Deathbed baptism

In the moody, saturated, purple-hued world of my dream, I come across his presence. A cross-legged figure, hand resting over a deer’s bowed head, in a glen filled with fragrant, twilight-blooming flowers. He may be one of the lesser stars, but, as he turns his attention toward me, I am reminded that he is a star nonetheless. If I recognize him immediately it’s not because I remember his face, but because I will never forget how he made me feel.

I apologize for my mind, too malformed to attach healthily. I apologize for both wanting and fearing closure. I apologize for a stream-of-consciousness that sought to drown you in its waters, and seeks you still. I know I fixated on every accidental glance and stray word. I know I overinterpreted runes, panting in the crowded hallways with terror and heady exhilaration, as though every encounter between us were executed by a horned deity to whom I would soon owe everything. I know I changed like the tides. I know I left without saying goodbye. I know I cannot possibly have the temerity now to expect you to have stayed in the same place that I left you, your feet buried in black sand, your hands awash in chilly saltwater. I didn’t cultivate these grounds but still somehow want them to have stayed holy in my absence.

In my dream, you have the cool distance of a saint depicted in a pebbled mosaic. You are wary of me. Eyes of pewter, you raise one hand above the head of the penitent. You are someone distant and unknowable but fundamental to the faith. There was a time I followed you everywhere, do you remember? Like a child, or a dog, or a disciple. For years, you spoke to me as though via cipher. Your thoughts were as inaccessible as a drop of rain suspended in the cloudy air above a forest. Foolishly, I took you and your secrecy as a challenge. I thought I could learn you through intensive study and with concerted effort, the way one learns a language. I thought another person’s vulnerability was something you could work for and eventually earn. It took me years to understand that you weren’t particularly secretive or unknowable. You just weren’t interested in sharing anything with me.

It disturbs me to dream so often of you, a man who I only knew as a boy. There’s something profane about it. There’s something about it that fills me with so much shame. I can hardly bear to even write about it. Only the strength of the immediate feelings after I wake propels me forward, toward the cool glow of the computer, toward the dislocation of my heart. The dream fills me as though I were a pitcher, and I pour out over the dusty keyboard, my mind streaming in red and irregular ribbons over the keys. But when the swell of that emotion recedes, leaving only its watery imprint on the sand, the shame remains. Why do I long so strongly? Why do I revisit the memory like it owes me something? Is it a violation of some kind to be changed, to be unable to forget, to dream so much—of someone who was never mine?

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