The Sepia That Tinges My Bones

I woke up with an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. I was in that tender place of almost lucid dreaming, hovering between worlds. It was raining. I was on my hands and knees washing my old not-quite-navy blue yoga mat on the driveway of the home where I grew up. I was trying to scrub out these brownish-black marks that had eaten into the foamy material. Age spots if I ever saw ’em. I felt frantic and sad and comforted all at the same time. Suddenly, done scrubbing, I stand up to see the paper towel I’d been scrubbing with, along with a littering of objects scattered around the mat, all getting soaked by the rain, including my iPhone, peeking out from the corner of the yoga mat. I am flooded with frustration and panic and an overwhelmingly familiar feeling of disdain for my scatter-brainedness. Why am I always like this? A need to get indoors pervades me, and then, I wake up.

Frantic, sad and comforted all at the same time. When I see those emotions typed out on the screen, I recognize them as the sum of parts that equates nostalgia. For me, that pretty much encapsulates it.

I was home, in Columbus. I have a flash of my younger face staring back at me. Perfect skin, thinner lines with that freshness of baby fat that still persists when you are maybe 21. I am jealous of her. A flash of the view from my suburban street. Then, out of the dream, into that half-way morning consciousness, lingering on the memories of many mornings when I would make over-the-top mixtures of cereal for breakfast and eat them in my cozy bed before driving down to class at OSU.

I woke up in a rush, quickly made some coffee and hurried to my computer as fast as I could to capture this memory before, just like so many others, it sifts through my hands. When you wake up, the particulars of a dream become so fuzzy. Those things that were so obvious and clear to you in your dream and in that place right before waking, things you believe you could never forget because they seem so touchable. But as soon as light hits your eyes and thoughts of your daily world flood your head, there is a spotted, rain-speckled window pane between the dream and your understanding. Trying to go back is like trying to wade through a sticky mud — I usually give up half-way through, my mind exasperated from the trudging.

But even if the particulars of the dream fade away, the feeling isn’t always so ephemeral. Today, the feeling clings to my bones and makes me hurt for the past, long for the way things were. Even if I can rationalize the specifics of my dream, identify the bits and pieces from yesterday that likely contributed to its formation: the video installation at the Stedelijk Museum with the man washing his car in the rain, reading an email from my mom about how my dad and her are going through all the things in my childhood home and how it will be my task, too, when I go home in a few days to visit, my enraptured reading of a blog that is brimming with all the shapes and colors of nostalgia, vintage charm, and life-wrenching writing, pings from former dear ones on social media that transported me back to earlier times and an earlier version of myself, full with the wants and anticipation of youth — I reason that all of these collected moments coalesced into one big, moldable ball that extruded out the form of my dream.

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But, despite this logical deduction, I never want to believe it’s that simple. The theory that your dream is simply your pons unloading stimuli it couldn’t process during the day (if I remember correctly how my AP Psych teacher explained it..). Somehow, at night, in the depths of my mind, I’d like to believe that a more mystical thing occurs. That the leftovers of my day swirl together in a symphonic blend of reality and subconscious awareness that I don’t even know I’m pushing underwater. The cauldron bubbles and hisses out a narrative that, on most nights, barely graces me, a bird flying low and skimming the tip of his wing along the surface. Other times, the concoction grabs hold of me and chokes out uncontrollable sobs, and I awake with a moistened face. And even other times, I wake up with a feeling, one that sets the tone for my whole day and urges me out of bed with a duty to capture what has just transpired. Because, I tell myself, this kind of dream must mean more. I know in my bones that it is the exhaust of something I’m coming to terms with inside myself. A feeling that so often pierces me with its particularness and sepia-hued pain. A feeling that I want to let lay. I don’t want its claws in me, tearing out my soul, longing for what once was and not appreciating where I now find myself.

Coming to terms with the body I have now, my physical vessel that is beautiful and strong and starved for self-appreciation and love. Respecting that my beautiful, crazy days of youth don’t have to be behind me, and I don’t have to reminisce about them like I’m a crinkled grandmother. I can realize they have just evolved into a calmer shade. Forgiving my memory for not hoarding away every scrap of time like a mentally unstable recluse. Breathing a sigh of acceptance that maybe it’s better this way. Letting go of the memories I so desperately hope to catalog away allows space for the shiny gems of moments to emanate their splendor. Realizing that life is a beautiful balance of breathing in experiences, only to exhale them right out. But it’s okay, if I breathed in deep enough, they have reached my center, I’ve carried them in my core, and even when they’re gone, my body, mind and spirit can still feel their effects. Their touch has left an impenetrable, if indistinguishable, mark.

And then remembering with joy, not desperate longing, those flashes of times that have lodged their way in my heart. The ones I will never forget because I’ve told their stories to new friends so many times that I can easily retell their narrative like a time-worn fairy tale. A road trip on the PCH 1, my first hours in Amsterdam: a golden buddha and an apple, meeting an interesting and strangely magnetic person in the cafe of a museum, a friendship blossoming all because I said yes to a picture.

Then the relief comes, the tears come out sweet and full of the ripeness of my past, prime for the eating. My future lies ahead, still green and untouchable. It needs time for the sun to work its inexorable magic. My now is neither, it doesn’t have a label, ripe or green, it just sits there. But, where exactly? I think we get to choose this detail. On us, next to us, in front of us, out of arms length. Where do we want to put the now? With the incense of my dream dissipating into the atmosphere, I pick it up like a new outfit, laid out the night before, and I pull it on. And I feel light, re-calibrated and humming to the still tingling incandescence of my dream.

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