Drops of water slid down the ends of my hair, making gentle impact on the fluffy tufts of my duvet. My skin was still hot from the shower, and the cold air of my northern bedroom stung my exposed fingers and cheeks. The wind popped the huge glass windows next to my bed, and I could hear my roommates watching television in the living room.
“Mandy,” he said, his voice echoing through my phone, suddenly serious.
“Yes?” I said with a nervous laugh, wondering what he would say. He’d started calling me on the phone every night at midnight before we both went to bed. His voice was the last thing I heard before falling asleep, and I loved that.
“I like you.”
It was nice to hear him say it out loud.
“I like you too,” I said.
“No,” he paused. “I really like you.”
He didn’t say anything after that, so I told him I really liked him too. He was pleased, but his tone was still tight.
“It’s just...whenever I’ve really liked someone, I’ve always screwed it up. It never works out.”
I didn’t know how to respond to his confession. I wasn’t worried about what he’d said; he was good to me and we had chemistry, so I figured he was just afraid of commitment. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.
“This time will be different,” I said with confidence. “You won’t screw it up with me.”
We said goodnight and I cuddled myself into the wall, my phone tucked under the covers as my favorite text from him flashed across the screen:
“Que suenes con los angeles.” (Dream with the angels)
We dated in tumultuous, unofficial cycles for sixteen months. He became everything to me. But I wasn’t enough for him, and that slowly became apparent. I never got that text from him again.
“I just don’t know, Mandy,” he'd say exasperatedly in the car. He kept his eyes on the steering wheel each time we had this conversation, then he’d soften and turn to me as he tried to explain why he needed more time.
“I can’t keep doing this!” I’d exclaim, annoyed that he needed “more time” when he’d already had a year and a half.
“Then don’t,” he’d say, his cold, blank eyes staring out the window shield.
I’d bristle and deflate at the same time, until he’d quietly say:
“You deserve better than me anyway.”
And there it was: the hook he loved to offer me. And oh, how I loved to attach myself to it. I would immediately feel bad for pressuring him to make a decision, so I’d apologize. He’d tell me how hard commitment was for him, and I’d tell him I could wait, I didn’t mind. We’d make up and I’d climb the stairs to my apartment with an ugly heaviness that manifested itself in ripped out hair and bloodshot eyes reflecting in the bathroom mirror at four a.m.
I thought the pain meant it was real.
So I kept getting back in his car; I kept ignoring his constantly buzzing phone; I kept ignoring the way his roommates looked at me with a mix of pity and sickening amusement; I kept ignoring the way he flirted with other girls; I kept ignoring the way my body shrunk into itself when I talked about him to my friends; I kept ignoring how much I missed talking to my mother; I kept ignoring how I hadn’t felt connected to God in months.
But the time came when I wasn’t allowed to ignore it anymore.
The dream came on a Wednesday afternoon after I’d gotten home from work. I don’t take naps, so the pull to lie down was strange, but sleep was immediate.
I realized I was throwing a party. My mother was there, though she lives in Illinois. I heard a knock at the door then he walked in.
Suddenly the party was at the pool where he and I liked to go. We were in the hot tub and I was grazing my fingers across his collarbone like I always did, but I noticed something was coming out of it.
Saliva pooled in my mouth and my cheeks rippled with revulsion as I realized there were hundreds of tiny bones ripping through his skin. They grew multiple inches long, resembling the crispy, jointed legs of a tarantula. And they were waving out of his neck at me.
I pulled away in the water but the bones continued to pulse back and forth underneath his chin. I pinched my eyelids to escape the grotesque scene, but I couldn’t wake up.
“Mandy, we need to talk,” he said, getting out of the water.
I couldn’t stop staring at the bones.
“I’ll go grab my stuff,” he said as he walked away.
My mother came to me then. Her green eyes were so vivid, so present that I was sure she was actually there in the dream with me.
“Why don’t you see him for what he is?” she asked. “All of us,” she said pointing to the rest of the people, “see him. But you don’t.”
Then he was back. He went to shake my mother’s hand but he couldn’t; their hands couldn’t connect.
“Don’t go with him,” she said.
But I did.
We were walking to his car when I realized there was another woman with us.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s with me,” he said as he kept walking.
I stopped. “I thought you wanted to talk?”
“I do, aren’t you coming?” he asked, turning around.
The woman looked back at me, sensed my confusion, and then said:
“I’ll always be with him.”
She was right.
I ran until I reached the parking lot. I saw my mother and her car so I jumped in the driver’s side and locked the door.
Then I screamed. The loudest, throat-ripping, guttural upheaval escaped my mouth and reverberated around the car. When it was over, my mom looked at me with her knowing green eyes and smiled.
I woke shaking on the couch.
I didn’t want to acknowledge this dream. God’s given people dreams of warning for a long time, and it was frightening to realize I’d become one of them. Like the man who had to uproot his family from everything they held dear to go on an uncharted and difficult journey across the world, it was time for me to let go of my life too. Like the man who turned away from God and was filled with the absolute torment such sin necessitates, I was now awfully aware of the situation I was in.
But in the midst of the pain and the remorse and the fear of who I would be without him, I started to become untangled. It was slow-coming, and it required action. So I told him I was done. I stopped answering his texts. I ended my commitments that involved him. And I let myself be sad, because I was.
Each step sent me spinning, but it also slid the hook further and further out of my throat.