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It Was All a Dream

In the middle of a temple sits a ballerina in disguise. She’s dressed in black jeans, a green sweater and sports a striking platinum necklace. Cross-legged, back straight, her slender figure sits straight in front of a monk. Stiffness overruns each of her limbs, essentially rendering her a semi-univiting rock. Deadly serious, she looks ahead as the monk says to the small crowd:

“As written in the Dhammapada, the Buddha said ‘Let a man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth!’ Those who are wise like the Buddha know that we can sink into any end of whatever polarity we want. They also recognize that the positive end of the polarity more often than not will overcome the negative one.”

The ballerina, Mirella Ferreira, receives these vibrations in her eardrums, but doesn’t quite perceive the words. Much to her dismay, the fall chill snapped into the atmosphere harshly over the past 72 hours. The overcast, grim setting outside the temple starkly contrasts the brightness within it. The overhead lights radiate off golden statues and onto each person as the monk visiting from Thailand continues to talk. It’s an event Mirella’s looked forward to despite having no idea how to pronounce the monk’s name.

Mirella’s draw to meditative practice increased ten-fold on a summer day when she recognized the similarity between focusing on a dance routine and focusing on her breath. It feels like what some in her ballet company refer to as “The Flow” - but with a more pinpointed sense of concentration. When time allows, she makes the 6-block trip over to the temple so that she can experience the practice with others. Typically, Mirella is laser-sharp when she visits. Now, though, her focus is scattered and she’s struggling to pay attention.

Her mind finally leaves the temple and travels back several years. She’s at the corner bar by her very first apartment. She’s 25, in a rare phase where her hair is bleach blonde, and wearing a ravishing red dress that’s way too fancy when compared with the ragged, thrifted clothing of the various hipsters drinking around her. She never notices this, as she’s deeply engrossed in her interaction with her boyfriend, Alex Fulton. Even from a distance, each patron of the bar that night sees the palpable passion blossoming between the two of them.

“Jimmy McMillan was right and we all ignored him,” claims Alex, his speech a bit slurred as he swigs from his Manhattan.

“Jimmy McMillan?” asks Mirella in her charming accent, a fusion of midwest American and Brazilian.

“You remember that video at a debate where there’s a guy with black gloves on who was like ‘The rent is too damn high!’? It was like way back when the internet was still kinda cool,” replies Alex.

“Oh yeah!” says Mirella through a tipsy chuckle.

“We should’ve listened! Now I pay, fuck, like $1200 a month to live in some ratchet ass apartment? While my landlord has 7 sports cars? 7!?”

“How do you know he has 7?” asks Mirella, sipping her martini.

“Because I’ve counted them. He shows up in a different one every time he comes to tell me my rent is late. He’s got the Porsche, the Ferrari, the Lotus, the Corvette, the other Porsche, uh…”

“You don’t have to tell me the last two.”

“My point is this, Mirella. When are we going to eat all the landlords alive?”

“Eat them?”

“Eat ‘em. Not even gonna cook them. Just eat ‘em raw, in front of their children, num num num.”

“Stop that.”

“I’m just sayin’ is all.”

“This isn’t you.”

“It might be.”

“What is eating your landlord going to do, really? Your building will just go to some other leech, and maybe even a worse leech than your current one.”

“Why are you killing my dreams, babe?”

“Because you know they’re not your dreams. Nightmares, if anything. I don’t want to date a cannibal.”

“You’d break up with me if I ate my landlord?”

“I would and I wouldn’t think twice about it.”

“Roles reversed, I’d probably be initially proud of you, in a sense, but do the same.”

“Of course you would. You want to get rid of grubby landlords? Become one. Charge a fair price. Don’t pull up in a Ferrari. There’s nothing you can do about all the awful landlords that are set in their ways.”

Alex polishes off his Manhattan, and gives Mirella a devilishly charming half-smile.

“You’re sweet, you know that?” he says.

“I do,” replies Mirella with a shrug of her shoulders.

“And humble, too. Do you want another round?”

Mirella’s soft lips smile as her brown eyes encapture the monk.

“Mind itself has always been without substance. It is not seen by looking, but is emptiness. It is not a void, but is cognizant and clear. This inseparable awareness and emptiness is pervasive like space,” the monk says.

Mirella notices a familiar soreness building in her right knee as she sits on the floor. It stems from an old injury she sustained dancing when she was a teenager. Her body floods with a specific, very fun anxiety that’s been increasing more and more as she approaches her 30th birthday. She fears that her days as a professional ballerina are quickly winding down. She worries she may not only lose her way of making a living, but also her identity, one that is tightly bound to her ability of moving in a way few humans can.

“I don’t know what I’d do without ballet,” she tells Alex as he massages her knee. In the bed of their dimly lit hotel room, just past midnight, Mirella rests on the headboard with her eyes closed as Alex switches between looking at her beautiful face and his thumbs rubbing her ailing knee.

“What do you mean?” says Alex.

“I mean, I’ve been doing it my whole life. I’d basically have to start over,” Mirella says, opening her eyes to look over at the roses and heart-shaped box of chocolates on the nightstand.

“I’d be happy to start my life over.”

“Right, but only if it was your choice. There might come a time where I just can’t maintain the level of fitness necessary to keep doing this. Or, God forbid, I have an accident or a fall or… it could all end at any second.”

“Well, what are your post-ballet career plans?”

“I don’t have any.”

Alex laughs, but very quickly stops himself. “Oh, shit, you’re not kidding.”

“Why would I be kidding?”

“Personally, walking on my tippy toes as a job sounds uncomfortable.”

“Is that really all you think I do?”

“No, but it’s part of it. You just plan on dancing your whole life?”

“If I can afford it financially, physically, emotionally, then yes, of course.”

“God’s honest truth, how feasible do you think that is?”

“I don’t know. I can’t imagine raising a child and still doing ballet full-time like I am now. It’s possible, but it would be-”

“You want to have a kid?”

The color flushes out of Alex’s face. Mirella sees this, noting that the aura of romance which surrounded them just a few moments earlier as they made love has almost entirely vanished.

“Yeah. At least two.”

“Two?” Alex says, looking as if he’s just seen a grotesque image of diarrhea.

“Yes, two. Why are you making that face?”

“Two children? In this economy?”

“Not right now, but eventually. You don’t want kids?”

“No, I don’t. Why would I waste my hard-earned money on some snotty spawn of mine rather than spend it on myself?”

The air thickens as Mirella makes a feeble attempt at hiding the minor shockwave that’s coursing through her spine. “Why do you always think of everything in terms of money?”

“Because the oligarchs made everything about money. I didn’t ask to be born into their nonsense.”

“Well, you were. Why let that prevent you from having a family?”

“That’s not the only reason I don’t want them. There’s already billions of people on the planet. Do we really need more?”

“If I want to make more, I will.”

“Hm, good luck getting them from me.”

“Oh, please. You don’t think I could get pregnant with your baby? You literally just came inside me.”

“With a condom on.”

“I poked a hole in it.”

“You did not.”

“I could’ve.”

Alex inhales sharply while biting his lower lip.

“Okay, fine, you could probably make me your involuntary sperm donor if you wanted to because you’re sexy as fuck. 18 years of being responsible for another human’s life? That sounds not fun and potentially disastrous.”

“I mean, they’ll shit themselves, but-”

“Who’s to say what we’ll want over the next 18 years?,” Alex says. Mirella is essentially scowling back at him now.

“I want you.”

“You will not want me when I’m, what, 45 years old? Imma be fat.”

“I want you for more than your looks, Alex.”

“I know, but think of it this way. We have kids, I get fat, you undoubtably stay sexually attractive deep into your 40s, probably even beyond that. You don’t know if one day you’ll look at me and think I’m not worth it anymore. Then off you go to start banging some guy who’s better looking than me, can financially support you better than I can, and I’m stuck with some filthy kid.”

Mirella chews on her thumb a little before replying, “One day, yes, something could happen that leads to us breaking up, whether or not there’s a child involved. That’s why you build trust in relationships. You have to lean on that trust no matter what the future holds.”

Alex sighs and looks at the wall. “I don’t trust you, Mirella.”

Confused, hurt, Mirella can only squeak out, “What?”

“I don’t really trust anyone. Even myself. It’s like, every time something good happens, I just wait to see how it’ll turn bad, or how I’ll sabotage it.”

Mirella pulls her legs away from Alex and into her chest.

“What can I do to make you trust me?”

Alex’s right hand moves to his chin as he seriously considers this. “Nothing,” he defeatedly admits.

“Alex, we’ve been together nearly a year and you don’t trust me? Do you not see the problem here?”

“I know, I just…”

“What have I done to make you distrust me?”

“I don’t distrust you, I just don’t - ugh. Everything is temporary, so I can’t trust anything good to stick around for very long. Whether that’s 18 years, 18 minutes, fuck, 18 seconds. It all just disappears.”

A long pause ensues as tears well up in Mirella’s eyes. Her entire conceptualization of the relationship is practically the collective shards of a broken mirror. She knows she’s done nothing wrong, but an overwhelming tingle of guilt courses through her veins.

Alex breaks the silence. “This probably wasn’t the best thing to talk about on Valentine’s Day, huh?”

Mirella closes her eyes.

“I once asked my master ‘What is nirvana?’” says the monk. “He said to me, ‘Who subjected you to birth and death?’” The crowd tenderly laughs at his remark. Mirella gives a somewhat overblown, delayed chortle to appear as if she’s paying attention. She looks to her right where she finds her friend, Amber, laughing and looking at her. They exchange pleasant smiles even though Mirella is clueless as to what made Amber laugh. She rubs her eyes as her mind launches back out of the temple.

“What’d you think?” says Alex to a sleepy Mirella, laying her head on his reindeer sweater as the credits roll.

“It was good,” says Mirella.

“So good, right?”

“Mhm. It’s not a Christmas movie though.”

“Um… what?”

“It’s not.”

“Mirella, they’re literally playing ‘Let It Snow’ over the credits right now.”

“Oh my God.”

“What? What are you trying to say to me?”

“This does not count as a Christmas movie, period,” Mirella says as she gets up to take the nearly empty bowl of popcorn to the kitchen.

“It takes place on Christmas Eve!”

“Just because a movie occurs during Christmas does not mean it’s a Christmas movie.”

“Okay, so, Gremlins isn’t a Christmas movie?”

“Wh- Gremlins?”

“Like, what are your metrics here?”

“It needs to be about the Christmas spirit to count as a Christmas movie.”

“I’m fully in the Christmas spirit and ready for Die Hard 2: Die Harder.”

“We’re not watching any other Die Hard movies.”

“We should at some point, if not tonight,” Alex says as he stretches his arms and yawns.

“No.”

“Why not? Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!”

“No.”

Alex clicks his tongue as he reaches for the remote control. “Man, bah humbug over here.”

“I am not bah humbug.”

“You totally are.”

“Am not! I’m a lady who wanted to snuggle up with her boyfriend and watch a nice, wholesome Christmas movie on a snowy night. Alas, this lady lets said boyfriend decide which movie to watch, and he picks Die Hard, which she patiently sat through even though she didn’t enjoy a single second of it. Yes, I probably should’ve asked more questions about it before you put it on based on the name alone, but still. Let me be just a little upset.”

“Alright, you can be a little upset. I should’ve picked something less violent,” Alex says as he turns on an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants.

“Or, you know, an actual Christmas movie.”

“Trust me, it qualifies as a Christmas movie.”

“Trust you?”

“Yeah.”

Mirella walks back into the living room, folds her arms and looks Alex in the eyes.

“Really?” she says.

“You know what I mean.”

“I don’t think I do.”

“Mirella, come on.”

“Tell me what you mean. That’s all I’m asking for.”

Alex puts his head in his hands and exhales an annoyed moan.

“Why would I trust you if you don’t trust me, or if you don’t trust yourself?” says Mirella, as she moves between Alex and the television.

“We had this conversation two weeks ago.”

“And you could not affirm that you trusted me, and because of that, I can’t trust you. I can’t trust you to pick a Christmas movie. I can’t trust you to show up to my cousin’s wedding on time. I can’t trust you to be faithful to me. I can’t-”

“Hey, I have not cheated on you.”

“But you could, because you don’t trust yourself. Who knows what you’ll do next? You’re just so random! It’s so cool! It’s a total blast being in a relationship with no trust!”

“You do understand this is hard for me, right?”

“Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Compare how difficult this is for either of us.”

“I just feel like you don’t understand that.”

“I fully understand it, actually!” Mirella's voice is continually rising to increasingly upsetting levels.

“You don’t. You don’t know what it’s like for me knowing that you spend a lot of your time being physically intimate with other men.”

“Alex, it’s my job! Just because we’re touching each other when we dance doesn’t mean we’re fucking each other! How do you not understand this?”

Alex stands up. “It doesn’t matter. It makes me extremely jealous and I can’t help it.”

“Quite frankly, if you can’t help it, you need to get help. You have the most asinine, childish reasons for not trusting me and I’m sick of it!”

“Will you stop yelling? God, your yelling voice is even more annoying than your singing voice.”

Mirella gasps. If there wasn’t a coffee table standing between them, Mirella would’ve surely given Alex a proper backhanded slap across his face.

She’s back to being 8 years old, wandering outside her childhood home and belting out “No Scrubs” by TLC while her mother works in their garden.

“...hanging out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride, trying to holler at me,” she sings.

“Cut that out, Mirella. Your voice is so shrill,” her mother says.

It was the first time Mirella’s mother ever insulted her. The insult came during a phase when Mirella was intensely desiring to be a pop star when she got older.. She burst out crying, ran to her bedroom, tore down her Britney Spears poster, and cried for an hour. She didn’t sing in front of her mother, or anyone, after that day, until she met Alex.

Seething, Mirella says, “I told you in confidence that I hate my singing voice, and now you’re throwing that back in my face? Are you fucking kidding me?”

“You have insecurities and so do I. You’re coming at me for mine, so I’m throwing it right back at you. Doesn’t feel great, does it?” Alex says as he goes toward the front door.

“God, I swear I could just…”

“You could do what?”

Mirella, fists clenched, starts walking over to Alex and sings, angrily and off-key, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful.”

With Mirella now in his face, Alex joins in. “And since we’ve no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

“Get out,” Mirella says.

“Gladly. I don’t need this aural abuse,” he retorts, emphatically pointing to his ears.

“Get. Out. Now.”

“I’m putting my shoes on. Relax.”

“I’m not going with you next week.”

“I already have the plane tickets. You’re going.”

“Fuck that. I have no interest in meeting the parents of an immature, unbearable asshole like you.”

Alex stops, coat in hand, and glares at Mirella.

“You’re fucking unbelievable. Goodnight,” Alex says as he zips up his coat and opens the door.

“Have fun fucking yourself.”

“Oh, I will.”

Mirella slams the door. She stands still for several minutes, actively trying to avoid punching several holes in the walls as tears stream from her eyes. She finally turns around to find her phone so she can send him a text message. She picks it up, sits on the couch and sees the lockscreen. It’s a photo from Halloween of Mirella dressed as Mermaid Man and Alex as Barnacle Boy, smashing his face into Mirella’s cheek for a smooch as she laughs hysterically.

From the television, Mermaid Man says, “If you don't get out of here, then by the power invested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife.”

Mirella is snagged back into the present moment as she feels the itchiness of a single tear rolling down her cheek. “Om mani padme hum” is being chanted by everyone in the temple except her. She wipes her face with her sleeve, realizing that the deep dive into her post-Die Hard fight memory has left her without any sense of time and fully unaware as to how long the chanting’s been happening. She takes out her phone, with a picture of her doing a jump in The Nutcracker as the lock screen, to see that it’s 11:52am. She figures there will be only a few more minutes of chanting before the session ends, so she joins in.

Moments later, the bell rings. The monk closes with graciousness, thanking everyone for their close attention. Mirella feels like an imposter, knowing full well she couldn’t tell a person who did not attend what the monk had discussed. As the crowd disperses, Amber and Mirella remain in the temple, lightly stretching their legs.

“Are you still up for tea?” Amber asks.

“Sure,” Mirella replies.

As they walk to the coffee shop, Amber reflects on the talk. Mirella weaves her way through each remark, attempting to gather more information about what the monk said while simultaneously acting like she memorized each word. Inside the shop, there’s only a handful of people hunched over laptops and phones. It’s noticeably quiet until a child walking past Amber and Mirella starts watching a TikTok video, featuring someone screaming at the top of their lungs, with the volume fully up. They both get green tea and choose a spot near the window to sit.

“So, what’s been going on with you?” asks Amber.

“Not much, honestly, just working,” says Mirella.

“Still staying out of the dating scene?”

Mirella winces. “Yeah, still staying single and unwilling to mingle.”

“Good for you. It’s rough out there.”

“Oh, I know. I actually, this morning, saw that, um… Alex just got engaged.”

“Oh, really? To that librarian?”

“To that librarian.”

“Wow, good for him.”

“Yeah, it’s good.”

Amber squints at Mirella. “You don’t actually think that’s good for him, do you?”

“No, it’s not that, it’s just…”

“Ah!” whispers Amber as she sips her tea, burning her tongue.

“It’s stupid, really.”

“I’m sure it’s not. What’s up?”

“Promise you won’t judge me?”

“No, but I’ll try my best.”

“I’ll take that. Okay, well, this one night, when I was dating Alex, I had a dream that I was getting married. My dress was beautiful, my whole family was there, in this enormous, amazing church. The weird thing was that everyone in the pews had on casual clothing, like my little twin cousins had these hideous graphic t-shirts on. Plus, all the groomsmen were actually women I’d gone to high school with wearing these rainbow basketball uniforms. And the bridesmaids were all random dudes from high school in rainbow cheerleading outfits. Short skirts, crop tops, the whole nine yards. Despite all of that, standing at the altar was Alex. He was the only person dressed for the wedding and he looked great. Beyond great. He looked… he looked like someone I could spend the rest of my life with.”

“Hot damn.”

“Yeah. So, today I’ve just been kind of lost in thinking about him. I don’t know why since it’s been so long since we broke up. I guess sometimes I just wish I knew the exact date when I’ll find, as cheesy as it sounds, the man of my dreams, you know?”

“It’s funny. Sometimes, we look at where we’re going and where we are and it never makes sense. Then we look back at where we’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

Mirella stares out the window as an older man with a yellow labrador strolls by. The man never sees her, but the dog never breaks eye contact with her.

“Alex had a heart of gold, but his trust issues… well, you know. Horrendous. If there’s any pattern I see, it’s guys with trust issues. Everyone I’ve dated, for one reason or another, was scared of commitment to a certain degree.”

“Guys are little bitches when it comes to that stuff. They’re afraid.”

“What are they so afraid of?”

“Love.”

“Love?”

“Hell yeah. You don’t think so?”

“I guess not.”

“What does love mean to you?”

“I, um… feeling romantic and passionate-”

“No, you’re missing the mark. I know we just walked out of a Buddhist temple, but do you know what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples to love one another like he’d loved them?”

“No.”

“He meant love unconditionally. All of us get shot out of our mothers and are conditioned from the jump. We’re given a social security number and a name and a neighborhood and years of obedience training. Schools, teams, cliques, gangs, religions, cultures. All of that separates us, and a lot of it makes us afraid. Lacking trust is just another form of fear. It’s hard to look someone in the eye without fear and truly love them. You just haven’t met a guy who’s brave enough to do that yet.”

Amber takes another shot at sipping her tea and succeeds.

“I’m scared shitless myself, fuck me,” Mirella says, as they both laugh.

“Yeah, same here, it’s hard to be fearless. Sorry I got a little preachy there.”

“It’s okay. It’s Sunday, boo, go off.”

“Alex is a fucking disaster, too. You do know that, right?”

“I do, I do. It was all a dream.”

“You could be wife number two.”

“I’m good. You can have him.”

“No thanks.”

Mirella sits back in her chair and feels her shoulders relax for the first time that day.

“I have a question for you,” Mirella says.

“What’s that?”

“Have you ever seen Die Hard?”


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