Growing up, my life had certainties. The sun rises, I rise with it and move about my day. Throughout the day I take care of Stella and work towards my dreams and goals. The light that breaks through my shades tell me its morning. I grab my eye mask and pull my sheets over my head. I left a note on the front door, “If anyone asks, I am not here. Do not disturb.” They should make that for hotel rooms.
I fall back asleep. The dream is back, and I don’t mean the synonym to my goals. I am weightless in water. As I float free, I allow the water to caress my body, like the hands of a gentle lover tracing every inch of me. Wanting the fingerless caresses to find their way inside of me, I ask Aphrodite to solidify my lover’s touch. I can feel his skin firm against mine. His soft fingers extend to my cheeks, pulling me to his kiss. I am familiar with the feel of this endearment, his lips, Tommy. I can see his face, smiling at me. Then I can feel a shift, his face switches from one face to another to another so rapidly. I couldn’t make out any of the faces. Until the spin cycle stops and Delores is staring at me. She smiles and slowly pushes me into the water. I can feel myself drowning, trying to fight her off.
Startled awake, I am coughing as if I were being choked. I am freaking out and touching around my throat. This is real anxiety. Half expecting myself to be drenched. I breath. Great, now Delores has even fucked up my beautiful reoccurring dream. It’s bad enough that it’s back after all this time. Is this how my body tells me I didn’t choose wisely? Pick another one? But I still recognized his kiss and saw his face, mind you it glitches into his mom’s face.
“Val?” Benji is here. Jodi must have called him. “I am going to sit out here until you are ready to talk.”
I think if Benji had Tommy’s number, I would be hearing him swearing at Tommy. It’s silent. Grateful it’s Sunday and I don’t have to get up for anyone. Adding ear plugs to my bedtime gear. I know I have to eventually reenter the world today, just a few hours longer.
I go to R.E.M. immediately, this time it’s black, everything is black. Is this a non dream moment? Will this become me? A black empty canvas?
Sleep torturing me more than being awake. I get up and open the door. On cue, Benji walks in, closes the door and crawls into bed with me. Poor Benji, the moment I finally sleep with him, he is fully clothed and in love with Amy. Benji holds me. In his arms I feel safe. I sleep.
Sunday night. Finals are this week. Just my luck. I have worked so hard to get to this point and now that I am here, my entire world is unraveling.
“Fucking Tommy, in my final days here and he is about to make me blow it.” I whisper to myself.
“I won’t let you blow it.” Benji’s grip tightens lovingly.
“Looks like I am going to New York alone.”
“Shhh…rest baby girl.” Those words make me miss my dad.
I sleep. No more dreams.
“What time is it?”
“Almost 8:00 p.m.”
“I’ve been asleep for almost 24 hours?”
“Looks like it love.”
“That’s what friends are for.”
“I can’t turn on my phone.”
“You don’t need to. Every information on finals and graduation, I have under control. You don’t need to look at your phone at all this week. I won’t leave your side. We will walk together on Commencement Day, this weekend.”
“Until then, I sleep?”
I remember getting sick only once when I was younger. The conversation with Benji in this moment remained me of my dad taking care of me when I was miserable. But dad skipped work and stayed with me all day until felt better.
Robot Val reporting for duty. I need to turn on my autopilot, numb myself so that I can draw the strength I need to get through this week without letting Tommy back in. If I answer his calls or let even the slightest crack open, I will be under him again. I have lost so much of me in order to gain him. No regrets but no feelings is in order at this point. I get up for my final on Monday, take my final and go back to bed. I get up for my final on Tuesday, take my final and go back to bed. I sleep through Wednesday completely. Thursday, I wake up and take my last final for a very long time.
I am tired of sleeping so I decide to get up and email Jessica in regards to my pending trip to New York City next week. After which, I call Nate. I have to have faith in their offering to be there for me. Trust that I have built the village I need to carry me through.
“Hola mi amor. Who's number are you calling from?”
“Benji’s. Come Stai?”
“Not as good as you right? Graduation day is around the corner.”
I start crying on the phone.
“Val, please tell me those are tears of joy.”
“Sweetie, what happened?”
“I'm coming to New York City in August.”
“Sweetheart, I will be at the airport to welcome you home.”
“Thank you, Benji will email you my itinerary.”
“Just have him text me your flight information.”
“Grazie amore mio.”
“Any thing for you sweetheart. I am here if you need me.”
“That’s why I am coming to you.”
I hand Benji his phone back.
“Take me home?”
“Yeah baby. Let me tell Amy that I am taking you to your parents and staying there with you.”
“No Benji. I already ruined my relationship. I don’t want to ruin yours too.”
“I told you, we started this together, we finish this together.”
There is no place like home. My family and I may not speak every day or tell each other every detail of our lives but when it counts, we gather in strength. At my parents we played board games and watched our favorite comedy movies. We laughed so much and so hard. I am sure it was my body’s way of converting the crying into something else for a minute. Because I sure didn’t feel any happier. Everyone knew but no one asked. I can't allow any of my thoughts to move into the space that put this week into motion. This is the grounding that I need.
“Hey Valley-girl.” Dad comes to tuck me in after closing the bar. Tomorrow is graduation.
“Hey daddy bartender.”
“I won’t ask how you are because we all do this differently. I will say that I am proud of your strength and focus. Not that I want this to change your plans, but you should know that he came looking for you when he realized you were’t taking his texts or calls. Imagine my surprise when he showed up at the bar. Then his surprise when he realized you didn’t tell us anything yet. I didn’t pry. He looked a mess as is. He kinda just turned on his heals and walked out.”
“Are you sure?”
“Did he tell you he picked his mom over me?”
“Are you sure that’s how it all went down.”
“That’s my story.”
“And your are sticking to it.”
“He can keep coming back, I can keep taking him back, and he will keep picking them. Because he is one of them. Not that it’s a bad thing. Just not a Val thing.”
“I respect that. Well, I will always pick you.”
“I love you baby girl.”
“I love you more.” He hates this because he knows he can’t tell me that he loves me the best, Stella will never let him live it down if he does.
Amy, Jodi and Wynn took care of packing my stuff up at the apartment and delivering it all to my parents. Stella and Benji took care of my flight and my emails. Nate knows when to pick me up from the airport. Benji and Stella negotiated my contract with INK. Jessica had emailed me, saying that she had and opening. She needs to build and App for Wanderlust as well as manage the content of the App. Benji responded on my behalf. Jessica accepted my stress of finals as an excuse for doing all of our negotiations over email. I will enjoy this summer with my family and keep my weekend schedule at Tripple Rock until I leave for New York in August. Benji said I can stay at his place on weekends since he will be going back and forth between Chicago and Palo Alto. Amy needs to go home and help her family out. A strong reminder to me that no matter how strong the love, family responsiblities win every time.
Stella turned on my phone for me and deleted anything from Tommy like I asked her to, without reading anything. Knowing her, she did anyway. Whether she did or not, she didn’t tell me and I didn’t want to know. Stella and my mom pack up my things from my apartment. Bascially my room since the rest of the place was furnished by Jodi.
“Thank you, Amy.”
“Lending my your guy when mine let me down.”
“Val, we are a clan, we stand by each other. And I hope you know that anything you ask of Benji, you can do the same of me.”
“I do now.”
“Come on ladies, let’s go get those diplomas!” Benji wraps his arms on our shoulders and escorts us to our seats.
“What are you doing?” I hiss at Benji as he sits besides me.
“We are college graduates, I think we can figure out how to get up there in time for our name to be called.”
“I love you!”
“I love you too!”
Benji held my hands through out the commencement proceedings. Running up in time for them to call his name, everyone was catcalling him. Mr. Popularity, I did get the chance to give him a nickname. He ran back and was right there by my side again as I lined up for my name to be called. In this moment I finally understand what I was asking when I said to Tommy that I need him to anticipate my needs. Benji is making my life operate seamlessly now. He knows me and knows what need to happen for my move to New York to happen. He even talked my dad into letting him stay above the bar for the summer until his lease is up at Berkeley and he finds a place in Palo Alto. I know it's his way of keeping an eye on me. Ending every work day at the bar with me. Asking my opinion on his projects. Knowing that coding distracts me. Algorithms make sense and are puzzles I love solving. This helps.
“Valentina Perotti,” so long I waited for my name to announced, to walk up and am handed phase one of the rest of my life, my diploma. The first Perotti to graduate.
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