For the past three nights running, Marissa reveled in the same intoxicating dream. In a world of startling color that sang within a diaphanous landscape, she dove off alizarin and viridian cliffs only to hover, suspended above a dioxazine sea, where ancient turtles mated amidst cinnabar brain coral the size of elephants.
Today she went to work as usual. The bus rattled through the dirty snow and she sweated under the wool coat in an overheated, crowded bus. She had a headache and felt exhausted, disappointed that, yet another breathtaking dream had not become real.
The bus, the snow and weeks of cold were becoming unbearable. She trudged into the office and didn’t say hello to Jeremy who always had a smile for her. They often walked around the building during lunch, but after three nights of these recent dreams, she couldn’t bear to hear any more office gossip. She had six emails from dating services, an update on her college classmates and a frightening email from the Union of Concerned Scientists. She deleted them all, then burst into tears.
The world was falling apart and who was she to think she could escape? It was selfish of her to try. She used to pretend she was happy to make other people happy but now it seemed pointless. Everything that happened in daylight depressed her.
That evening on her way home, she bought a magazine and read about the death of “Addwaitya,” a 255-year-old tortoise that had been brought to India from the Seychelles islands in the 1700’s. Marissa stared at the photograph of the tortoise for a long time. It looked like the same turtle that had been in her dreams for the past three nights. Had Addwaitya passed through her dream on his way to death?
That night she had another dream – riding underwater on Addwaitya’s back. She felt his smooth hard shell against her belly. When she woke in the middle of the night, she lay awake, longing to return to Addwaitya, which meant “the one and only” in Sanskrit. She tacked his photograph next to the bed and staring at it tried to will herself back into the dream. But she never dreamt of the ancient tortoise or the gigantic coral ever again.
Marissa stopped drinking her tap water because it tasted like chlorine and she’d read that chlorine causes your brain to shrink. And if not the chlorine, then fluoride was just as bad. Addwaitya, the 255year-old tortoise, had died of liver failure, probably from India’s water. She bought bottled water and switched to brushing her teeth with baking soda.
Tuna fish had always been her favorite lunch, but after the afternoon headaches due to the high levels of mercury, she switched to organic avocado and lettuce sandwiches. Jeremy made fun of her “new age” ways but she didn’t care what he thought. She’d never told him about her dreams where she lived in her heart of hearts. They were sacred and besides, Jeremy could never appreciate her pain. She stopped sharing lunch with him.
Her hours at work gradually diminished. She’d leave early, take the filthy, noisy bus back to her apartment, and go straight to bed. And dream.
In one, she was in a large green field. A man walked by holding a mass of translucent white roses tinged with rose and gold. The petals were as large as plates. He plucked the petals of the rose and tossed them towards Marissa. She picked up one rose petal and pressed it to her cheek. The petal covered her entire face.
When Marissa woke up, she felt like her body was melting. It was liquidating, dripping off the bed. She tried to stay saturated in her dream, but her pelvis hurt, pressed into the old, thin mattress; her pillow damp with sweat. Cold and shivering, she thought about the melting glaciers and poisoned fish. She wouldn’t let herself change position. What was the point of comfort? She called in sick to work.
Jeremy knocked on her apartment door three days later. She opened it just enough to stick her face through.
“Oh hi, Jeremy.”
“Geeze Marissa, you look awful. Are you, all right?”
“I can’t talk now, Jeremy, but I appreciate your concern. I really do. Don’t worry, I’m fine.” She closed the door gently. From the peephole, she was relieved to see Jeremy walk away. She collapsed onto the couch, thinking how ninety percent of earth’s fresh water was in the Antarctic − melting. Polar bears drowning kept flashing through her mind.
That same night, she dreamt she was lying in the dark next to a man, their shoulders and hips faintly touching. Waves of soft energy rippled between them. She whispered his name and said, “I am dissolving.” He replied, “So am I.” She woke, again feeling that her bones were dripping off the bed. She tried to remember the man’s name but to no avail.
The next day, she dragged herself back to work. All through the day, she searched every man’s face, even studying Jeremy’s. She acted as if nothing had changed but inside, her bones were floating, unhinged. At lunch, Jeremy tried to take her pulse because he’d studied CPR, but she didn’t want anyone to touch her ever again, unless it was the man in her dreams. She was convinced that the man with the plate-size rose petals was the same man she melted into. It was only a matter of time.
The next day, Marissa again left work early. She was sluggish, and her eyes itched. March was already too hot. By summer, it would again be unbearable. The sun was too bright − a white hot prediction. Back in the apartment, she turned on her little portable fan, laid down on the couch, and put on an eye mask. Her thoughts kept spinning. Carbon dioxide levels were rising, double from 100 years ago. Temperatures will rise between two and ten degrees in five years. 20 to 400 million tons of grains will be lost to drought.
This time Marissa dreamt of an interminable line of wasted refugees stumbling barefoot over black, cracked soil. Babies hung onto the withered breasts of their mothers. Marissa woke herself up because she didn’t want her dreams to be of the real world. She wanted the paradise world with crystalline water, cool breezes and thoughtful men. She wanted a world free of pollution. She didn’t want her planet to die.
Her mind was again in that torrid zone, insufferable. She was terribly hot. At the corner store, she bought a newspaper and a pint of coffee ice cream. Walking down the street, she read that areas of drought around the globe had more than doubled since 1970. There was a picture of a barefoot Indian woman walking on a dry riverbed. She thought of her dream.
She stopped in the park to rest. Plastic bags floated in the warm breeze that emitted an overwhelming smell of urine. She breathed through her mouth in short gasps and felt claustrophobic. Being outdoors now was as bad as work, where all that recycled stale air circled endlessly through the cubicles. There was always someone coughing. She imagined coming to work wearing a white mask. Everyone would laugh and talk behind her back. She chided herself for caring what people thought. She practiced keeping her eyes cast down, out of sight.
Next to the bench where she sat were the remains of a huge maple tree. It had been cut down because people in town thought it was too dangerous in the wind. She’d read somewhere that one deciduous tree could remove 50 pounds of carbon from the air per year. She looked at the old tree stump and began to cry.
“Are you, all right?”
Thinking she was dreaming, she didn’t bother to move her mouth. Because the earth is dying.
A man sat down next to her on the park bench. “What’s that you said?”
Was she dreaming?
“Why are you crying?”
Was she crying? He wore the same green sweatshirt he had on when he was throwing the rose petals.
“Did you know that category 5 hurricanes have doubled in the last 35 years?” she finally said.
“No, I didn’t know that. That’s really alarming.”
“You really think so?”
“That it’s really alarming?”
“Of course, I do. Who wouldn’t?”
She whispered, “Lots of people.”
They sat together, looking off into the distance. She thought about her dream of melting while lying next to the man and laughed. She felt a surge of air rush down her throat and in the next moment she felt lightheaded and leaned slightly into him. He smelled like the pitch of a pine tree. He leaned back, slightly brushing her shoulder and felt a shot of heat, but it could have been the dry air. She dares not move.
They sat like this for a long time until it grew dark, and her ice cream lay untouched and melting. She remembered and offered him some. His eyes were the palest blue and she was reminded of her very first paradise dream. Things were coming together so fast!
“Ice cream? It’s not that hot!” He wasn’t sure.
She felt hurt and ate a watery spoonful, looking away.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
And then it all came rushing out. About the maple tree’s death and the turtle’s death. The whole planet dying. She told him about the bad air and the mercury, about the islands of plastic in the ocean and the drowning polar bears, about all the sick chickens being slaughtered only because people crammed thousands of them together forcing them to lay. “Oh, what are we to do if there’s no home left for any of us?” she cried out.
He took her hand and softly stroked it. She watched his long fingers feather across her palm. For a sharp moment, he saw jagged limbs of a tree smoldering, but he must have imagined it. For her, it was so good to share.
For the next month they met every week in the park, and they talked. She continued to share depressing statistics of the planet, which helped her get through the week. Whenever he touched her, there was that shot of heat often accompanied by quick visions, so often unhappy. He never told her about them.
After a while, they walked. They walked in the park during lunch and after work. They walked at night while he held her hand close to his chest to still her anxious heart, and to still the visions when he was with her. They came not every time but unexpectedly. A word, a sigh, a touch and the distant horizon would be covered in water.
He asked her to move in with him three months later. He lived in a two-story stone house with a porch and a basement. She loved to go down there when it was hot and sit on the cool cement floor and eat her ice cream. Sometimes when he wasn’t working, he’d come and sit with her and they’d make up stories about how the world was vibrant and healthy with lots of good clean water to drink for everyone. But she knew it wasn’t so and finally stopped pretending.
“Listen, Marissa, you’ve got to stop taking things so hard. Yes, it is horrible but what can we do, my sweet?”
“We’ve got to feel, John. Feel.”
“But I do feel. I feel anger and despair.”
“No, I mean feel what the planet must feel. Not our kind of feelings. No, not them. But the earth’s feelings, the bear’s feelings, the turtle’s feelings. Their feelings.”
“But I don’t know what those feelings are, Marissa.”
“Tonight, I’ll show you.”
That night, with John lying close, their arms and legs touching just like in her melting dream, she said, “Now concentrate on your chest. Feel how much you love me.”
He did love her, very much. And he found it so peaceful lying next to her, listening to her sweet, low whisper, that he soon fell asleep. Marissa too fell asleep, wrapped in his arms.
In her dream, she saw wild animals standing on a tiny island in the middle of the sea. The island got smaller and smaller as the ocean swelled, lapping at the shores of the diminishing island. The animals moved closer together until they stood huddled on one tiny piece of land out in the middle of the vast sea. A piece of bleached plastic drifted by. The animals began to panic.
She made herself wake up. She shook John awake. “We haven’t much time,” she said.
“What happened?” he asked with concern.
“You’ll see. Maybe tonight.”
Every night thereafter, John lay close beside Marissa, so he too could feel the earth. Maybe if he could feel as intensely as she did, together they could do something. She asked him to try and find her hand in his dreams and grab hold tight, then she could take him into her dream. He had only to look for her hand. And never let go.
One night he found it. Her beautiful little hand shone in the darkness like a beacon of light. John reached as far as he could, but Marissa’s hand floated away into the blackness. He woke up feeling afraid. When he told Marissa, she was ecstatic.
“Soon, John. Soon.”
Night after night they lay side by side holding hands, willing themselves to find each other in their dreams. Sometimes John doubted the point of dreaming together, but then Marissa would show him yet another article by a scientist warning about the severity of global warming that the government was trying to silence. Or a newspaper article reporting a series of seventeen tornados in two days where there had never been tornados before. The night after a hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, John saw Marissa’s hand in his dream. She was floating above him, and she reached out her hand. He lunged forward and caught it.
She led him into the ocean to the very bottom, far far below. Still holding onto his hand, Marissa wrapped her legs around his waist, pressing her forehead against his. Then she pushed him away, into the arms of a giant octopus, five times larger than his body. The creature reached out and wrapped its tentacles around John’s body. John felt the countless suction cups gripping his skin. But the most startling thing of all was its eye. It looked alien, all knowing. The eye was looking at John as if it knew him. Like it had birthed him. John felt himself sinking deeper. When he hit bottom, the jolt woke him up.
He was in bed, with Marissa wrapped around him. Her arms were tangled around his head, her hair draped across his face and her legs wrapped around his waist, so tightly that he found it hard to breathe.
When she did not respond and remained cemented to him, he began to panic. He tried to kick away her legs and pry her fingers loose from his hair. He pleaded with Marissa to let go. It seemed as if he hadn’t breathed for a very long time, felt like he was still under water, that he might die. Maybe this was his time. Maybe he should stop fighting and just give in.
When Marissa felt John surrender, she unwrapped herself from his body. She stroked his face and beard, whispering, “Shhh...” He began to relax, letting his body sink into the bed, but then recalled the giant octopus at the bottom of the ocean. He felt suffocated.
“Yes, you see, John? You see now, don’t you? It is the same for them. They are losing their home and they do not understand. All the creatures are panicking. I am panicking. Now you are panicking too.”
During the following weeks, John and Marissa set up a compost bin in their back yard, installed two solar panels and unhooked from the power grid. They rode bicycles. They changed to energy-saving light bulbs. They unplugged their refrigerator and used a cooler instead. Marissa stopped eating ice cream. They wrote letters to congressmen, went to protest marches, signed petitions, called senators. Was any of this making a difference? They didn’t know.
Still, John was beginning to feel the earth and that gave Marissa hope. Finally, there was someone who understood and could feel the planet’s distress. But the more John became proficient in dreaming with Marissa, the more depressed he became. After she led him in a dream to a massive coral reef coated with oil, he told her he couldn’t sleep with her anymore.
“I just can’t keep doing this, Marissa. I’m exhausted all the time. It feels like I’m dying.” What he didn’t say was if he had one more, sick planet dream, he might have to ask her to move out.
So, they slept in separate rooms. Freed from having to take John with her, Marissa’s dreams left the earth and began flying to other planets − healthy, thriving planets with their inhabitants busy being happy and kind. Every night she played and laughed with them. And every day she went to a job that afforded her the means for survival but where she felt depleted, lifeless. After weeks of deliberating, she finally quit her job.
She spent the afternoons lying in the back yard, waiting for the earth to tell her what to do. She, and she felt the planet, was on the verge of a tipping point.
John convinced Marissa to take a break, go away for a while. She rented a tiny cabin that was surrounded by state forest and three miles from a national park. She saw the swath of green on the map and wanted to be tucked deep into it. There she would know. John kissed her goodbye and said, “Try to be easy on yourself, Marissa, but do whatever it takes. Come back to me beaming.”
On the bus ride to the cabin, Marissa saw mile after mile after mile of clear-cut forest. The gray stumps and building-high slash piles of burning branches, along with lumbering logging trucks stacked high with fresh trees was too much, so she put on her eye mask. When the driver called out, “Your place, miss!” she stumbled out of the bus and staggered into the office to register. Without looking around, she ran to her cabin, threw herself face down on the bed and wept.
The trucks came and went every day, all day. She heard them from her cabin bed. They shook her windows and when she was brave enough to venture outdoors, she saw more stripped trees hanging over the back of the trucks. She asked the woman at the check-in desk where all the logs were going.
“Japan. That’s how we all survive around here,” she said and went about her business.
‘Fifty pounds of carbon will no longer be absorbed by each of those trees every year,’ Marissa muttered as she trudged back to the cabin.
On the third day in the cabin, she ventured far enough into the woods to get away from the sounds of logging. There were beautiful, old cedars and many different varieties of pine trees she had never experienced before. She breathed the cool air and smelled the moist humus of the earth. She lay on the soft pine needles and dreamt of John and woke up laughing. She felt better than she had in a long time. The air sparkled, and she lost her feeling of suffocation. She saw a deer peeking out from behind an old growth cedar.
Each day Marissa walked deeper into the damp, mossy woods, feeling the soft, spongy earth under her feet and taking in deep draughts of crystal air. Everything green nestled in rich chocolate brown. It was so still that she thought she could feel the earth breathing.
“You are alive!” she laughed. She saw chipmunks, squirrels, deer, a raccoon, an opossum, and heard the unique trill of so many birds. She felt filled with air and light.
She measured the girth of an old-growth cedar tree with her outstretched arms. It was at least 15 feet around.
One day, Marissa walked East through the forest. After fifteen minutes she came to a clear-cut. One moment she was cool, in a lovely, sweet dampness and the next moment the air was hot, dry and brittle. The contrast was shocking. The ground was hard and difficult to walk on. Huge stumps littered the landscape as far as she could see, with a few thin, bent-over trees left struggling in the wind. Only the weak were left, along with piles of garbage; fiberglass insulation, truck tires, blue plastic, tin cans, meth lab debris. The soil was gray, bleached out.
Marissa lay down and stared up through the few spindly pine branches that were left. She lay still, trying to feel the earth. It was quiet. The earth felt stunned, like after a fierce battle that had been fought and lost. The dead and wounded were strewn all around, as far as she could see, but she couldn’t hear any moans of pain or final death throes. She thought, this was an all-out surrender. Nature did not resist. Marissa saw smoke from the heaps of branches and stumps, smoldering after the rain. The stench of war. She wondered what the trees felt, after standing in one place for hundreds of years, stretching up and reaching for the sun. They had provided homes for owl, eagle, squirrel, jay, fox, deer, insects, fungus, algae. She had to stop. There were too many creatures to count.
That night, Marissa left the cabin and walked barefoot back into the forest. She wanted to feel the earth, to feel the trees at night. In the precious darkness, things happened that weren’t allowed in the light. Night held mystery and without mystery all was hopeless. Nature was a great mystery and that was what Marissa longed for, like in her dreams. In the daylight, the world had gone bad. In the daylight Marissa saw the clear-cuts. She saw the stagnant water rimmed with rust and the filthy piles of rubbish. At night the devastation was hidden from view.
The next day she walked towards the sound of chainsaws. In the distance, she saw a logger sitting on the sideboard of a truck, eating lunch. That evening she saw the same logging truck carrying eleven massive logs. In that moment, she could kill that logger just like he’d killed every tree. But it would solve nothing.
She had to change his mind.
Every day, for three days, she brought him a sandwich and a cup of coffee. He did most of the talking during these lunch hours, while she looked carefully into his eyes and listened to the sound of his voice. The logger talked about his four kids and bragged especially about his six-year-old son. “The little lad is strong and scrapping and without any fear that I can see.” She watched as he unconsciously placed his hand over his heart when he said, “the little lad.”
Marissa told the man that she was writing an article for her local paper about loggers and logging practices. When she asked about clear-cutting, he said, “Well, yes, but I like to think of it as harvesting timber, you know? The trees are crops and need to be harvested. Cuts down on wild fires, removes insect pests, diseases. Opens up the forest really good. Doug Fir and the Southern Pine like full sun so we’re doing them a favor. And we always leave a buffer along the side of the road. A beauty strip.” While he talked, Marissa watched his hands speak and his shoulders lift and sag. When they said goodbye, they shook hands and Marissa memorized the calluses on his palm and the stub where his pinky finger used to be.
Every night, she’d lay on the wet earth behind her cabin. First, she’d stare at the stars and their vast magnitude. Then she’d start getting dizzy, close her eyes and zero in on the logger’s face. She’d see his red cheeks and the dark circles under his dark brown eyes, the bushy eyebrows beginning to gray and his red plaid hat, cocked slightly to the right. She imagined him walking through dense forest holding onto his son’s hand.
Falling asleep, Marissa dreamt of endless forests of old growth trees. In the distance she could see the logger and his son, walking through the woods. In the next night’s dream, his son was an adult and the trees even larger. Every night she worked on the logger in her dreams.
The day she was to leave on the bus, she went one more time to visit the logger, but he and his equipment were gone. He hadn’t told her he was leaving but then, she thought, why should he? Now she would never know if she had changed even one.
When she returned home, John saw there was color in her cheeks, and she seemed more relaxed. Marissa told him about the clear-cuts and the logger and took great care in describing him to John. He was relieved to see she wasn’t emotional about the clear-cuts.
That night he slept with her, and every night after. Sometimes they dreamed together. They would walk in dark, fecund forests that stretched unbroken for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles.
Two months after her time at the cabin, Marissa had a dream. There was the logger. His hand was perfect and the forest they stood in was perfect. All was thriving and bountiful. Maybe it had worked after all. Maybe he had stopped logging and because of that received the gift of healing from the earth.
Just then the old turtle, Addwaitya, passed through her dream and she followed him. She knew now. She must never wake up. There was so much work to be done.
YOU’RE NOT THE ONLY ONE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Parker is a freelance writer, published in a number of literary journals and magazines. She is also an oil painter, and the curator for White River Gallery in Vermont. She has traveled extensively, living in the Middle East, including Syria before its heartbreaking devastation. The natural world is her first love.
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Editor: L. Naisula
Cover Design: Shompole, N.L.
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