Christina Cha

One Step into the Frog Swamp

I have dreamt of the murderer as himself, not in metaphor. I face him straight on, something I have never done. This is only my second dream of him, the first one a placeholder version I have constructed: a blurry blonde security guard with white lashes who strangles me from behind.

This newer one, updated with photos from history and present prison-time is a closer composite, but he is smaller than me, and has infantilized eyes. Big and vulnerable and submissive. 

It was an all-night dream. A deep and pointed one, unsubtle. He is somehow out of prison, and my father has invited him to stay in a house I don’t recognize with me and my brothers. My mother is somewhere nearby, too, the only evidence of her is a vase of red roses she has left by the murderer’s bed. In the shuffling of arrangements, somehow I have ended up in a bed right next to his. I am outraged that this should happen, that I have to confront him myself. I have to brush by him and feel his rapist presence, and know that he hears my voice.

I move my bed to the next room, which is a studio with mirrors, and I lean my head on the barre and cry deeply. I see my legs in reflection. I don’t want to see my face. My younger brother is there. He has seen me cry like this in waking life.

Everyone is trying to sleep, and the murderer is making a lot of noise, twitching and fussing. He gets up and lays down next to my older brother’s bed, and I feel bad for him, with this oldest son responsibility.

The murderer puts on a show, to display his discomfort. He has timed his small tantrum for me to witness. He is aware of me but doesn’t look at me. He takes the roses by his bed and encases them in twin-sized sheets of plastic. The roses become as big as the bed, and he flattens them underneath. Now he will be able to sleep.

I leave the house, but I keep running into him. At a cafe, where I meet him with friends who don’t know who he is and treat him like a non-raping-murdering human. They know he has been in prison, and assume, it must be drugs, right? I turn my back to him and say quietly to them, he raped and murdered my aunt. They go quiet, and glare at him, and I almost feel bad for him. So this isn’t what you expected, he said. Or, meeting me isn’t making your day, or something like this. A woman takes a cartoon-big lock and key and goes away with him. I meet him again at a party.

I wake up and try to write the dream. I settle into silence, a brief beat of blank that is already gone seven words back. There is nothing to solve or reconcile in one sentence. The murderer sits and waits in his cell, he lives and breathes and continues and is as real as I am. I must make him more real, and unmonster him, and accept. I turn toward and away, toward and back. Balance with precision, spin away quickly finding the same point when I return and if I tilt my head or move my eyes in the slightest my inattention will crumble the floor.

What do you think it means? my friend asks. We discuss this. How he gets in between me and my brothers. His influence is revealed in how we love, or how we don’t.

It comes in waves, my hatred of how he is mythologized, the negative space of him, how much he has shaped and affected my heart, the heart in my family.

A stupid man, hiding, looming in my life, a secret side pocket of him in my chest.

My friend says that it is good that I have dreamt of him. I have looked him in the face, and am bigger than he is.