In my nightmare, Sasha is in the sliding car in front of me on the Wonder Wheel. I watch her scream and squeal, until the metal girder snaps off and she falls, cage and all.
In my nightmare, I lose her on the subway. I have her hand and then suddenly I don’t. The doors of the A train slide shut and I shuttle away from her.
In my nightmare, we are homeless and living in a dumpster.
In my nightmare, I have two children, and we live in an apocalyptic high-rise on the edge of a teeming sea. They fall into an empty elevator shaft. Down into nothing I can see. Down into dust. Down into the end of the dream.
In my nightmare, all of the men are turning away from me, toward other women and other rooms.
In my nightmare, I am not gay enough and the lesbians kick me out of the Dyke March.
In my nightmare, I am naked in a pool. I am thirteen and every-one is pointing at my few pubic hairs and budding breasts. I can’t remember how I forgot my bathing suit. You stupid, stupid girl.
In my nightmare, my father pounds on tables and grabs my brother by the neck.
In my nightmare, I do nothing.
In my nightmare, I am underwater. I can breathe. I have gills like a fish.
In my nightmare, my gills stop working. I am too deep to make it back up to the top.
In my nightmare, there are guns lying around on tables and in the streets. They pick them up. They shoot them.
In my nightmare, there are crowds that smother us. Protests gone wrong. Police on horses that trample small bodies. Stampeding populations. Streams of refugees begging to get in and out.
In my nightmare, there is a border guard. We never have the right papers.
In my nightmare, I am my junkie uncle. I die on a bench in Golden Gate Park.
In my nightmare, my brother drives his SUV into a wall. His blood alcohol level is .225.
In my nightmare, I fall and fall and fall and fall. There is no bottom to it, no floor to catch me, no dirt to break me in half or rattle my bones awake.
My clock radio, set to NPR, turned on. Clipped British voice of the BBC News Hour. We’ve seen global protests this year unlike anything since 1968—Mohamed Bouazizi sets himself aflame, Tahrir Square topples Mubarak, austerity protests in Greece and Italy, Chilean students march against privatized universities, Los Indignados clashing with riot police in Puerta del Sol, and most recently, looting in London after the police shooting of Mark Duggan.
I turned off the radio and looked out the window. Across the park, gleaming cubes of glass stacked on top of one another, a crane, and a makeshift elevator. Construction workers standing on red metals beams, suspended above the park, their sure steps across a bright blue sky. More condos I could never live in.
I left the apartment to meet Mel in the fountain. We didn’t speak. Not yet. It was too hot. My phone said ninety-eight degrees. I felt like a hungover lizard on a hot rock. I could barely flick my tongue. She nodded and I nodded back. We stepped into the ice-cold water and sat on the steps.
“Rough night?” she asked, squinting at my face. Cool enough now to talk.
“Maybe I fucked him because he’d been shot six times,” I confessed. She knew I’d been on a date.
“Jesus, was it any good?” She had on a long, loose black tank dress, with the straps of a red bra peeking out. I admired how casually sexy she always looked.
“Mediocre. He couldn’t stay hard. I was kinda checked out.”
“Awww, boner problems.”
“He had a limp too, I guess from the shooting, and it made me want to take care of him.”
“With your pussy?”
“You’ve always had a soft spot for losers.”
“I identify with them, and I don’t have to try very hard.”
There were ten-year-old boys running around the circular steps shooting each other with water guns, five-year-old girls in tutu bathing suits on their bellies in the shallow water, two homeless punk teenagers with a pit bull on a rope sprawled out on the fountain steps, and the steady camerawork of tourists from all over the world.
“How’s your chef?”
“He’s so hot, I want to lick him,” Mel said. “It’s dangerous.”
I wiped the sweat from my upper lip and splashed water from the fountain onto my hair. The dog from the punk teenagers wandered over to us and licked the back of Mel’s calf. We both pet her. She was white with black spots on her back and around her eye.
“You’re like a little cow dog,” I cooed.
“Do you want to come live with me?” Mel scratched behind her ears.
“He’s the sweetest dog.” The girl from the couple walked over to us. She had on cutoff Carhartt pants and a grubby neon-pink tank top. Her hair was dirty blond, matted, and clumped in parts and braided in others. She smelled like Deadheads and wet hay.
“What’s her name?” Mel asked.
“Tipsy,” the girl said. “You can’t see it unless she walks, but one of her legs is shorter than the rest and it makes her look a little drunk.”
The dog kept at the salty palm of my hand.
“Are you guys a couple?” The girl looked back and forth between us. We got that a lot. We’d had one night together in college, a drunken but fun accident that we processed for a couple of weeks, and decided not to repeat.
“Best friends,” we singsonged. We’d been saying it for years.
“You live around here?” the girl asked, shielding her eyes from the sun. There was no getting rid of her.
“Yeah, I teach at the University,” I said, waving in the direction of the buildings that lined the park. I didn’t tell her that I lived in a dorm. It was always hard to explain. People sometimes thought I had a room like a student or that I was a dorm mother.
“I live in Brooklyn.” Mel gave me that look, like, Do we know this person?
“I’m gonna go there someday. To study social work.”
“It’s a good school, but too expensive,” I offered. I thought of my students who’d left school in the last year because they couldn’t afford the $50,000-a-year tuition. There were the ones who stayed too, and got deeper into debt. I had graduate school friends who had defaulted on their student loans and were now mired in bad credit and harassing phone calls. I dreamed of defaulting, of channeling my monthly $557 payment toward Sasha’s nonexistent college fund. Instead, I dutifully paid those evil twin bitch aunts, Sallie and Fannie Mae, on the second of every month.
“But everyone wants to go there,” the girl countered.
“Hype. Branding.” I shrugged. I couldn’t get into my own ambivalence about teaching there. I was lucky to have my contract-faculty position and to have avoided the fate of so many of my adjuncting friends, but I still lived paycheck to paycheck. I had believed so fervently in higher education in my twenties and thirties. Lately, I wasn’t so sure.
“You got a dollar?” the girl redirected.
I shook my head. “I didn’t bring my wallet.” It was true.
Mel reached into her tote bag and gave her a crumpled dollar. Tip money.
“Now you can keep petting my dog.”
Her boyfriend, in worn black jeans and a Dead Kennedys T-shirt, walked over to us, pulled out a flyer out of his back pocket, and handed it to us. I scanned it quickly: The People’s General Assembly! It’s time for the people to meet and to take the bull by the horns! September 17th, Occupy Wall Street.
“It’s time for a revolution,” he said, and lay back down on the steps of the fountain.
“The working class is notoriously resistant to revolution,” Mel said, just to be a pain in the ass, I knew.
“This is going to be different,” he said.
“Look!” The girl nudged my knee with the back of her hand and pointed at the horizon of the fountain. Tipsy and Mel looked up too. “A bride!”
“People still get married,” Mel said as if it were a marvel.
The girl rolled on top of her boyfriend. He lifted one of his hands up and slid it into the back pocket of her shorts. She giggled and kissed him and then sprung back up like she was in chaturanga and he was her yoga mat. He growled at her and nipped at her neck. Tipsy barked too—excited or protective, I couldn’t tell. He wrapped his big hand around the back of her neck and kept it there like a collar. She tried to shrug him off, but his hand stayed, locked in place. He looked older than her by maybe ten years. Still handsome, but tired around the eyes.
The bride was a glittery thing on a sunny day, and the tourists trained their phones on her. The new sliver of condos gleamed behind her—the perfect backdrop, like an old print magazine photo shoot. The condos were wedged between the new campus center and an old church. The juxtaposition of old and new was temporary. Soon, I guessed, that church would be gone too.
She wore a cream-colored satin flapper dress, vintage or made to look vintage, with a pillbox hat and a matching Mary Jane pump with a big buckle. The groom held her by the waist and beamed. He looked like a hedge-fund guy—white, with perfect teeth, a full head of slicked-back hair, and a chin cocked permanently up. He always got what he wanted and his latest acquisition was an artsy wife. Should I slip her a note or whisper in her ear, This, him, it, cannot be the only thing you do? Maybe this bride already knew that.
I imagined them fucking in front of one of the giant new windows of their condo. They just bought it. They paid in cash. It was all theirs. There was no furniture yet. No curtains. The decor would be her first real job as wife, but that would come later. I stared up at the window and toward a construction worker who was shouting at another worker in Spanish. I squinted until the workers got blurry and the couple became my real-estate porn. I saw her naked, except for her silly pillbox hat, and squatting above his face. Her nipples pink and upturned. His mouth, a perfect O of pleasure, while he ate her out. She reached back and pulled hard on his dick. He gasped with delight.
“September 17. Occupy!” the guy in the Dead Kennedys T-shirt broke my bridal reverie. I looked up. They were leaving the fountain with their dog and backpacks. The girl squinted in the sun at me and I waved goodbye back.
I was pissed off about Wall Street, the housing crisis, and student-loan debt, and I knew that Sasha was with her dad that weekend. Why the hell wouldn’t I go? I thought. I shouted, “We’ll be there!”
Mel asked, “We will?”