I fall asleep, and sometime later—sometimes within only seconds—my internal camera begins to roll, and nonsensical, nonlinear images flash into my mind. I am dreaming.
Just once, I would like to take someone with me down the rabbit hole.
Maybe she would remind me to study for that electromagnetics exam, the one that sends me screaming out of the lecture hall aware that I will not graduate—again. And wouldn't it be wonderful if Denzel Washington and I were both having the same dream about each other? And what about that time I nested in a cloud-filled forest on the side of a volcano with family of mountain gorillas, the rain pelting our backs? It was the beginning of time, the age before man, an awesome experience, and yet I had no one with whom to share it.
In dreams, I am most alone. I am my own avatar. And the people, the creatures—whether friend or foe, fantastical or real—are unconscious facsimiles of themselves.
This idea has always troubled me.
When I was a child, I imagined I could open a portal inside my head where my best friend would enter, and together we would adventure. She liked this idea, and so we agreed that I would concentrate before I went to sleep and send her a link, a telepathic conduit to dreamland.
Our plan didn't work.
And I was flummoxed because I had supposed it could. That is the beauty of child-mind. Anything is possible.
The next day, we reconvened in the schoolyard.
Did you focus hard enough? she asked, her breath white in the winter cold.
As hard as I could, I said.
Show me, she said.
I puckered my eyes shut.
Yes, that looks about right, she said.
Let's practice now, I suggested.
Do you think we should hold hands? she asked, hopping from one foot to the other to keep warm.
I toyed with a hole in the thumb of my mitten. No, we won't be able to hold hands at night.
That's true, she said.
We closed our eyes. The shouts and laughter of the girls and boys playing Red Rover and dodgeball wilted away, and I thought about opening a door inside my head, and then I saw one: dark oak with leafy carvings along the border and a lion knocker just around my height.
Do you see anything? I whispered.
Not yet, she said.
I turned the brass doorknob, and the latch clicked open. A frosty breeze fluttered through the doorway like a butterfly with snowflake wings, but then the air grew warm and inviting. Sticking my hand into the portal, I flapped it about. I'm waving at you; can you see me?
Yes! she said.
I do. And I'm waving back. Do you see me?
Peering down a corridor lit by candles mounted on either side, I could just make out the outline of my pal standing in her knit hat with the pom-pom on top and her puffy feather-filled coat. Yes! I said.
It's warm in here, isn't it? she said.
And she was right: My toes no longer stung and my nose didn't feel raw anymore. Indeed, I said.
I was tickled, as was she.
I joined her at her end of the corridor. Let's see how far it goes, I said.
There could be goblins at the end, she said.
There could, I said, and we giggled.
I suspect we both knew we were using our imaginations. But for a child, imagination is the magic that makes the impossible possible. And so we did.
Rather than join the other children, every weekday my playmate and I claimed our usual corner in the schoolyard. I shared with her my dreams from the night before, and she, being my best friend, listened captivated. Which only inspired me to embellish and elaborate, until one day I realized I wasn't telling her about my dreams anymore, but a story.
No one listened to me as she did. No one found me as funny or interesting or weird-but-in-a-good-way as she.
A mentor of mine once said that a story is always written for someone. As I wrote Glow, I often wondered about my invisible audience. For whom was I writing?
In the pages of Glow are the stories of outsiders and recluses, of children, women, and men seeking connection, companionship, and friendship. There is even a little girl who converses with another little girl in her dreams.
I realized the answer only after I finished the first draft: my childhood friend, of course.
I miss her.
We are no longer the chubby girl with the glasses and the bucktoothed one with the frizzy hair, the ones who kept to themselves in the schoolyard. Now adults, both artists, we rarely see each other or talk anymore, despite living in the same city, despite still loving each other as sisters do. We have lost our protective corner of the schoolyard. We have lost each other. My friend has encountered a goblin of real life—chronic illness—and it blocks the path between us. And my imagination cannot change this. That does not mean I do not try. I still pucker my eyes closed and call her name. I still look for her in the candlelit corridor. I even believe that one day we will be able to enter each other's dreams.
Jessica Maria Tuccelli's debut novel, Glow, is set in the mountains of Southern Appalachia, where ghosts haunt the ones they love and the bonds between mothers and daughters transcend time. A graduate of MIT with a degree in anthropology, Tuccelli spent three summers trekking through northeastern Georgia, soaking up its ghost stories and folklore. She divides her time between Italy and New York City, where she lives with her husband and daughter.
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