It’s OK if I spill milk as long as it was my idea

The last time I ever imagined fully was with Riho Watanabe and we were in year two. We were on the bus back to school from a swimming lesson and had built ourselves a world that was doomed. We invented robot rabbits to save the day and made them do a great job at it. Riho took the goggles from off her head and bent the two lenses back onto one another, clicking them together like castanets and pretending that it was a million sets of hands clapping for the robots and telling them, Thank you! Thank you! The world, it’s saved!

Riho had obviously helped come up with the robot-rabbit thing because honestly, it was a little juvenile for my taste, even though I was seven years old and in love with my Pantheon-shaped dollhouse. Riho’s kind of imagining was useless and unproductive, as in, what purpose did it serve besides merely existing? I say this because I am resentful. Because I wish I could have thought of something outside of this planet and its flora and its fauna. To this day, the only otherworldly thing I have managed to imagine is what god looks like: tall with curly hair, wearing a raglan t-shirt and a baseball cap, his name is Adam and he wears red high-top converse. I thought up the creator of the universe and still, he has the allure of a triscuit.

*

There are two kinds of imagining. Number one: Building a fourth dimension (or, inventing). And number two: Projecting onto a preexisting future (which is basically adding salt to what your mum’s made for dinner). 

*

I would have trouble sleeping and baba would bring me warm milk and turmeric which never worked because I hate milk, so he would lean his bald head over my top bunk and tell me, think happy thoughts. And I would be like, what does that even mean? Then I would think up a cartoon unicorn in a paddock and for some reason, I could see all four of its legs at once, and I would play that one subtle-motion still-image on a three-hour loop until eventually, I would fall asleep.

*

Divine energy used to visit me right before I fell asleep and so for ten years all I wanted was to go to bed. Divine energy would fix everything. It thickened in the white space between my knuckles. It felt like the gauze tucked under your gums after an exodontia. It felt like edible smog. It visited me on the brittle porcelain brink of dreaming. You know the one. The same one that first turns your limbs into a control centre and then renders them absolutely useless. The same one that feels like falling falling falling through marshmallow that is bottomless, until it’s not.

I was ten when my parents went out for dinner and I let myself fall asleep in their bed. I tested my imaginary thing’s density and it was cartilage. It was rubber. It was T.V. static in my arms and thighs and open mouth and then it was nothing, because I was cupped between my dad’s gentle but really very inconsiderate hands and I was awake. I worked so hard for my imaginary thing and I’m not going to give it away to any old fulan because that means there’s less for me.

*

Imagine that I am at Rawda Cafe with my mum, her friend Rola, and Rola’s daughter, Zein. I am in year four and two years Zein’s senior. I don’t know how to write Al Rawda for the people who haven’t been before but I might do it anyway, I think it’s important. If you already know Al Rawda, feel free to skip ahead, you don’t need this next bit as much as the others do.

If you don’t know Al Rawda, it looks like this: a rendering that is eighty percent finished. A concrete structure on the periphery of the shore. The chairs and tables are dark green plastic. This placeholder description is all to say: Al Rawda is a skeleton province. Al Rawda is scaffolding in the same way that everything that will ever happen is scaffolding too. Everything that has ever been built was built to be built over. Al Rawda is asking, turn me into something.

Zein and I wove between the Cafe, the rocks, the fence, the inlet. We were looking for unhatched faerie eggs. The first one I found was small and pink and speckled and when I held it up to the light between my thumb and index finger, I saw the silhouette of a tiny tiny body that had thin wings and hair like Botticelli’s Venus. The thrill! The thrill was pure euphoria so I frantically, desperately, swiftly picked up every little stone that looked like magic and stared and stared and stared until my eyeballs stung and my eyelashes tickled because time was running out but still, the pebbles were empty. Every single one was empty and I hated myself for it. And so, I learnt what it is like to feel something wane before you want it to.

*

I never had an imaginary friend and for my entire life have felt like I’ve missed the boat or like I’m late to the party or like maybe my life as a creative is based on a lie that I am too scared to admit. I am, undoubtedly, a phony. 

*

I was with Zein again and we were walking from her house in Zabbougha to the dukkan in Zabbougha. I was now twelve and she was now ten. Between us: knots. Between us: millenia. Between us: I had a somewhat-boyfriend and she didn’t. She started improvising—no prompt no warning—and it was something along the lines of, we are now in our twenties with maybe-husbands and maybe-babies. And in my head I was like, this is silly and I am above this, but still, I played along, pretending that my engagement ring was just the cut I’d asked for and putting on a tongue that was ten years ill-fitting. Saying popped the question and tied the knot even though the whole thing was passe, because when your grandma brings you a glass of two percent and it is slightly soured, you learn to like the taste of buttermilk. 

*

There is a Vice article that came out in 2017 that, when I read it, scared me shitless. The article gives a nice, broad, surface-level understanding of what it means to be addicted to your self-constructed and insular fantasies. It talks about trauma but also, it is more than that. It is about your real life falling apart because your bogus one is so much more fun to be in. I read it knowing that it wasn’t me but still, I came away thinking, yes, this is definitely my life because my imagining it makes things perfect, and that makes reality unsatisfying.

My relationship to daydreaming is not maladaptive, and it’s not really all that deep. All day I hold out for a bedtime that is actually pre-bedtime, where I side-lie and think up all the things I could be: unreservedly needed, the author of a very successful poetry collection, an unopened but slowly slowly curdling tub of yoghurt at a bar in the Bay Area or, in other words, unrecognisable.

*

I came up with a theory late last year that was meant to solve all my problems. To help me move on from a year of heartbreak and hell, I decided that everyone’s small flaws manifest because of one big-time, core flaw. So, for example, my dad’s core flaw is that he values intention over perception. For example, my ex’s core flaw is that they value things in theory, not in practice. For example, my core flaw is that I cannot reconcile my expectations versus my reality, but actually wait maybe that’s not it. Maybe it’s something like: I spoil my real life with my invented one. I like when every single thing around me is of my own genesis because you know what that means? It means expectation. It means control.

When things don’t go according to plan—and by that I mean, when I have imagined hard and deep about the way a party, conversation, date, riverside walk will play out and it doesn’t happen that way—I end up doubled over in my ex’s parents’ standing shower in Vermillion Parish, Louisiana, scalding my skin and telling myself, the reason you can’t breathe is from the steam, the reason you’re shaking is from the heat. I tuck myself into bed, I lie on my right side, I cry, I imagine that ten minutes from now, my partner will check on me and they will say something that is nice but not perfect. Something like, I’ll get into bed and clinch the jitters out of you, just let me finish this beer first.

*

On a flight home from Hanoi I close my eyes and coming out of my right nostril is a long exposed blood vessel, or vein, or nerve—I don’t know how these things work and frankly, I don’t care to. It’s black and blue and prickly like the stem of a rose, or a certain kind of offal that I can’t identify. I open my eyes and the dangling blood-cord is roped back up my nose, into my brain. This was not a purposeful imagination, in fact, I think I might have been asleep. 

On a flight to Cebu it is three in the morning and the whole plane is either asleep or watching a movie. The lights are off. The porthole shades are down. I slide mine back up, and across the sky can see stars as though they’re bumps on a popcorn wall. I hate how many there are because there is no way it’s real. The memory gets worse: I see in slow-motion a green and blistering thing move across the astronomic wall. I guess that’s what it means to see a shooting star up close, so close that I can see where one speck of fire ends and another starts. I can see every colour that exists. I swear I can hear the damn thing too, but that’s not right because aeroplane engines are so incredibly loud and anyway, I have my headphones on, listening to Immunity by Jon Hopkins—a song that follows me around for three years. I hear it in friends’ cars, mixtapes, and at their parties. I hate them for it. I hear the song and think, come on, not you again

I was the only one who saw the star, and it was three in the morning, and I had been crying, and I was in a weird place all around, where everything reminded me of the dinosaurs and that prophetic asteroid of theirs. Sometimes I want it to be real so that I can say, hell yeah I saw it what do you mean I’m lying? Sometimes I want it to be fake, to prove that I really can imagine things from scratch, even if I haven’t seen it before.

*

In February I started picturing myself one year from now, at a California bar with long and dark and varnished wood board and red leather stools. I would be a tub of greek yoghurt. One that was bought yesterday: brand new. One with an expiration date of tomorrow: rotten and only a little old. I wrote a poem and it said I am wind through a conifer. It said I am a ziploc full with convolved ligament and liquid. It said I am a hummmmm hummmm and a buzz and a flick-switch tick tick tick. It said I am things that I am not but I said them so they are real.

When I was sixteen I daydreamed about my boyfriend at the time bringing over a friend of his, and the friend making me feel like a rotten chicken cutlet if he were a hungry fly, does that make sense? I imagined my boyfriend kicking him out of our house, maybe they’d get into a fight, maybe we would. What do you want me to say, that I’m a masochist? I don’t think that’s it. I dream myself a life that is just the right kind of flawed. Imperfect enough to have the agency to complain, good enough to still be happy about it.

*

Remember the robot rabbits? I wish I could do that on my own. I got close once, on New Year’s Day, at five in the morning. I lay in my best friend’s housemate’s bed on the comedown and imagined Horus, the Egyptian god, as a wooden statue. Wrapped several times around his beak was a snake: red and black and yellow-ochre. It was either a king snake, a milk snake, or a coral snake, the first two of which are not venomous to humans in the slightest, the last one catastrophically so. I really want to figure out which snake I’d brought to mind, for the symbolism, for the omen, for the clarity of knowing what it is my brain does when I don’t ask it to do anything in particular. The serpent was squeezing so tight and so slow that I could hear the wood cracking not on the surface, but deep from the inside of its fibres. I was so delighted about the vision that I stayed awake another three hours. I’m doing it! I thought, I’m imagining! 

*

He filled the bathtub and put me in it. He closed the door and jammed it with a metal rod even though my door knob doesn’t work that way. I was swooning and smiling. My eyes were twice their size and connected directly to my pumping heart. Everything was good. Everything was love. He was in jeans, belted with thick red cord and an airline seat belt buckle. He still had his shoes on. He pulled a knife out from behind his back. He placed one hand on my shoulder and with the other, tilted my head forward and sideways. He started cutting the nerve behind my ear, pulling it out little by little like string. Like splinter. Like Bozo and his endless chain of handkerchiefs if you are deeply in love with clowns. It was pillow-down, I was calico, wanting desperately to fist everything inside of me and seal it with thread for safeguarding. This feeling? It wasn’t going anywhere. Not if I could help it. He was gentle and I was laughing and when he was getting the knife ready he asked what kind I needed. I thought maybe I should call Triple Zero but I didn’t because that would be so embarrassing. I loved him.

 

Lujayn Hourani is a Palestinian writer, editor, and arts worker based in Naarm. Their work has been published in Meanjin, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Going Down Swinging, and Voiceworks, among others. You can find more of their writing here.

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