Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
When they call my name I’m more relieved than happy. It’s finally over. All the hype.
I feel groping hands all over me, excited squeezes and back thumps while I slowly rise and head to the podium. Flashes of light spark as the photographers capture shots of me shaking hands with the old white guy who hands me the bronze statue. They snap even more when I look down at the award, holding it close like a new father might cradle his baby.
As I clear my throat I try not to look at Mama before I begin. Her hair is too bright, her nails are too long, her dress too tight. She doesn’t look like any of the other mothers present—black or white. Instead I look down at the Heisman again, readying myself to speak.
I’m not all that surprised when it begins.
It starts with the familiar mushiness in my mouth as my teeth slowly lose their anchoring, detaching themselves from my squishy gums. I wonder if I can just start my speech, hoping no one will notice. But when the first tooth drops from my mouth, a string of bloody saliva still connecting it to my chin, I know I’m done for. The photographers go crazy with their cameras. I finally look up at Mama, who’s now standing atop her chair, wildly hooting like a banshee—totally oblivious to the chaos in my mouth.
That’s normally when I wake up.
I’ve been having that dream for the past year. And now, I’m wondering if it might actually mean something.
I tap my pencil on my open math book and look up. Mama’s listening to her oldies station on the kitchen radio like always. But today, the DJ’s talking to this psychic dream lady who wrote a book that’s all about what dreams mean.
Mama rolls her eyes and her fake lashes shiver, “Who gives a good goddamn! Get to the roses!”
She’s been waiting all morning for the part of the radio show when suspicious girlfriends call the station to set up their cheating men. What happens is, the radio station calls the guys and offers them a free dozen roses. Then they ask the poor dudes who they wanna send the flowers to. That’s usually when all hell breaks loose because the guys hardly ever say the name of the lady on the line.
Mama loves that part.
She’ll sit our cracked kitchen table, braiding a zillion little braids into one of her customer’s hair, and between long drags on her Virginia Slims she’ll savor the drama on the radio. “That dumbbitch!” she loves to holler, slapping the tabletop so hard that the cellophane packs of unbraided hair on the table jump as she laughs her ass off at the broken-hearted women on the line.
So this morning she’s watching the radio like an alley cat stalking a mouse hole, like if she stares at it hard enough the DJ just might kick the psychic dream lady off the air and get to calling some cheating men.
I’m at the kitchen table trying to do my summer school Trig homework. But the numbers and symbols in the book aren’t making any sense, even with the notes from the math tutor Coach Simms assigned me. It’s just that I’ve always done better with words than numbers. So since I’m listening more to the psychic lady with the weird raspy voice than paying attention to my homework—I’ve heard it.
Some caller kept dreaming she was losing her teeth and wants to know what it means. “Mmmmm,” the psychic lady hums. “That’s actually quite common. It means you’ve said something that you wish you could take back.”
I think about what she’s said.
“Trey!” Mama snaps.
I look up, surprised at the pinched look on her face that tells me she’s been calling me for a while.
She flicks a long trail of ash into the empty grape soda can on the table, still eyeing me. “Run to the store for me.”
My body sways on the city bus as it travels over a bump and I find myself wondering about the dream again, and what the psychic lady said it meant.
I guess I do regret some of the things I’ve said.
I adjust the little white earphones in my ears under my hoodie, leaning my head against the bus’s window. The earphones aren’t attached to an iPod or anything, but they used to be. A silver iPod. Then my mom’s last boyfriend sold it to get high. I still wear the earphones though. People usually leave you alone when you look like you’re busy listening to music or something.
“Crenshaw and Slauson,” the driver mumbles my stop and I make my way off. I pull my hood off my head once I step onto the hot street below.
So, maybe I regret cussing Mama out when Donald sold my iPod.
Or maybe it can also work in the opposite way and I regret the things I didn’t say. Like that day Coach Simms pulled me aside after football practice, his body smelling like Old Spice and afro sheen as he said, “Ms. Jackson showed me the essay you wrote in class last week. The one about becoming a writer.”
I’d stared back at him like he was speaking a foreign language.
But he just kept on, wrapping a thick forearm around me. “Listen son, I want you to know anything is possible. Don’t let no one tell you different.” But I’d just shrugged him off, too embarrassed by the conversation to even respond. So, maybe I wish I would have said something back. Something real touching. Like something one of my characters in my stories would have said and everyone who overheard it would have teared up like Ms. Jackson does whenever she reads my stuff in class. But real life never works like stories.
I walk into the little corner store and the bell on the door gives a jingle. The old Asian dude at the counter watches me suspiciously from behind his clear shield as I walk the aisles, gathering stuff in my arms. When I finally reach the counter he gruffly rings up the items.
He snatches the sweaty bills from my hand through his little opening and I think about that gangster movie I watched last night and wonder what it would feel like to whip out my HK 45 in his face, tell him to empty his register—NOW! He wouldn’t look so tough then.
But, I don’t have a HK 45.
And even if I did, I figure I’m too far from home to make it back on foot without getting caught. And, well, I’ve never stolen anything in my whole life.
So instead I watch him load up my paper bag with the things I was sent for: two boxes of mac and cheese, Honey Smacks, a carton of milk, Mama’s Oreos. I take the stuff and my change and head out of the store, adjusting my earphones that are connected to nothing, my eyes falling to the miles of cracked sidewalk that stretch before me.