling a harsh but unrevealing light. Her face is turned to me; she leans towards me; something snatches her away. Her father can’t save her. It makes no sense.

Dream two:

I am published. Someone else tells me. I am published in a nationally known literary journal. “Look,” someone tells me, pointing to my name. My name is everywhere: In the introduction, where the editor waxes rhapsodic over my talent; in the center of the book, which falls open to one of my older stories, one that has gathered dust for a couple of decades; in gold on the cover, the featured writer. It feels all wrong. I wake up and feel a surprising relief. Still, that evening, my friend tells me that I have to apply to Yado, where she spent five weeks this summer. “You’ve got to, TK. It opens doors. I’ll write you a letter of recommendation.” I am so sure, now that I’m not a writer any more, that she is joking, making fun of me, that I want to walk away from her. “It’s all well and good for YOU to say that…”

“You went to Hedgebrook,” she says. “A bunch of the others talked about Hedgebrook. ‘Are you going?’ ‘I just got back; it was beautiful.’ See. You should go to Yado.” I think of my mother’s ashes buried under the red maple at Hedgebrook, wonder how big it’s gotten in the ensuing years. We were going to put up a plaque, but the retreat went under new directorship, and I imagine the tree is bare. Only those who know will know that my mother’s spirit lingers in the air there.

Dream three:

I’m trying to teach in a state-of-the-art classroom. The teacher station is way fancier than even the ones in the new building at work. I break everything. The screens that drop down from the ceiling keep coming until they’ve unspooled themselves onto the ground. Then another one drops, and unspools. And another. And another. The classroom is filled with unspooled screens with their clean white centers and their black borders. They line up, reminiscent of zebra flesh, on the floor.  I try to write on the whiteboard, and it breaks too, cracking out from the center, a crazy frieze. People give me glasses of water, and I drop them, and drop them. Everywhere is the sound of breaking glass. Blood drips from my fingers, spatters across the downed screens. I walk out of the room holding broken glass and postcards from the Azores. Waking up is a relief, to the stillness of my room, and Sadie sleeping by me.

Irish School-revisioned

The man in the motorized wheelchair had a devastatingly handsome face, a clear English complexion, a sudden easy smile, serious blue eyes.

“Well,” he asked. “Why are you here?”

“I’m showing my friend where I went to school.”

He nodded. He had spoken after I pointed out a small square spot of concrete on the ground and said, “The headmistress used to live there. I wonder why they knocked her house down?” It must have been obvious, with the guts of a towering steel-and-concrete structure right behind me, its shadow darkening what had been a sunny spot years ago. But I ignored the new building and looked instead for familiarities.

We were in a throng pushing down from the main school building to the road where we would catch the bus. Between the shorn steel pillars of the new building I could see the curve of the old driveway, the grass lawn sweeping up to the wall between my school and the one next door. Trees, yes. But no daffodils. It seemed supremely wrong to be here in a season without daffodils. All my dreams have been of running down the driveway past a blur of yellow on my way to freedom.

We had been in the school till the bell rang and we were flooded by all those escaping students, accept that they were old, or in wheelchairs, or male. They weren’t wearing uniforms. The man in the wheelchair wore a soft green suit, the color of shadowed moss, and a shirt as white as his teeth. “There’s the bus,” he said. I strained to see if it was the 44, my favorite bus, which would take us from Milltown to Enniskerry. It was, but it went the wrong way, up a new road, where the river should have been.

“Oh yes,” I tell Nada. “Everything’s moved now.”

The main building was being remodeled. American girls were giving away candy in the lobby. I grabbed some chocolate and a handful of papers which turned out to be pictures one of them had drawn. They were crude but pretty. When I walked over to thank her, she turned her back on me, and I saw that the doors, which had been all-glass when I was there, were now steel, with only a tiny glass pane at the top, bisected by thick bars. “One of my friends ran through the glass,” I told Nada. “That’s why they changed it. But I don’t know why they put on the bars.”

The concourse was huge, way bigger than I remembered. The stage area, where the teachers had stood for prayers and announcements, was gone. The balcony above was dim and plush. I walked past classrooms filled with velvet and gold. The windows let in no light.

I tried to tell Nada what it was like here, being a heathen in a non-denominational but strictly religious school. My dad always got us to prayers late on purpose. Day after day we were humiliated, having to stand in the glassed-in lobby on show. Time after time we got black marks for missing prayers, and the headmistress glared at us. She called in my dad, too, to talk to him. “You girls are missing prayers, Mr. P,” she said. “It will not be good for their souls.”

“And…?” my dad responded.

“You must make sure they are on time for prayers,” the headmistress responded.

“Why would I do that?” my atheist father replied.

In the end the headmistress gave up on my father. Instead she called me in.

“You are disturbed psychologically,” she said. “You need a psychiatrist.” I didn’t know what I’d done, other than stand with my sisters in the glass lobby every day, stared at by 500 or so girls. Perhaps my face had flashed my father’s resistance at her when she mentioned my responsibility in converting my father to one who would ensure his children’s spiritual health by getting them to prayers on time. Finally she allowed us to stand on the balcony with the others who didn’t pray, the Jews, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the four Heathen girls.

But now, in my dream of this morning, the concourse stood vast and empty, the balcony unlit, the stage gone. When the bell rang, Nada and I found ourselves outside in a through being drawn down to the street, past the brick walls and onto the road. But the 44 went the wrong way and the river was gone.

“I used to mitch,” I told him. “I’d walk to the penny shop up the road and buy sweets for people who didn’t dare mitch themselves. All the teachers knew. I never got in trouble.” I didn’t need to tell him why. Once only my father had given me a black eye. I ran away from home and went to a friend’s birthday party, walking two miles in the pouring rain to Enniskerry and then taking the smokey 44 bus to Dundrum. When my friend’s mother asked about my eye, I told her I’d walked into a door. The universal excuse. She was the gym teacher. After that, everyone at school was kind to me. My parents were never notified when I went missing or got bad grades. Even the headmistress gave up her resolution to convert me.

I didn’t like to be touched. I didn’t like crowds. I’d had a black eye and had run away from home. None of these things told a story about me that was true. Still, people invented what wasn’t there.

I was friends with a girl who was regularly beaten by her big sister, and perhaps even her father. We mitched together. She smoked pot in the tiny flat owned our Malaysian schoolmate, who mitched also. As they smoked, I looked out the window onto the brick wall three feet away. The light filtered through smog and rain, slid across the window sill, and pressed through into the dim room, thick with pot smoke. It touched me. Maybe that’s why I never forgot God.

In my dream, the wall to the river is high and when I lean over it I see only houses. Everything has moved. My school is obscured by an unfinished skyscraper. The 44 bus goes down a road that doesn’t exist. The man in the wheelchair, in his mossy suit, smiles, GQ on wheels. And then I walk down the road a little, disconsolate, and lean over the wall again, and there is the river, falling over a series of carefully placed stones, trickling into a pool. The water is clear over the mossy growth on the stones. Everything is very still.