April 28

By the age of seventeen, I believed dreams could be premonitions, including this one. All I remember from this dream is speaking with my Aunt Fanny, who had died almost ten years prior. For some reason, she had purple hair. The only thing I remember her saying was April 28 was the end of the world. Clearly, that did not happen in the literal sense or any sense. In fact, I don’t recall any tragedies occurring April 28 to the this day.

I do recall calling my then ex boyfriend, Damian* at 2am explaining this dream and being afraid. Today, I realize I must’ve sounded psychotic and paranoid, but then, it felt real. It felt real because I still believed, from my freshman year, that I was not going to live to see the age of eighteen. Again, there was still no reason to feel that way, but I did. Because my high school was a private school that excepted girls from various towns and cities, the school had buses for those that qualified. I remember sitting by the window and quietly tearing because I was afraid I would not survive long enough to make it home. The possibility of enduring a deadly accident seemed too real and highly plausible. There were some days I was afraid to leave my house because of what or who was on the other side. If a car drove too close to me, I was convinced it was someone stalking me. I sometimes sat on my bed and imagined my funeral. What would my coffin look like? Who would be there? I was preparing for the end without thinking of the positives that could be in my future.

April 28 came and went numerous times. I enjoyed my eighteenth birthday and am writing this at 23. The end is likely not known for anyone so preparing for it just makes you lose today. This was relevant for life in general and track and field. As a track athlete, I was never great. I was never the All-American that people wanted to meet and run against. When listing the greatest high school, college, and post collegiate athletes, my name was never in that conversation. Locally, people were aware of me, but nothing beyond that. For this reason, I thought my running career was over many times.

I ended my senior year of high school barely running the 400m hurdles any faster than when I started. By then, I was strongly interested in running in college, but I knew nothing about the recruiting process. My school was a small school and did not have a track team my first year. We were a track club. By sophomore year of high school, my school became an official member of NJSIAA, basically the state track and field association. Because we were so new to the sport as a team and I was the only runner on the team with any chance and desire of getting some sort of athletic scholarship or recognition from colleges, the athletic director and track coach had no idea how to even get schools to look at me.

After running in state championships  senior year, I competed for my youth summer club team Transy East in Paterson. This was my second to last year competing for this youth team, but I new the natural end was coming. By the time I had reached the young women’s 15 to 18 age group of summer track, I realized a significant number of girls I compete with had stopped competing. By then, high school seniors have either received a college scholarship or decided to quit running. Regardless, by the end of the summer as qualifying rounds for youth nationals approached, conversations about school choices became more frequent. I was fixated on going to Villanova University. The first year, I ran for Transy East, the summer of my junior year of high school, I met Nicholas*. Nicholas was a former member of the team who was also a 400m hurdler. By then, he attended Villanova University in Pennsylvania. Doing research on the school, I noticed the school had a notable reputation in the track and field world and at the time was top 10 in the country for its business school, my intended major. The school was located close to Philadelphia with easily accessible Septa train lines from the campus to the city. I loved Philadelphia. The murals on the walls showed so much culture, and it was nice to be in an area with a large black population. The tall, connected homes reminded me of scenes from Harry Potter and black history oozed from the streets. The Nova campus itself reminded me of my high school. I visited the campus with my mother during my senior year of high school. We drive through a suburban yet concrete area to reach the front of campus which hid behind a large, black gate, like MHCA. Once we enter a gate, there is a small, grassy area to the left and a the athletic facilities, including the notable Pavilion which hosted home basketball games and the Jake Nevin fieldhouse where the track was located.  Directly ahead was the Nova church. Like St. John’s Episcopal church, the building probably dated back to the 1800s or earlier, beautiful grey brick with two steeples. Based on what I saw and new about the campus, I was fixated. I had to attend the school no matter the cost, and this small, private institution of about 6000 students had a large tuition cost. I was determined to work and have numerous personal bests the summer of my senior year to get a scholarship to go to my dream school.

That did not happen.

I ran decent times. I barely hit the walk-on standards for the team. To be honest, I might not have even hit the standard at the time. My summer coaches, Ronald* and Wayne* and the man who helped me look into other schools and coach of Jersey City Gladiators, James* all tried to get me to choose a more affordable school willing to give me an athletic or academic scholarship. I was not interested. Even when Wayne* felt I belonged in a division II institution, I was not changing my mind. By seventeen years old, despite my times, I knew track was my sport and I have the possibility to be one of the best in the country. However, all that conviction did not help me improve my times and this was the first time I was afraid I would not make it onto the team and my track career would be over.

Spoiler alert, I did compete with Villanova as a walk on, but it did not ease my fears for long. By sophomore year, I decided to transfer. Despite improving significantly during my time at Villanova, my times still didn’t seem fast enough to get a full ride to another school. Regardless, I was as fixated on leaving Villanova as I was for going. My mindset was, “I don’t care what is next. I just have to go. God will get me through this”. This was a second time where I believed my track career was over. What if no school wanted me? What if Villanova decided to retract its 50% offer? Where would I go? What if my new coach isn’t good? I was afraid that this decision could end all of my goals of being a world class athlete.

Spoiler alert, I was offered a full ride from Coach Kyle* at the University of Connecticut, but it did not ease my fears for long. By senior year, despite no longer running the 400m hurdles, I ran well. I was Second Team All-American on the team’s 4×400 relay. I was conference champion in the 800m. I competed in NCAA East Regionals in the 800m and missed the second round by .004 seconds. I had other accomplishments as well. Despite these accomplishments, my times still weren’t world class level. I was angry and frustrated. By the end of outdoor season, there were a lot of emotions brewing within the team between the athletes and the coaches. It was overwhelming and not how I wanted to end my track career. Despite these times, I still wanted to run professionally. However, the same questions and others came to my mind. What if no coach wanted me? What if I couldn’t afford to train pro? Where would I go? What if my next coach isn’t good? Again, I was afraid that this decision could end all of my goals of being a world class athlete.

Spoiler alert, I was accepted into the UCONN Department of Communications Graduate Program as a full time student and teaching assistant which waived my tuition and provided a stipend large enough to pay to live. In addition, my 800m coach from UCONN, Coach Mark was willing to continue to train me. However, my fears were not eased for long. In fact, since running post-collegiate, my fears constantly loomed over my head. These fears manifested itself in anxiety levels strong enough to have thoughts of suicide and go to counseling on campus. They also manifested in my dreams. Some of my dreams involve the white car and my identity and the broken school.

 

Witches Competition

I am an avid Harry Potter fan. As a boring, middle class girl with overprotective family, the idea of escaping to this magical world was wonderful. At twenty years old, I went to the Harry Potter theme park at Universal Studios, and I felt like my life was complete. My constant need to escape the loneliness of reality led me to often blend fiction and reality. For years as a little child I believed the cartoons on the television  were real and I only needed to find a way to access the world through the television to be with Jimmy Neutron and others.

I always wanted to be a witch. My dreams reflected that. This dream is one of the few storylines I remember. I was in my backyard in New Jersey with some girls from my high school. My house was deceptively small, and my yard was actually small. I was learning magic for the first time, trying to levitate something with my wand. Fast forward to the end of the dream, I was standing on a diving board high, at least two stories high, above this pool in this dark natatorium with dark wood paneled walls.. The pool was so blue, the water glowed. This woman reminiscent of the flamboyant host in The Hunger Games movie series explains the task. I needed to jump into this pool to prove my magical capabilities. In my attempt to jump, I end up leaping to the wooded walls and running along the walls on some Spiderman shit. On this journey I ran past some African masks hung on the walls. Then I woke up. I don’t know if I actually made it to the pool.

I was about thirteen or fourteen years old but still believed in magic. I believed in the experience of learning. I believed in taking small leaps of faith and excepting where I landed. Like my dream, like most people, magic started at home. It starts on our blocks, in our backyards, or in our basements. I loved Harry Potter because the books always started in the mundane muggle world where some random magical moment unleashes an entire magical adventure. I loved the books because there was a character for everyone. We are or have a Harry Potter, Malfoy, Hermoine, Ron and Voldemort in our lives. We definitely all have a Dumbledore, some caring wise person who is a positive influence, in our lives. Dumbledore is a family member that always throws bible verses at us in every family function. Dumbledore is the teacher who saw a special talent in us and noted it in club recommendations, encouraging comments on coursework or blatant compliments. Dumbledore is a pastor or even a friend.

Today, I believe less in magic but more in this inexplicable human capability to exceed expectations. I believe in this natural human inclination to never be stagnant, either physically, emotionally or intellectually. Think beyond your backyard and take leaps.

 

God wears dreadlocks

I went to St. John’s Episcopal Church for the majority of my childhood. It was a small congregation in a big, classic, grey brick church building. The kind of church buildings with the steeple and the established in the 1800s plaque somewhere mounted in the wall. This is where I met my best friend Avril and her cousin David, who was my first legitimate kiss when I was fourteen years old.

Despite going to church for years, my relationship with God was tumultuous for most of my childhood. To be honest, outside of Sunday school where David and I would play fight or David, Avril and I would go to the church’s backyard where there was a tiny fish pond and stare at the fish or chase each other around the yard, church was boring.  Incredibly boring. There were no other instruments during the service besides the organ. The hymns were clearly from the 1800s. The sermons were always spoken in a calm, low voice. The lighting of the church was dull and supplemented with equally dull candle light that reflected bleakly off the stained glass windows of the Stations of the Cross. Even as an alter bearer at the ages of twelve to about sixteen, I was equally disinterested as I was as part of the congregation.

Some weeks I was more avid to read the bible than others. It was not until I met Maddie.* from my high school that I grew a stronger relationship with God. MHCA was determined to make sure its students were educated in Catholicism. The motto of the school was something something live in Beauty Truth and Joy and honor Mother Mary. It was a part of the pledge we would say every morning or afternoon. Despite constant mass in the school church, handing out free rosary beads, and having the entire student body sign a little red “no sex until marriage” card, which I cashed in early, I was still indifferent about religion. I do respect the sister of one of my religious classes for trying to integrate religious lessons into the movie Mean Girls with Lindsay Lohan. I remember none of the lessons but I remember the girls of my year quoting that movie for weeks.

There were a little over fifty girls in my graduating high school class. Yet, we were still able to racially segregate among ourselves. It is not surprising. The school was in between this small, white town and. . . Paterson, the city where the movie Lean on Me starring Morgan Freeman was based. To be fair, Paterson is diverse with middle class families and poor families. There are areas with gorgeous large homes and streets with worn down, multifamily homes. That diversity showed in the student body. The white girls, and one asian girl, formed the group WhiteOut. The latinx girls were large enough for two groups. One group were the diva girls. The second group were the more artistic and quirky latinx girls and this one black girl that everyone loved. The black girls, all seven of us including me and Maddie, were BlackOut. I am biased, but we were the most poppin group. I was one of the best athletes in my class. We were all honor students. Our leader had connections with the Vice Principal. We were #BlackGirlMagic before it was a popular hashtag.

Maddie transferred after freshman year, but she stayed long enough for us to become close. She was gorgeous. She had beautiful chocolate brown skin, high cheekbones, dark, almond eyes, full lips, a quirky gap and slim waist with an unbelievable shelf booty. She was also the daughter of a pastor. Fun fact, her pastoral dad was briefly in the Lean On Me movie. Her baptist/non denominational church had a smaller congregation than my Episcopal church, but the congregation was predominantly black and more of a large extended family. The Pastor was energetic and talking about God seemed more like talking about a caretaker than this overbearing, omnipresent male watchdog. I didn’t stay in the church after junior year of high school once her congregation/family moved out of my hometown. I started going to St. Luke’s Baptist Church.

One of my most memorable dreams with God was around the time I began taking Christianity more seriously. All I remember was being in what looked like an apocalyptic war zone. A skinny black man in dreadlocks dressed in all black, looking like a black Russel Brand, comes from the darkness and yells “God is here and when I find Him, I am going to kill Him.” So it is safe to say this mystery dark Rasta looking man was not the good guy in this story. Hiding behind an antique car, I heard him and looked across apocalyptic scene to see another skinny, black man with dreadlocks dressed in all white with a large white fur coat. I immediately knew that was God the moment I saw that man.

The older I get, the more I realize God is what you need God to be, and the devil will try to be that as well. The difference between the two is the intention behind each of their presence. I would love to say it’s easy to differentiate between the two, but it is not, especially in the midst of personal apocalypses. I was around fifteen or sixteen during this dream. Around this time, I had my first boyfriend, my parents were getting divorced, and I was a horny hormonal shit show. I needed God to be a male figure in my life.

Racism on the Beach

By God’s grace, I have never been in a life threatening situation, at least not one I can remember or am consciously aware of. However, my time at Mary Help was emotionally stressful. For the longest time, I was confident that I was going to die before age eighteen. I had no disease or death threats. I was not suicidal. I was just confident that I was going to die at a very young age. I believe a lot of those fears began after a dream I had in February around the age of thirteen, which was my freshman year of high school.

Although high school was not too far into the past, it is still difficult to remember all of the details of the dream by sifting through ten years worth of memories. I do remember being on a beach. By this age, most of my dreams are from my point of view. The view was golden hazy. On the beach was a wooden playground where a group of black teens and I played and relaxed. Suddenly, an older white man, wearing country clothing, in other words, the usual stereotype of what a southern white supremacist would look like, appeared with a rifle. You can tell he was on a mission. Like a viral police versus minority teens video, we scattered. I heard the shot go off. I did not feel the bullet, but I hid behind the jungle gym and things went silent. Although the idea of getting shot is terrifying in and of itself, the feeling I felt afterwards was scarier. This was a silence unlike any other, and darkness. The constant hum of existing, like the sound of your breath, your heartbeat, your conscious menial thoughts, your emotions, were all silenced. From the darkness, slowly emerged a light that began to grow and a feeling of peace. Silent peace.

I woke up with a wet feeling down the back of my neck. Still shook, I felt the back of my neck as if the bullet transferred from my unconscious to my reality. To my relief, it was just sweat. I don’t know what death feels like, thank God, but I could imagine it being something similar to what I felt, or didn’t feel, in that dream.

Big-headed Blue Birds

Dreams can be a replay of things that happened in one’s waking life. They can also be premonitions. Based on the people I remember in this dream, I was about ten years old. Some of the supporting actors and actresses in this dream include some children from the summer camp I went to during a time when my mother was working as a child psychiatrist in two different hospitals. From what I remember, I was one of few black children in this camp, thus I did not enjoy myself for the usual reasons of feeling ostracized and judged that many black kids in predominantly white environments felt.

I like to think of this dream as destiny. However, it was before I learned some symbols in dreams have specific meanings. This was one of the first dreams where I was me and not a viewer of me for most of the dream. All I remember, because I am digging through about fifteen years worth of memories, is the dream starting with the ending of a kids movie. I am sitting in an elementary school classroom, similar to the type of rooms in the building where the camp was held. The lights were off and end credits appeared on a large screen in large letters, similar to the type of credits seen at the end of a nineties children’s movie. When the lights turned on, a white boy, assuming to be the popular kid in camp whose name I do not remember, with a Backstreet Boys’ haircut, popular in those times, gets up and walks towards the door. He looks at me and asks “Are you coming with us or are you staying with the birds?” I turn around and four giant cartoon blue birds that are reminiscent of today’s Twitter icon with giant round heads were sitting in a row playing flutes. When I turn to respond to Backstreet Boy kid. I notice the boy and his friends were out of sight. My legs begin to turn like Sonic the hedgehog or the Road Runner from Looney Tunes and I run around the building full speed and catch up to the kids and walk into the sunset with Backstreet boy kid and his squad, whose names I also do not remember.

This was one of the few dreams I can recall sharing with my mother. I love my mother. She is a strong support system in many ways. When I was younger, she was a huge source of knowledge for me. Almost six feet tall, she seemed like soft friendly giant to me and a glimpse into the future. However, I never reached anywhere close to the six foot mark like her. To this day, because I look so much like her, but am physically much smaller than her, people think I am much younger than I am when I am with her. Today she tells me, “You look like an underdeveloped version of me.” Because Dreammoods was not a thing for me, my mother was my dream interpreter. She explained how running in a circle full speed represented the year that would pass until I saw my then summer camp friends again and how fast the year will pass. However, we never fully explained the blue birds or the flutes.

I like to think the blue birds were a small premonition. Around the time of the dream, I had started to play the flute during my fifth grade for my elementary school, Mario J. Draco School #3. I was awful. My first recital was terrible. In the elementary school gym, the school band was seated in front of the stage. The flutists were on the far right of the ensemble. If I can remember, the song was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a classic used in movies when something gets completely demolished. For the majority of the song, I merely held the flute to my mouth and moved my fingers to the beat of the song. When I was feeling extra confident, I would just blow into the flute loud enough to make a sound then continue faking the finger movements. On a positive note, I grew to love the flute; and, with the help of the music teacher that replaced the old one during my sixth grade, my private instructor, and my mother’s relentless nagging to get me to practice at home, I excelled in the instrument. Towards the end of my music career, I could play in harmony with other flutists and for the school talent show, in either the sixth grade at Mario J Draco or during my two years at the small Catholic school in the town over, I played the theme song to Harry Potter. You can imagine the level of nerd emanating from me. I was stick skinny and a huge Harry Potter fan. So much so, that I wanted my first pair of glasses to be round just like Harry Potter. However, I stopped playing the flute when I started high school at Mary Help of Christians Academy, a small all-girls school.

I learned about MHCA during my eighth grade year at St. Claire’s School. SCS was so small, there was one class per grade from pre-K to eighth grade with about thirty children per class. Because the middle school in my neighborhood had a bad reputation of school fights and pregnant pre-teens, my mom enrolled me into this school located across the street from the scenic view of a large cemetery (note the sarcasm). I spent seventh and eighth grade at SCS and did not enjoy my time. Again, I was one of few black children in the school which was a culture shock for me. My small home city, Passaic, is predominantly latinx and working class, not counting the orthodox Jewish community that bordered the division between Passaic and the next town over. Although I was often one of few black children in my classes in Mario J. Draco, the majority of the students in my classes were children of color. MJD also had  a number of students who were immigrants and new to the school or kids who moved from one side of Passaic to another. There was always a new kid or two to meet. SCS was the opposite. The school was small and many of the kids had stayed in my seventh and eighth grades classes from kindergarten to eighth grade. I was this dark, afro-haired outsider thrown into a cult. I disliked the classes. I disliked being in a school so small that I often ate lunch in the classroom where the small class divided among themselves into their respective cliques while I ate at my desk alone in the middle of the classroom. I disliked most of the people in the school. Some of the few great things that came out of SCS included: the realization that I was faster than the other kids in running activities, my good friend Maria, spending another year with my oldest friend Avril, and learning about MHCA. There were other good moments as well, to be fair. The uniform consisting of a maroon top and grey bottoms, either grey pants or  skorts or a plaid maroon and grey skirt, reminded me a little of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry uniform from the Harry Potter series. I enjoyed performing in the school talent show with Avril and Maria as the girl dance group, FAM. I also played on the school’s basketball team and enjoyed the sport. However, we sucked and unlike my flute career, we did not get better with time.

Regardless, I remember when the sisters of MHCA came to St. Claire’s. The eighth grade girls were brought into a different classroom where the sisters talked the usual “come to our school” talk and played their recruiting video. To this day I do not know why I was driven to go. This was a shocking interest considering I was always boy crazy. I loved the idea of love and having crushes. Every year of school I’ve liked someone. St. Claire’s was the first time in my life where I thought some of the Italian boys were somewhat attractive, but I had no interest in any of them. Regardless of the source of the drive, I liked the sisters who came to St. Claire’s and I liked the school more after the visit. The school stood behind a large, black gate. When you enter the gate, there was an open grass, area to the right, more road an open part of the campus with large trees to the left, and you needed to drive up a hill to get to the main entrance of the school, which was a large orange building similar to Mario J. Draco School #3. The orange, brick building, consisting of classrooms and the cafeteria, was only part of the school campus. Connected to the orange building, a little further up the hill, was the church and connected to the church was another building where classes were also held. I don’t know if it was the campus that reminded me of the hilly school of Hogwarts and my old elementary school, the girls who were a mixture of girls of different races, or the mascot which was of course, the blue jay, but I had to go to MHCA.

A Short Fall and Chase

The stronger my spirituality with God grew, the louder I heard God speak to me, primarily in my dreams. The earliest dreams I can remember were two dreams I had under the age of five. I don’t remember the exact age of these dreams, but these were the earliest dreams that stayed with me. My first dream was short and straightforward. All I remember was standing on the top of my staircase in my New Jersey. The staircase is thirteen steps high with nothing but wall on either side of the staircase. The stairs were carpeted with a worn blue carpeting. I stood at the top of the stairs and then watched myself tumble down the stairs to the wooden floor at the bottom. It was silent and it happened quickly. I don’t remember being pushed or tripping over anything. One minute I was at the top, the next minute I was at the bottom. Before I woke, I was two figures, one assuming to be my mother and another begin to approach me and I woke up. That was it.

The second dream takes a dark turn. I was in the staircase of a dark, almost pitch black, and worn down apartment building. Out of nowhere appeared a toy half my size approach me. The small toy moved on wheels reminiscent of a tractor with metal claws for arms. Seemed innocent enough until I realized the head of this toy was my grandmother’s head. All I remember was this toy chasing me through this dark apartment building with those claws reaching for me.

These dreams seemed irrelevant to me for years. They were probably irrelevant then as well. Knowing that dreams are combinations of memory, subconscious thoughts and feelings and, on a spiritual level, messages from a higher power, those dreams were probably the results of my fear of heights and some child movie with animated toys or some major character falling down the stairs. However, those dreams seem to explain the overall theme of my life. Starting at the top then falling unexpectedly in the most anti climatic way and avoiding conversation with family.

Relative-headed toys is only the beginning of what develops in my mind up to this point.