Everyone knows that there are some things you share, others you share and later regret, and some you simply keep to yourself.
But when it gets late enough and you’re tired enough and you’ve had a drink or two too many, your Internal Censor calls it a night. It happens to the best of us, Sarah rationalized (knowing full well that she was not among the best of us, not in this regard, as she’d demonstrated yet again the night before).
She untangled herself from the sheets and tugged at the Vassar t-shirt she’d bought for Ben at her 20-year reunion, now a well-worn nightshirt. She found a cool spot on the pillow, closed her eyes, and pictured her Internal Censor as a little traffic cop in her head, like a character from one of the countless picture books she used to read to the boys. He’d raise his cartoon hand and blow his tiny whistle to direct thoughts to different parts of the body: to the mouth to be sent out into the world, to the neck and upper back to be stored as stress, to the chest to resonate a while as heartbreak or pride, or down deep in the belly to sit as longing.
Sometimes Sergeant Censor wisely directed thoughts to a remote region of the brain, way back behind her left ear, for thoughtful reflection. More often they landed there after visiting everywhere else first.
Her little traffic cop sucked at his job.
Ben’s was superb. He spoke just enough to engage and never so much to embarrass himself or anyone else. He slept soundly every night, while Sarah tossed and turned by his side, wondering how others— her friends and coworkers, Ben and even their young sons—were reacting to something she’d said or done.
But only days before she’d had the sweetest dream, and that dream was the centerpiece of the most restful night. And then last night—too late, too tired, too drunk—she mentioned that sweet dream to a table full of people. That was a mistake. She would not sleep well again for a while.
Still, despite the recounting of the dream, her reflection on the dream (it wound up in the right place eventually, tucked way back behind that ear) almost let her forgive herself for yet another misstep. Another sharp look from her husband. Another round of giggles from Olivia and Carrie, who often referred to her—an educated working mother!—as “cute” or “silly.” She should have known better than to expect them to understand. Ben had said as much to her on more than one occasion.
She stretched long on their king-size mattress and considered Ben’s absence in the wide space next to her. Was he angry, or did her husband, ever reasonable, see her dream for what it was: a happy family memory, albeit somewhat altered, from Dylan’s end of season wrestling party?
On that freezing winter day, the town community center had pulsated with the energy of 20 fifth-grade boys, hopped up on Sprite and cupcakes slathered with red and white frosting. And where was she? Standing by the door in her bright red “Property of Morris Wrestling” sweatshirt, watching the clock and hoping the whole thing would tie up before the forecasted snow started to fall (another 4-6 inches, as if the foot on the ground wasn’t enough already).
Ben, a wrestler himself right through high school, chatted with the coaches and their son, his arm slung over Dylan's broadening shoulders. Olivia and Scott mingled with the other parents while their twins bounced off the walls with the rest of the boys.
Olivia, she knew, would not be caught dead in a sweatshirt of any kind.
That part was all true.
But then, in the dream, she and Ben had come together with Dylan and his coaches for a photo to commemorate the many challenging practices and day-long tournaments and hard-earned wins and disappointing losses. She saw herself wedged between Dylan and Coach Bill, Ben on the other side of their son, Coach Mark and Coach Rob in back, and Scott holding up her phone to snap the picture.
The smiles, the flash, the disentangling, and the rub – the palm of Coach Bill’s hand pressing on her cotton-covered back. It couldn’t have lasted 10 seconds. Just long enough for her to turn her head toward the coach and for him to give her a friendly wink.
That was all.
And it wasn’t even real.
But that feeling, that unexpected contact and momentary connection, stayed with her long after she woke up and started her day.
It felt real. And it felt wonderful.
Wonderful that she—Dylan and Steven’s mom and Ben’s wife and Wrestling Booster Club Treasurer (for both boys’ teams, which was no small commitment), who held a job no one typically asked about and ran 20 miles a week (but never bragged about it) and shuttled her sons to their myriad activities all while getting a decent meal on the table most nights—drew an actual pat on the back, or whatever exactly that was.
If nothing else, it was some attention. Some options. Something better than scraping up a squashed cupcake from the gritty floor while Ben and Dylan took an actual photo with the coaches (but what a great shot, with Dylan smiling so proudly and Ben giving a thumbs-up).
Only a dream. Nothing more.
The lights in the bar where they’d landed after a four-course dinner and many bottles of wine were so low, it was like being in that dim state right before sleep sets in. She was nestled against Ben, woozy and cozy and careless like a much younger version of herself who might kiss some boy she’d just met, a friend of a classmate visiting for the weekend or her roommate’s brother (never mind that she'd be spending Thanksgiving with their family!).
Or stay up all night reading a book that wasn’t even assigned (but what a great novel, how could she put it down?). Or volunteer in Costa Rica for two months to protect the sea turtles and have a torrid affair with the team leader, 11 years her senior and divorced (he said) because his wife didn’t share his passion for the turtles.
Back then, Sarah had passion for the turtles, for the team leader, for everything.
And she and her friends always had fabulous tales to share in the college dining hall, as they drank coffee and laughed and made insightful comments, completely certain that everything they did really, truly mattered.
The memory of them, decked out in Vassar sweatshirts and flannel pajama pants, their hair in perfectly messy ponytails, sent a blissful wave down Sarah’s middle-aged spine.
Maybe it was that hopeful openness to anything and everything that might come her way, that joyful ripple from neck to sacrum that pushed the dream into the forefront of her thoughts and then with one more push (where was that lazy Sergeant Censor when she needed him?), out her mouth.
“I had a dream a few days ago,” she’d said, her head against Ben’s shoulder, silver strands in her dark waves picking up the light, “I woke up with this crazy sense of possibility.”
Olivia had smirked and said, “I love when Sarah gets lit up. There’s always a good story!”
Ben might have rolled his eyes.
“Was it a sex dream?” Carrie leaned toward Sarah, as if asking her confidentially, but really, her words were loud and clear.
Sarah sat up straight, still close to her husband. “Well, no, not a sex dream. More like a connection dream.”
This time Scott rolled his eyes and Carrie elbowed him playfully in the ribs. “Let Liv tell us about the dream she had the other night. Now that was a hot one.”
“What a surprise. Our very own Siren of the Suburbs is going to tell a wild story,” Ben deadpanned.
Olivia leaned across the table and grabbed Ben’s hands in her own, her right breast spilling out of her soft V-neck sweater and her musky perfume infusing the air between them. “Wild is the way we roll, my dear Benjamin.”
She then turned her head ever so slightly toward Sarah and winked.
Sarah let her eyelids drop. She might have been concerned that one of her closest friends in town was pawing at her husband, while her other friend mocked her happy dream. But Olivia pawed at everyone (especially Ben), and Carrie was snarky with everyone (except Olivia, whom she adored). That was their way of connecting.
Sarah stared at the ceiling, her head heavy on the pillow, willing the scene at the bar to come into focus: drunk, cozy, dream, Carrie, sex, Olivia, sex, wink.
Predictable, really, until the wink. That was wrong.
That wink said, "You're with me on this, right?"
But no, Liv and Carrie, I'm not with you, and you're definitely not with me.
Coach Bill was with her in the dream, though. He wasn't leering or sneering. He was looking at her, acknowledging that the person he saw could be strong. Quick. Smart. He saw that she had potential, and yes, right then she saw it, too. Only a moment, a wink and his firm hand on her back, but it had filled her with anticipation for the day ahead. The possibility.
The door hinges creaked as Ben entered the bedroom, scrambling her thoughts. What else did I say after Olivia stole the spotlight, and Scott ordered more drinks?
“Hey Sarah,” Ben whispered as he gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. “Sleep in if you want. I brought home bagels.”
She waited for a frustrated sigh, a scold like, “You really have to stop drinking sooner, or stop talking sooner, or both. Seriously, Sarah, if you’ve got a thing for Bill Barnes, don’t tell a bar full of neighbors. And don’t tell me either. I’ll never be able to take Bill seriously again.”
But no, he even bent over to kiss her lightly on the cheek and then went into the bathroom to shower.
She flipped onto her side and took in the light coming through the blinds.
Maybe she was worried about nothing.
Maybe Sergeant Censor had done his job after all, and she hadn’t said anything more about the dream.
And even if she had told them, so what? They’d have laughed, not with her but at her (she could imagine her Vassar friends, long scattered around the country, hissing at them, and oh, how that cheered her).
Maybe Scott or Olivia (or both) would let the dream slip to Coach Bill—oops!—over a few beers after a tournament next season. Bill would almost certainly shrug it off, and rightly so. It wasn’t a big deal anyway. Just a touch. Well, more of a rub, and a rub could mean anything or nothing.
Her eyes opened wide as she turned some pages in her head. To sleep, perhaps, or no, wait, it's perchance. To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub.
She placed her palm on her chest and counted five beats.
I used to recite that Hamlet soliloquy by heart.
I used to do a lot of things.
A warm sensation moved from her lower back midway up her spine and down again. She imagined herself a genie-filled lamp, waiting for the right hand to hit the right spot to unleash the magic. The wishes. The spark.
She’d get up now, she decided, while the boys were still sleeping and Ben was in the shower. She’d make a pot of coffee and text Liv to tell her that Ben and the boys might come by to watch the game later, but she had plans of her own.
Perhaps a drive to Poughkeepsie and a stroll around campus? Lunch at that cute café and a visit to the bookstore? She hadn’t been to Vassar since reunion, and she might like a t-shirt that was actually her size.
Or maybe she wouldn’t plan at all. She’d just get in the car and drive. The possibility.
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