Do you dream when you sleep? Marvelous, vivid dreams that pull you in wanting more? Wild dreams of ancient lands, of cyberspace, of the old west. Terrifying dreams of ghosts and zombies so detailed that you can see their muscles rotting in their faces. Dreams in which you end up knowing their dreams and can control or dreams within dreams that you can travel between? Dreams are fantastical, whimsical experiences that drag us away to new and exciting lands, and then you wake up.
It’s the same routine everyday. Wake up, mess around, go to work, come home, watch tv/play video games/read, get in bed, mess around on your phone, pray for a better life, go to sleep. Day in and day out, for years now. Before work it was school, nothing feels meaningful, those you had you moved away from “in search of a better opportunity” and now you’re here, alone and depressed. At least that’s how it is for me. Not to go and damper the mood but it doesn’t even feel like I’m the main character in my own story, and if I am I sure as heck am waiting for this real sad backstory to end.
“Wednesday huh? Gonna have to wake up early.” I say, checking my phone. 12:00 “Midnight, well at least I’ll get nine hours. Hey, Google . . .” no response. “Hey Google. Okay Google. Google.” Still nothing, stupid phone. I squeeze its sides, the manual way to get its attention. “Set my alarm for nine o’clock.”
“Done” The phone says. Alarm set for 8 hours and 57 minutes from now.
Please let tomorrow be better Lord. I know its all in your plan and I can’t really rush you but please make tomorrow different.
The same prayer I pray every few days. I understand that the motions of the universe are out of my control, but I still like to believe that asking can’t hurt. As I lay there, staring at the ceiling I pick up my phone. Can’t sleep. I open one of my social apps and scroll through everyone’s feed, laughing at the memes, scrolling past the politics that incessantly bombard me and liking the pictures of my friends around the country. So many couples . . . It seems like as I get older, I see more and more pictures of people I know either dating other people, getting engaged, getting married, or having kids. Ugh. I set my phone aside and decide to turn in for the night. Looking forward to being able to cross over into the other dimension where dreams lie in wait.
. . .
Something’s different. I’m dreaming I know it but . . . everything’s dark. I feel weightless, as if I was in water. I . . . can’t hear anything, just my thoughts. I try looking down at my hands but don’t see anything. I swear they’re right in front of my face and yet it’s like my eyes are closed even here.
“. . .”
What? I heard something. It was faint but I could’ve sworn I heard a voice.
“N . . . not ye . . .” Bits and pieces come through. “The . . . not compl . . .”
Did they say not yet? Something’s not comp- what? Complete? Complicated? Comp . . . what’s another word that starts with comp? I start thinking, my brain however decides it doesn’t want to comply. Comply! That’s another one! Wait, no that wouldn’t make sense.
“Go . . . back . . . wake . . . up.”
• • •
What a weird dream. I think on my way to work. That morning I woke up very suddenly and in a sweat. Totally not because I was under three layers of blankets and comforters, because I always have my A/C set to 68, it was totally because of that dream, yep. As I sat up, racking my brain over what just happened my alarm goes off, sending a jolt through my body. I rushed to turn it off. Wait what was that dream again? As I got ready for work, I thought about it a little but decided to set it aside for now so that I can focus.
“Alright, now what time is it?” I pat my pockets . . . Crap where’s my phone? I went to the kitchen to look for it on the counter, the clocks there still haven’t been reset after a strange series of power outages we had a few nights before. What can I say, I got lazy and didn’t really bother with it yet. Finally, I found it sitting on one of my bookshelves, guess I sat it there when I was rooting through the basket of clean clothes for an undershirt. Instinctively I checked it. Nothing. Well it is 9:40. I thought to myself. . . . “Wait 9:40?!” I rushed to the door, grabbed my knife kit and slipped my feet into my shoes really quick, grabbing my keys as I shut the door behind me. As I locked it and fixed my feet squarely into my shoes, I hurriedly made off down the couple flights of stairs towards my car. I have work at 10 and I like to punch in early, you know, to offset the “lunch break” time that companies automatically take out of your hours, it takes about fifteen minutes to get there so that could push me to punching in at 10:00 which is the last thing I wanted. You know what they say, “early is on time, on time is late, and if you’re late don’t bother showing up.”
Anyways, back to the car thoughts. What a weird dream. I have a bit of time to think about this as I wait for the light to change green. It was almost as if they were talking to me, but like real me, not dream me. A car honks their horn behind me. The light literally just turned green less than a second ago. I give them a wave, which is probably a more polite thing than most people would have done and continue my drive.
As I finally get to work, punching in nicely at 9:55, I wave to some other employees in different departments and head on over to my kitchen. Oh yeah, forgot to mention, I’m a chef. Well, academically I’m a chef, trained and graduated from a culinary school in North Carolina, but occupationally . . . eh. I’m a line cook in the formal dining kitchen at a country club, this kitchen happens to be literally right next to the banquets’ kitchen. They handle, as you could probably guess, banquets and events and all that fun . . . stuff. So, as I walk in, naturally, I say hi to everyone. After a few short greetings and a hug from the nice older black ladies that make the employee meals I get working.
. . .
A few hours have passed, and I’ve been working on one task in particular for a little while now, trying to go as fast as I can.
“Hey Blair, almost done?” My demi chef asks. They know I’m not done; they’re wondering why I’m taking so long.
“Haha no not yet, almost there.” I say with a laugh and a smile. Shut up, you know I’m not done, that I’m going as fast as I can. I’m sorry but it is! I know what they’re thinking. I can feel their eyes linger on me for a second before turning to the task they had been working on, the sous chef working on the opposite side of the counter looked up and at us for a second before turning his attention back to whatever he was working on. Worthless. Come on Blair, you can do better, you have to do better. They’re just gonna toss you aside otherwise, you’ll get the boot, do you want to get fired? Can’t you be any better? Loser. Pathetic. I shake away the thoughts that permeate my mind. They’re probably all staring at me, in reality they weren’t, at least I don’t think they were, but you can never be too sure.
This is a daily thing. I always feel like I’m letting my coworkers and my boss down. For some reason it feels like so much more responsibility is placed on me compared to the others who are allegedly at the same level as me, probably because I try to take the job more seriously but still! When asked to share some of my herbs that I DIDN’T EVEN CUT (We try to switch off that prep because it is a chore to do) and they’re too big I get told that they need to be smaller. The person who cuts them doesn’t chime in, no, instead I speak up, “Okay, I’ll make sure they’re better next time, I’m sorry.” Ugh taking the blame again. Why. Why. Why. This is constant, day in and day out I feel like a failure at some times and really great other times, sometimes I just don’t bother thinking, that’s when I’ve got nothing to do so I pull out my phone and start looking at my social media or messages from my online friends. I also decide to check my online dating account. Well, that’s disappointing. Nothing, no likes, no matches, I’m used to it though. Having had only two girlfriends in my twenty-two years of life and being ghosted by many others over the years I’ve grown used to the lack of interest. I don’t know if its cause I’m unattractive or maybe boring, or maybe it’s the way I talk or the music I listen to. I’m a very polite person you see, and I don’t curse so that makes some conversations more difficult. Of course, that then allows me to be as goofy as I want with the words I say instead, for instance when Winter comes up, I say son of a nutcracker instead of . . . the other one.
However, it has gotten better! Finding topics I can talk about with people, like video games, movies or tv shows really helps! As well as poking fun at other people with them, self-deprecating humor is common in kitchens, we all love and hate our lives at the same time . . . well, many of us.
As I finish my task, my demi chef turns to me. “Hey Blair, you got a second?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Mario and I wanted to talk to you about something.” At this the sous chef looks up and at the two of us, Bri, the other girl usually working on the line with us, had just gone around the corner into another kitchen.
“Why don’t we wait until the end of the night Jaz, that way we can still get our prep done before service.”
. . . . Huh?
“Oh, duh, right,” she turns to me and laughs awkwardly “never mind, we’ll do it later.”
Oh no, am I in trouble again? The past few days I had been slipping when it came to prep work and then actual service, I wonder what they’re gonna say this time. Every few months or so this happens, I either run out of something during service, something super important like soup or shrimp or something, or I forget I have a dish to do until the ticket is fired and everything else is ready to go. Please don’t be too bad. I think as I go into the night.
• • •
“Good service everyone!” Mario calls out as we finish serving the last table of the night. “I’m gonna go downstairs and do the nightly, once you’re all cleaned up you’re good to go Bri, Blair when you’re done come on down to the office.”
“Yessir!” Bri and I both call back.
As he leaves Jaz heaves a heavy sigh, which, with her big body, carries a good bit of weight behind it.
“You good?” I ask as I wrap up the sixth pans in my cold well.
“I’m just ready to go home. Like God damn!” She says, exhausted.
My mind is still racing with thoughts about what’s going to happen to me when I go downstairs but I manage to keep it together and hurry through cleaning up. Putting all my prep away, cleaning the counters, the stovetop, the ovens and finally the floor takes roughly fifteen to 20 minutes depending on the speed, and, if we start wrapping our stuff up earlier, even less time than that, it’s a small kitchen.
“Alright, we good to go?” Bri, a Baltimore girl, with her dreads pulled out of the bun that’s been on top of her head all day, asks Jaz.
“Yeah you and Blake can go home, have a good night!” She calls out as Blake and Bri already start to make towards the door, then she turns to me. “You ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” I reply, sounding defeated.
“Oh it won’t be that bad, we just want to talk to you.”
It was that bad. When I went downstairs and into the office Mario and Jaz sat me down and told me I was going to be moved to a different kitchen, off of formal line and down to the tavern kitchen to “improve my speed” and “make me a more well-rounded employee”, that it “wasn’t anything I did” (an obvious lie, I had messed up so many times) but that they believed it would be a better fit for me at this time. They explained it to me over and over again, explaining their reasoning, that I shouldn’t get upset over this, that I hadn’t failed, all the while I’m sitting across from them doing my best to keep my voice under control and blinking excessively to keep the tears back. I was really happy to be working in formal, and next month we were going to be starting our Asia menu! It was going to be so much fun! Now though, my dreams were shattered and I did feel like I failed, but of course I didn’t express that to them, they were gracious enough to sit with me for an hour and explain the situation rather than just telling me I was being moved. They were really nice about it.
That didn’t stop me from crying myself to sleep that night though. When I got home I did my usual shtick, I got online with my buddies, played a few rounds of our game and then went to bed. As I tell myself it’s fine, it will get better, a thought creeps into my head. I wish I could just die and be reborn in another world, or be summoned or something, how cool would that be? But if that happens then where does God play into that? Is that disrespectful? I don’t believe in reincarnation so that couldn’t be possible right? Ugh, this blows. I am a devout Christian but sometimes I think of how cool it would be to be reborn in a fantasy world or something, despite how cliché that sounds. You’ve been watching too many cartoons Blair. I think and close my eyes to drift off towards my favorite dimension, the dream worlds.
. . .
Oh I forgot to set my alarm. Unable to fall asleep just yet I turn my phone over to set an alarm and something on my screen quickly vanishes. Huh? I try swiping around to see if I could find whatever that was but nothing was showing up so I chalked it up to a trick of the eyes. It looked like . . . no it couldn’t have been, definitely a trick of the eyes. This time setting my alarm to 11:00, I drift off into sleep.
. . .
Again? What a weird dream? I’m back in the darkness, my body feels weightless and I decide to just let it carry me for a sec. This is so strange, I never have the same dream two nights in a row, usually it takes years to continue . . . huh? A noise? Something like murmuring can be heard far off but fades away. Come on Blair, think, what kind of dream could this be? And why am I conscious of what’s going on? This never happens either, is this what they call lucid dreaming? I try to force the dream to change into something familiar, but nothing happens. Still pitch black. Hmm . . .
“. . . .”
I turn my head, the darkness is starting to take shape, if you can call it that, a definite border has been established. Wait, border? I look around, and become certain, there is a border around me, some sort of dark cylindrical wall as far as I can see up and down and no matter har far I reach to try and touch it, it’s almost as if I’m locked in place. I don’t feel any chains or restraints on me and yet, I cannot move from my current position.
“. . .”
There it is again, that sound, that murmuring, who’s there? I tried calling out, but my words are getting choked out by the darkness. I scream, I yell, as loud as I can and yet, nothing. No words escape my mouth. Desperate, I look around, squinting my eyes to try and see in this darkness, but it's no use, I can't see a thing, not where the voices were, nothing. Finally, I feel a falling sensation.