This morning I am… angry? Because of a silly dream.
In the dream I stayed much closer, throughout my adolescence and adulthood, to a woman who in reality was fond of me in a way I never understood. Tough love? Suburban values love? She didn’t understand me either, so fair was fair, but somehow in this dream we were perfectly suited. She would, in other words, have been the ideal mother-in-law. And that’s what my dream self wanted her to be. My mother-in-law.
In past dreams — my dreams have continuity, it isn’t as fun as it sounds — in past dreams I’ve been eighteen, her son is nineteen, we’re kids and sometimes he has this girlfriend but it’s nothing serious. He promises me I’m special. I feel it. I feel like despite all my damage I’m worth it.
Just like last night. I’m something between now and then, we all are. And there I am, obsessing about the lack of cute dresses that will let me fit in with the other girls, when it’s suddenly very clear that I have been worrying for nothing. Fun’s over, dream self, his real girlfriend is in the house, those girls are her friends, the woman you thought would be your mother-in-law is really happy for this girl, and on top of everything else, his little brother tells you maybe you waited too long to make the depth of your feelings known.
And it leaks out, it poisons the event I’m supposed to be helping with, the nice little dinner for about fifteen. She’s even better at being one of the boys than I am. That’s kind of insulting. Worse, for this nice little dinner she’s dressed in an oversized tank top that shows her assets sagging and a ratty old pair of jeans. And — this is hilarious, this is so great — she could be pregnant.
Real time comes crashing in. Two decades my dream self has wasted on this boy. Since I was ten. That doesn’t mean anything now. And there’s another girl who comes up to me, knowing exactly what I’m going through because so has she. Except that he never cheated on his fiancée with her. She’s just… quietly loved him.
Of course in reality none of this ever happened. I left that family behind as soon as I could. Much like Lot’s wife, I looked back and it turned me to salt, only I looked back over and over and got saltier every time. Neither do I have an abiding passion for this person; rather, he represents what I could have been if I had only grown up normal for time and place. If maybe I hadn’t constantly been torn away from the things I came to know. If someone had taught me how to settle properly as a child, fit in with the girls who weren’t considered total freaks but weren’t uber-popular either. Every time I gave it the old college try I crashed and burned.
I ran into an old classmate the other day. Neither of us really wanted to dwell on the past. We had not been worth knowing, then. But I couldn’t think of an incident to bring up, and he could. Not one I remembered. All the same, confirmation that I had always been strange. Grasping. Needy. Unreasonable.
I wasn’t taught any better.
If I’d only been a real girl, not a shadow flitting from place to place until someone stitched it down to the earth, I might have earned this woman’s approval. In fairness to her, while she didn’t treat me as I’d have wanted to be treated, neither could she have known what to do with a child who was already so adult and preferred her company to her kids’. Too-old seven thrown in with immature three doesn’t work, and of course a girl is expected to play with the girls. I always felt like an envoy between the sexes when I spent time with the boys. Their ways, their play, felt more like mine, more interdependent than dependent, more imaginative than constrained.
This is the trouble with parents who bring you up gender-neutral, then settle in a conservative place. You stick out because you haven’t internalized the proper norms.
And when you have been shown unrestrained love as normal, forever after you love others that way. And they look at you funny because they don’t know how to care like you do — so you learn not to care, you are pinpricked until a callus grows over the soft places inside you. By thirteen you are calling yourself the ice queen as you stride down the hall. The bitch. Before they can say it?
Some part of me wants to take All The Responsibility and part of me is side-eyeing the adults who should have helped me. It’s not fair to blame your entire childhood on everyone else, is it? But… in my case, it may be, given I started from a very different place from the other kids. Not to give me a nice runup to the actual starting line, either!
In my dreams I am Offred in my proper place in Mrs. Waterford’s household. In reality I was June trying to find the Serena Joy in her. Maybe she was just trying to protect her sons and husband from that proto-June in me.
But I wanted to be Eden. I wanted a Nick of my own.
On some level, I want that still.