It is early in the morning, and Jaytech Johnson is standing in the graveyard again. The sun is just breaking the horizon; it is so early that there is barely enough light to read the letters on the tombstone. Jaytech leans down to place a single rose on the grave. He stands there for a while, not thinking, just staring at the flower. As the first stab of sunlight strikes the glossy headstone Jaytech wakes from his reverie, says a brief, silent payer, and heads to his car for the short drive back to his apartment. Once home arrives home, Jaytech thinks about eating breakfast. He is not hungry, but he eats anyway, finding some leftovers to warm in the microwave. He watches the plate spinning ‘round and ‘round as the food begins to bubble. Jaytech flops onto the couch in his living room, mechanically flipping through channels as he eats his meal. Back in the kitchen he washes up, the clank of his dishes and the shoosh of the water the only sounds that break the silence.
After finishing the dishes Jaytech pads silently from the kitchen to the bathroom. Standing in front of the mirror, Jaytech observes himself in the mirror, staring at his reflection as if he is looking at a stranger. Jaytech is a tall man, taller than most. He keeps his thick black hair cut very short, sometimes thinking that it helps make him appear not quite so tall. As he stands staring at himself, he sees a tear roll from the eye of the stranger. He realizes it is he who shed the tear, but he does not feel the sadness he should feel, just the dull ache he has carried inside himself since the dreams began. It is as if it is only the stranger in the mirror crying.
It is morning, but Jaytech is tired. Not just tired; he is exhausted. He glances at his bed and thinks to himself “maybe just a quick nap.”Yes, a nap sounds like a good idea. Maybe he could fall asleep just long enough to get some rest and wake up before the dream comes again. Jaytech quickly falls into bed, and just as quickly falls asleep. The rest he had hoped for does not come, however, and he tosses in the bed, tangling himself in the sheets. His breath comes in short bursts, and he begins to sweat the clammy sweat of nightmares. In his dream he sees the bird again, and he holds his breath, still dreaming but aware enough to try to force himself to wake up. He is just about to kick the bird away when he bolts upright in bed, now fully awake. Jaytech thinks for just a moment that the sound of someone screaming hs startled him from his sleep, but then he realizes that it was his voice, his scream, that broke the spell of the dream.
As Jaytech struggles out of bed and searches the room for something clean enough to wear to class he wonders to himself again about the dream. What does it mean? Why does it keep coming back? Realizing he is running late, Jaytech pushes those thoughts from his mind and scans the room for his keys. Still not hungry, Jaytech realizes that he won’t get a chance to eat for most of the day, and he again forces himself to take a few bites of the half-eaten sandwich tucked away in the refrigerator. The half-empty soda can he had opened earlier is still sitting on the counter; it’s too warm to drink, but he drinks it anyway, washing down the remnants of the sandwich.
Jaytech gets in his car for the short drive to the college; he knows he is late for class already, so there is no reason to break the speed limit. He does it anyway, driving faster than he should, the sound of the straining engine momentarily drowning the memories of the dream that still linger in his mind. A few moments later he is out of the car and headed to class, still lost in his thoughts. He hears a voice calling his name, but for a moment he thinks it is just his thoughts growing louder.
He hears it again, louder this time. “Jaytech!” He realizes that someone is calling to him, and he spins around to see who is speaking to him.
Walking towards him is his friend Lisa. Although he is now very late for class, he is pleased to see her, and he gladly pauses as she approaches.
“Hi, Lisa” he says to her as a smile breaks the scowl he had been wearing all morning. Jaytech likes Lisa; he always has liked her. She is a striking young woman, and her personality makes her even more beautiful. Lisa is kind and warm and funny, and she is one of the few girls he finds it to be easy to talk to. She is tall, almost as tall as he is, and as usual she is dressed impeccably. Lisa is wearing a simple, yet gorgeous red dress, a color that matches her red lipstick, painted nails, and rich auburn hair. What makes her all the more impressive is that along with her stunning good looks and inviting demeanor, she is also smart. Not just smart, actually; she is at the top of her class. If she were anyone else, Jaytech would probably be intimidated by her. As she catches up to him the pair begins to walk to class together.
The class goes by quickly enough, and soon Jaytech and Lisa are outside again, sitting side by side in the open courtyard between the science hall and the language arts building. They make small talk at first, laughing and joking about nothing in particular. For a moment Jaytech pauses, and Lisa seems to sense that he is about to ask her something serious.
“Lisa, do you ever have trouble sleeping?”
“What do you mean by ‘trouble’?’ she asks. “Like meaning you can’t fall asleep?”
“No,” replies Jaytech. “I mean like having bad dreams, nightmares. Sometimes I have nightmares that actually scare me.”
Lisa looks at Jaytech for a moment, an expression of concern crossing her face. “Well,” she begins, “I do sometimes have bad dreams, but when I wake up I realize they are just dreams, so I’m not really scared by them.” She is looking directly at Jaytech, but he is gazing into the distance, seeming to get lost in thoughts about his troublesome dreams. She asks him “Jaytech…are you okay?”
The sound of worry in her voice snaps Jaytech out of his daydream, and he shakes it off before responding to her. He looks away from her for a moment, and then tells her “don’t worry about it. I’m just a little stressed out because I haven’t been sleeping well. Everything’s fine. I do have to go, though; it’s time for me to check on my dad.”
The two say quick goodbyes, and give each other a brief hug and a friendly kiss. Jaytech again assures her that he is fine, and promises to call her the next day. Back in his car Jaytech is preparing to pull out from the student parking lot when his cell phone rings. At first he can’t find it among the mess of books and papers strewn all about, and he misses the call. He figures whoever called will leave a message, and he leaves the task of finding the phone for a later time. A moment passes and the phone rings again. This time he finds it on the second ring, and he sees by the caller ID that it is his father calling. Even though he was headed that way, he still flinches for a moment before clicking the button to take the call.
Jaytech’s father was once a tall, strong man, taller and stronger than Jaytech. Now he is old and is ravaged by arthritis. His father needs regular therapy to maintain mobility in his arms and legs. With the cost of health care and therapists so high, Jaytech has take over the task of helping his father with his therapy. Several times a week Jaytech helps his father with his therapy, bending and straightening his legs and assisting him with his exercise routine. As they would go through the paces of his father’s therapy routine, Jaytech would listen to his father tell the same stories of what life was like when his father was young. Jaytech had heard them all before, but he listened dutifully each time, as if he had never heard them before. Part of the reason he listens is because he is reminded of the times when his family was still close, and his mother and father were still together.
When Jaytech was a young boy his father worked in a factory. His mother did not have a job outside of the house, but she enjoyed various crafts and other hobbies; sometimes she even earned a little bit of money selling the things she made. Jaytech remembers how his father was always busy and always tired from working such long hours. He did not earn a huge salary, but he always seemed to have enough to keep Jaytech happy with snacks and small gifts. Looking back, Jaytech now understands that it was his father’s way of proving that he could provide for his family, and that it was a matter of pride. Whenever Jaytcch would ask for something, no matter how small, his father would make a big show of saying “listen, boy, I have plenty of money. You can have whatever you want.” Somehow even then Jaytech understood that this wasn’t entirely true, and he never asked for anything that was too expensive because he didn’t want to make his father spend more than he could really afford.
Jaytech’s father might have had more money of it wasn’t for his bad habits. When Jaytech was a young boy his father liked to smoke and drink and gamble, and when he drank too much or lost too much on a bet he would become very angry. Jaytech didn’t understand at that age that it was the drinking that made him act so badly; he just knew that his father could suddenly become very angry and very frightening. His father would take out his anger on Jaytech’s mother, screaming at her as he threw things around the house and even sometimes hit her. One day his mother simply had enough, and she packed yup her things and left Jaytrech alone with his father. He was too young to understand his mother’s decision, and he spent the rest of his childhood feeling abandoned and disappointed by the fact that she left.
After his mother left his father’s anger grew even worse. He would get drink and begin yelling about Jaytech’s mother, calling her a “bitch” and cursing at her as if she was still in the house with the two of them. By the time Jaytech was a teenager his father’s health began to fail, and he could no longer work. Jaytech found himself needing to earn money to help support the two of them and also had to begin taking care of his father as the arthritis grew worse. Jaytech’s resentment for his mother grew over the years, and by the time he was ready for college the only feelings he had left for her were bitterness and hatred. Jaytech did not see his mother for many years, and the only thing he knew about her was that she had found someone else and started a new life with Jaytech or his father.
The year that Jaytech got accepted to the local university he saw his mother again for the first time in ten years. She had suddenly appeared at the door of the house he shared with his father, though she had been careful to do it when his father was not at home. Jaytech unloaded all his feelings on her, telling her how badly she had hurt him. His mother may have deserved it, but Jaytech still felt badly after speaking to her that way. She said very little, and as soon as he was done venting his frustration she began to cry and then turned and left. Just as suddenly as she had reappeared she was gone again, and though he didn’t know it at the time, that would be the last meeting Jaytech ever had with her.
As Jaytech was preparing to begin his second semester at the university he received a phone call from a family friend informing him that his mother had died. It was during the conversation with his mother’s friend that he discovered she had been sick, and had come to see him that day to tell Jaytech that she was going to die. Now that he was older and knew a bit more about how challenging life can be, Jaytech had a better understanding of why she had to leave so many years ago. The abuse she suffered from his father was more than she could take. His father had never abused him, and his mother knew that he would take care of jaytech. When she left them she had nothing, and she would not have been able to care for Jaytech. He realized now just how difficult that must have been for her, and he began to hate himself fot the way he had treated her the last time they spoke.
Jaytech thought of the dream again. Every time it was the same, and it was easy to recall the details even if he didn’t know what it meant. In his nightmare he sees a bird in his apartment. It is wounded and can hardly fly, but it makes its way to an open window and flies away. Its injuries are too great, however, and the suffering bird tries to return to the house through the open window. Instead of letting it back in, Jaytech kicks at the bird and it falls out of the window, too injured to fly. Jaytech looks out the open window and sees the bird lying dead on the sidewalk below. Just then he feels a sharp pain and looks down. The bird’s blood had stained his shoe, and it was now soaking through to his skin and burning his flesh. He begins to scream from the pain, and the sound of his own voice wakes him up. It is the same dream every time.
Jaytech calls Lisa the following day just as he promised he would. He tells her that he is going to the cemetery to visit his mother’s grave. Still worried about him, Lisa asks if she can join him, and he agrees to her request. As the two of them stand by his mother’s grave, he begins to open up to Lisa about his dream. He had never told anyone else about it, but he felt more comfortable with her than with anyone else he knew.
“I told you that I have been having nightmares, but I never told you the details,” says Jaytech. “In my dream I find an injured bird in my house, and instead of trying to help it, I kick it out the window. The bird can’t fly, and it falls down to the ground and dies.”
“When did you start having this dream, Jaytech?” asks Lisa.
“About six months ago,” he replies.
Lisa immediatekly understands why he is having this nightmare, and realizes that Jaytech is simply too close to it to realize the truth for himself.
“Jaytech, you have to forgive yourself. You were just a boy when she left, and you had a right to be angry and confused by her decision. Now that you’re older you can understand it better. I know you wish you could take back the things you said to your mother, but you have to forgive yourself. You are not to blame for her death. This dream will not go away until you do forgive yourself.” Lisa then takes the rose from his hand, gives him a warm, tender kiss and places the rose on the grace for him.
That night Jaytech was still afraid to go to sleep. As he drifted off he thought about his mother, and he thought about the things Lisa had said to him. He knew she was right, and told himself that it was time to forgive himself for the things he had said to his mother. The last thing he remembered before falling asleep was that he would call Lisa the next day to thank her for what she had said to him.
The next thing he knew the warmth of the morning sunlight was splashing across his face. He realized that the dream had not returned, and that he had a new dream. In this dream the bird was no longer injured, and Jaytech carried it to the open window where it flew off into the sunset. That was the last time Jaytech ever dreamed of birds.