The girl, and I say she was a girl because she looked to be in her 20's, sat down next to me in the waiting area outside the gate for my flight to Houston. I had been reading an article on my iPad and not paying attention when she sat down. But, my memory tells me that I might have taken slight notice of her out of the corner of my eye as she came out of the "Sports Bar" across the hallway from the waiting area a few minutes ago. I figured she was slightly tipsy because of the way she moved. She didn't look to be entirely in control of her motions.
I normally would not have responded to a stranger in the airport, but there was something about her that looked familiar. It was as though I knew her, but the setting was wrong. It was like being a kid and seeing your teacher at the supermarket: a familiar person in a familiar setting, but the two are not familiar together.
"Do you mean that you are consumed by a dream?" It was all I could offer.
"Oh, no, not at all. That would mean I was living my life obsessively pursuing an idea that may or may not save me. That would be so... so much better than this."
"I'm sorry." I put the iPad down on the seat between mine and hers. "Do I know you from somewhere?"
She smiled, and I noticed that she was dressed for warmer weather than what was going on here in Milwaukee right now. But she didn't look like she was heading for a happier place. There were deep circles under her eyes.
"Yes. You know me from right here."
"I know that. I just feel like I know you from someplace else."
She shook her head. "No, this is it. But if we were to switch places, I bet we'd know ourselves a bit better."
That statement made no sense to me at that moment, and I was not giving her my seat.
"Miss, is there some way I can help you?"
"I want you to remember what it means to be eaten by a dream."
"I don't have time for this. Besides, my flight should be boarding soon."
And that's when she stood up on the vinyl seat and looked down at me.
"You have plenty of time. You need to remember what it's like to be eaten by your dreams. You need to accept that they still have their teeth sunk into you."
"I am flying to Houston, and I recommend that you leave me alone before I call Security."
She leered down at me. "Call Security? You don't even know what airport you're sitting in."
"This is Milwaukee, and I am flying to Houston."
"No, it's not. You're in Denver. And the person sitting in that chair is flying to Newark."
"I am the person in this chair!" I was feeling flush and could taste panic in my throat.
The girl laughed aloud, spread her arms out and then dipped them from side to side while she made airplane noises. No one looked at her. No one seemed to notice.
I got up and walked away, dragging my suitcase behind me. She continued to make airplane noises as I did so. I got as far as the Starbucks when I remembered my iPad. I had to go back for it.
When I got there, the girl was sitting quietly in her seat with her eyes closed. My iPad was in the seat next to her where I had left it. I was afraid to approach her from the front, since it might be a trick. I looped around the row of seats to the next row and then quietly leaned back over to grab my iPad.
She was on me in a second. She grabbed the hand I had extended out to reach the iPad and bit into it with her teeth. I tried to grab her hair and yank, but my hand slipped. She felt like cellophane, like the kind my Dad's cigarette packs had come in with the little red strip in it that you would pull to open up the package.
I grabbed again and came back with a red strip between my fingers. I yanked.
Her hair peeled away and the cellophane slid down the face.
It was me. I blinked as though waking up and it was me sitting in her chair. That's where I was sitting. And she was asleep in my old chair, her iPad in her lap, sitting in front of the gate for the flight to Newark. I never had an iPad. I am not even sure what it is.
I had seen her come into the waiting area and looking sleepy. I had escaped my dream and gone into hers, only to have my dream come find me. I had escaped it once: hijacking my way from Milwaukee to Denver in the drunken fantasies of a businessman whose buddies had only gotten him half-awake to board the plane. But he woke up in Denver upon landing.
And I am now here in Denver with my body in Milwaukee, trying to hide from a dream that won't let me go. At least, I think that's where my body is. Maybe it's in Houston? Maybe that's why I thought I was going there? I have to get back to it. I have to wake up. I have to get home to Linda and the kids. We have plans to have the neighbors over to watch President Clinton's inauguration speech tomorrow night, but I don't see any mention of it on the news station they play in the airport. I hope I didn't miss it.
Or, maybe, this is someone else's dream.
No. I can feel it.
Nibbling at my toes.