“I can’t feel my arms, where are my arms?”
“Is she alive? Am I awake?”
“Okay, remember it’s just a dream. My legs are still there.”
Four different moments in which I regained consciousness around 3 am. I’ve had these types of stress dreams for a long time, but this fall their intensity increased—until every night I woke up startled, blankets tossed to the side, fearful.
I didn’t know the cause of the dreams, but I suppose it could have been related to my impending December graduation and lack of a plan for after graduation. I didn’t have a job lined up, nor did I have a direct trajectory academic plan. The future was murky.
My dreams reflected a fear of loss of control and loss of freedom—perhaps these are common fears of the unemployed. I dreamt of becoming obese, wasting away until I was a small grain of desert sand, being trapped in a pure white room. On occasion, I woke up to numb fingertips, feet, arms, and legs.
I began to use two methods to combat the stress dreams: running and writing. Running gives me the physical power and freedom I was so afraid of losing control of in my dreams. Writing allows me to preserve my presence. While my mortality predicts loss of control and freedom, written words maintain my soul.
- The Gym
I walk into the locker room at the local gym. My gym membership is free—a remnant of my childhood and my membership of a family. Membership of a cohesive family has provided me with many externalities that I haven’t reflected upon until now that I am facing post undergraduate unemployment. For example, it has given me the family gym membership. I take advantage the membership daily, running away from my worries on a treadmill.
As I head past rows of lockers to my usual spot, I am confronted with the typical chatter of the thirty years plus women that occupy the gym at this time of day.
“Julia! I didn’t see you in spinning yesterday!”
“Oh yes, well Tommy was home with the flu. So you know how it is…”
Sometimes, I think to myself, “I could be one of these women. Going to the gym midday. Being a housewife. Maybe my husband is a lawyer or something.” But deep down I know I’m not destined for this life. I crave independence; even the sound of being tied to one person makes me cringe. And even if I truly wanted to be one of the locker room crew, it’s not like I’ve actually have a husband or even significant other that could support me.
An older contingent gossips about today’s bar class. I’m not sure what bar class is, and at first I think they are talking about a drinking bar. But then I overhear them talking about how “challenging this teacher was”. I doubt these women need a teacher to guide them in knocking back a few beers, nor do I think it would require great exertion. So I conclude it is some sort of exercise class.
Some of the women strut around the locker room with great confidence—it’s typically the older women with bodies that are not featured in the fashion magazines. I’m envious of their seeming freeness from any expectation to have the perfectly round butt, flat stomach, or skinny but toned arms. I find the most beauty in imperfection. And to me these women’s confidence is beautiful. I know that no one is ever free of societal expectations, but in this moment I pretend that when I’m the age of these women, I won’t have to care anymore. I pretend that some day I will truly be independent.
As I walk past, women applying lipstick and blow-dry their hair. It’s as though we’re in an art studio rather than the locker room, and as these women stare into the boxy mirrors, they are creating their self-portraits. I used to feel like a part of a world-renowned collection as a college student. Now, I feel like a rough sketch, waiting to be filled with bright painted color.
I head to my usual locker and shed my coat and sweats. Around the corner there is a commotion.
“Oh Susan, the lotion went everywhere!”
“My goodness I cannot believe I did that! How are people going to walk?”
As I turn the corner while whipping my hair up in a ponytail. The woman looks close to tears, as her workout buddy rubs her shoulder and another woman has been enlisted to help wipe up the lotion with one of the gym’s white fluffy towels.
I wonder what it is like to have this much anxiety about a bottle of lotion spilling. My anxiety comes from the fact that I feel helpless and dependent. My source of worry comes from the fact that I won’t be able to help my friends that don’t have health insurance if anything is to happen to them. My source of stress comes from the fact that I don’t know when I will receive my next paycheck. My source of concern comes from the fact that I’m 22 years old and feel completely dependent upon my parents. My source of anxiety comes from the fear of settling rather than exploring.
Perhaps that’s why she is so stressed about the lotion. Maybe it is just an outlet of for all of the rest of her anxiety. I don’t know her.
- Stress Dream
I kiss him. Our eyelashes brush. I’m in a fuzzy cloud of pure bliss.
Then I’m in a stark white hospital.
“You have a terminal eyelash disease. You should not get close to people because you could die,” the doctor tells me. I’m not sure if he means physically or emotionally close.
Then I go to the protest. The protest has been moved to the beach and is going to take place on two giant barges, and there are going to be thousands of people attending. This is a huge step for equal rights if the protest goes off as planned. I’m willing to risk death from my terminal eyelash disease in order to attend.
I arrive late, racing up the beach. I hop on one of the two barges. But all of the sudden I’m really heavy. When I step on the corner of the barge, the whole thing flips over, killing everyone on the barge. Everyone except for me, the one with the terminal illness who disobeyed the doctor’s orders and therefore is the only one that deserves to die.
The protesters on the other barge are watching me in disgust. I cannot tell if they are disgusted with me because I am responsible for the death of thousands or because I am morbidly obese.
I wake up, shaking, as has happened practically every night the past couple months. Sleeping is more stressful than being awake.
I start to feel small, insignificant. Everyone’s lives roar around me. Mine stands still. The stillness, the lack of living, makes me grow weak. I want to be strong again, and crafting cover letters and checking boxes isn’t increasing my strength. So I start to write. I write about my wild nights out, my experiences with organized religion, and my recollections of my granny. And in writing, I relive. And reliving gives me strength; it’s like an antibiotic for the infectious depression that was ravaging my body.
- Life as trains, planes and automobiles
Metaphors rule my life. Perhaps too many language arts classes in high school are to blame. At some point I came up with an accurate metaphor to describe my post college time period.
I felt like I stepped on a train when I entered the realm of organized education, and while there were bumps in the rails and a few stops along the way, I became used to the motion. When I finished college, I got off the train and hopped in a car.
In the car other passengers do not surround me. I’m alone. This loneliness is both exhilarating and scary. As I’m pulling out of the train station parking lot and getting on the main road, I stop at a red light at an empty intersection of unemployment. It’s one of those red lights that are unpredictable in how often it changes. I pull out a road map, one of those maps that are quickly becoming obsolete with Google maps and smart phones on the rise. I like using the paper map because it give me all the options. And unlike the electronic version, which sends up a little warning if there is roadwork along the way, this one lets me be surprised at what is to come.
And then I get the job offer, a good one. All of the sudden I’m merging on the super highway, increasing speed to 75 miles per hour alongside other cars.
Maybe I’ll pick up a hitchhiker of several. Or maybe there is a plane or a boat in my future. Who knows?
Edie Wilson is a recent graduate of Hamilton College where she studied Anthropology, Economics, and Government with a small dose of Marxism. She writes in multiple genres and primarily online. A few of her other pieces include:Looking Glass Hallway, Eve, and Could God Be Female.