“Did you ever have a childhood dream?” he asked us. My English teacher smiled and patrolled around the classroom, filled with a mix of immigrants, mostly Latin American. He probably thought I was too. He caught me resting my eyes.
“Not like a going to sleep dream, Dhlma,” he explained. “I mean something that you’ve always wanted to do.”
A few students turned around and stared at me, chuckling. Regardless of having the best English in the class, and working late nights waitressing, I was the bitch that always fell asleep.
I shouldn’t be in here.
“I understand what you mean, teacher. And I don’t know. Probably. Yes.”
“Probably? Let us know. I’m interested to know more about you. And, please, call me Paul like the rest of the students.”
Now more students turned around, eager to hear about my old life and desires. They probably wanted to hear me say that my childhood dream was to move to America. But it wasn’t really. I only had one aching desire when I was younger.
I did have a childhood dream, quite a specific one, back in my home in Xinjiang, a place my clueless teacher had never heard of – a place where you treat authority with respect, whether it be teachers, police, or fathers.
I never did well there.
We were poor, and my father often angry. We did own one nice thing in our home – a vibrant glass bookshelf given as a wedding gift by my mother’s mother. It was only ever a happy home when my father was not there. In my shared bedroom with my two younger sisters, I learned to turn on Friends reruns to max volume – loud enough to mask the pelts and pounds of flesh my father laid onto my mother. ‘Watch Friends,’ my mother said in our native tongue, ‘it will help you learn English.’ The only dream I ever had was to hurt my father – to make him stop. One day, I entered our house. My mother wept on the floor. Books covered the floor, littered with colorful glass shards. Her back bled onto the white, dusty tile. My father panted and looked at me. ‘Look what your mother did.’ He turned away. I picked up a piece of turquoise glass. My eyes welled, and I squeezed it tight, until warm, smooth blood ran down my palm. Finally, I would charge and make it stop; I’d make my dream come true. Now.
But a hand gripped my forearm. My mother, on her knees, with tears falling down her purple face. “Dhlma,” she said, “don’t do it. Do not ruin your future for me.”
Our English teacher stood by the board, waiting with a smile and his arms crossed. “So, what was it? You wanted to be an actress or singer?” He let out a very American chuckle.
“No. Not quite.” I glanced down at my open palm, a dark scar curved across the soft, tan skin. Dhlma, my name, in a rough translation means close to the heart. I thought about telling him, letting this clueless teacher and everyone in the room glimpse a piece of my childhood from somewhere so far away. He wouldn’t get it. That was another life in another world.
“It doesn’t matter. My dream never came true.”
Joseph Stearman is a writer who’s previously been published in SPANK the CARP and Eunoia Review. Originally from Washington D.C., he now teaches in Shanghai. To keep up with Joe, follow him on Instagram: ufojoe13.