Part I: Strangers and Unanswered Questions
There is darkness all around me. Like a sea of navy blue edging into the deepest color of black. The cold nips at my bare knees where my pant leg had been ripped from a fall I had not seen coming through the blur in both my eyes, which I can safely assume is because of the pool of tears pouring from them. Confusion and a tinge of anger flood my mind like nothing I had ever felt before. Or, at least, I don’t think I’ve felt before. As I stumble through trees I try my best not to catch my toes on any more tree roots. It’s almost as though they want me to fall the way they’re coming up from underground. I search the roof of the forest for any other sign of life that may be able to help me, but the only comfort I receive is the small bits of light from a full moon peeking through the leaves every now and again.
No matter how hard I think I can’t seem to remember who I am. Who or where my parents are. If I even had parents. At one point I even doubt parents are a real thing or if my mind made something up in order to preserve my hope and sanity. I walk for miles on my tiny legs. After what feels like hours of walking I give up hope of ever finding somebody myself and wander the forest hoping somebody would find me instead. My stomach growls like a wild dog who had been starved for days, and I begin to feel like one too. I sit up against a stump wondering whether I’m taking a short break or giving up entirely. I’m tired. I’m very tired. My eyelids begin to rebel against my wishes to stay awake and begin to close. Maybe I should take a nap? How tempting. Maybe a few minutes of sleep will help me keep walking until I find something or somebody who can help me remember who I am, and how I ended up in this situation.
Right before the millimeter of space between my eyelids disappears, I see a smudge of a person running toward me accompanied by the loudest crunching of leaves and twigs I had heard since waking up in the forest miles back. I can hear the exchange of voices, but can’t make out the words. Is it because I don’t understand the language? Or because exhaustion has overtaken me so badly I’m not able to do something as simple as deciphering words? I feel the footsteps stop in front of me, and two arms raise me gently from the ground. My mind goes blank, and the light of the full moon disappears behind my closed eyelids. Like a boat drifts off to sea, I to sleep.
My eyes open to the view of the ceiling of my dimly lit University dorm room. For a few moments I lay in place and think about what I had dreamt about. I haven’t even thought about being lost in the forest for over a decade. I was only four, so remembering that time in such detail is a surprise. What could have made me think about it now? Repressed memories? Trauma? I thought I had gotten over that. Guess not. Well. I’m wide awake now. I look at the clock hanging above the entrance. It’s only two in the morning. Great. Being sleep deprived should be fun with an eight a.m. advanced oil painting class tomorrow.
I force my eyes shut, but, to no avail. I can’t fall back asleep. Feeling defeated, I drag myself out of bed heaving a sigh filled with irritation, slip into my sneakers, and put on a coat before venturing out into the cold fall evening. The University campus has always been a pretty calming place. It’s surrounded by forest, which is ironically a very relaxing place for me. Night is even better. The cold air brushing against my cheeks and sifting through my hair like a mother brushing through her daughter’s. My place back home with my parents is surrounded by trees as well, so maybe I just managed to get over any fear I had of wooded areas pretty fast and learned to accept them given living in them was going to be my life. Who knows. I tend to not think about that time, or at least I try. What’s the point of wondering about something you’re never going to get the answer to?
As I walk down the paths to get to the lot where my car is I spot a familiar figure leaning up against a light post across from one of the other dorm halls. A lit cigarette dims and brightens as the figure inhales and then exhales the smoke into the dark night sky. The figure spots me walking toward them and flicks the cigarette to the ground, stomping on it before they approach me.
“Hey, June. What are you doing up so late?” She stops a few feet in front of me with her hands tucked tightly in her hoodie pocket.
“I had a weird dream and couldn’t fall back asleep. Thought I’d drive over to the café to get something warm to drink. But what about you,” I motion toward the cigarette. “Why in the world are you smoking a cigarette at 2 a.m.?”
She shrugs. “Addiction doesn’t have a schedule. You wake up because of weird dreams I wake up because nicotine cravings. Same thing in a sense.”
I let out baffled laughter. “No. Do NOT try to compare your nicotine addiction to dreams Charlie.”
Charlie links her arm with mine. “Well forget about that. Mind if I come with?”
I shake my head. “No of course not. Come on. I’m not buying yours though.”
“Yeah I get it we’re all broke. If the professors hadn’t forced us to pay for half our art supplies this semester maybe we’d be able to buy each other something other than the garbage dining hall coffee.” Charlie rants.
I shrug. “Yeah well. College is an unorthodox place. We pay over 30 grand in tuition every semester yet they make us buy textbooks and art supplies. I stopped trying to make sense of it awhile ago.”
“I stopped trying to make sense of life a long time ago. Sometimes I feel like I should have stayed in Massachusetts to avoid out of state tuition.” Charlie laughs.
We make it to my car and slide into the drivers seat and wait till Charlie settles into the passengers before driving off to the café.