my dreamer tries to forget

My dreamer tries to forget that he’s being thrown into a category with thieves, rapists, and murderers. My dreamer says he wants to drop out of school and become a gypsy in Spain. Fine, I say. But we both know that’s just dreamer talk; he doesn’t leave because he doesn’t know if he can get back into the country. Instead, he practices forgetting, driving through traffic yelling long curses in his native tongue, says if he were a citizen, he would hurt the man who had touched me inappropriately, if he were a citizen, we would travel the world together, instead of napping in his car outside of Panera Bread, suddenly sleepy from eating too much gluten at a very American wedding, where the only drinks I found were coffee and beer, and all the pasta was cold. My dreamer doesn’t worry, though, because unlike me, he is someone who truly knows how to live in the moment. He doesn’t worry until people start texting him - I heard the news, they say, about what the president is doing to dreamers - and then it becomes harder to forget, and then he is driving and cursing again, wondering if in six months he will still be able to drive and curse, to work, to finish school after years of dreaming about doing something else.

My dreamer tells me he has fate. What he means to say is that he has faith. In his fate. He says he believes that he didn’t come to America for nothing. No one came to America for nothing. He still calls this place America with a capital A, like it is still a vessel deep enough to hold the dreams of a pre-pubescent boy, dreams of freedom and reinvention lying ahead, beyond ten years of working seventy jobs, at gas stations, at laundromats, at Hell Kitchen restaurants, at landscaping companies, sixteen years old, sitting in a truck full of Mexican amigos smoking weed, everybody illegal.

My dreamer says he wishes he were born to a gypsy family, trained from birth to play flamenco guitar on nocturnal stages with fiery Spanish women. Instead he’s playing at bad tapas restaurants with his mason jar waiting for dollar bills. He says that when he was a boy in his home country, he dreamed of becoming a pro soccer player, looking like Antonio Bandaras, touring the world, met with cheers and screams from crowds of Asian women. Is he asking me to scream more?

When we are unhappy together, I am fight and he, of course, is flight. I guess it comes from a decade of feeling scared, on edge around policemen, teenage years living with his family as tenants at other people’s houses, adult years living with everything he needs in the back of his car, as if ready to run at a moment’s notice. But where would he run to? When my dreamer hurts me, I dream of leaving him behind, of moving to Barcelona or Amsterdam or Rome. Within a week I’d be on the plane. I’d make art and pay cheaper rent, I’d dance on nocturnal stages and allow handsome Spaniards to pursue me. I would tell my dreamer, go ahead, now you try to forget me.

But instead, I stay. Instead I book airbnbs and make plans with my dreamer to visit all fifty states. One day soon, I say, we’ll visit both of our hometowns. One day soon, I’ll take you across the great Pacific. On my twentieth anniversary in America, I wake up in his home. He practices scales while I sit on his couch, staring at the shards of sunlight illuminating his Turkish rug. I am thinking about us — dreamer and model minority - living in the spaces between three countries. Moment by moment, day by day, me dreaming and him forgetting, him dreaming and me remembering: that feeling of first arriving in America as a young child, scared and cold, surrounded by pale giants, airport to parking garage, swallowed by cars like beanstalks, starting school and ESL classes, the teacher training me to give a high five. But what is a high five?

We grew up dreaming of living somewhere else, feeling at home somewhere else, trying to forget our homes, trying to remember them. One night in bed I pull up Google Maps and we find his village, we find his old school, the bus stop, the corner shop. He is mesmerized. But nothing will look the same now, I say. Yes, he says, I know. Then I turn off the light. And then we dream some more.

(September 2017)


I’m an artist and writer
in search of beauty and truth.


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LoveKening Zhu