Dreamed 1994/2/3 by Chris Wayan
I drift, feverish with flu. I drift into a feverdream...
A girl climbs in my window and falls in my bed. Not a modern girl--from 16th Century China. I have to get her story in Chinese obviously, and to my surprise I get the gist. She's twelve or thirteen, a runaway fleeing an abusive home. She was a servant; not called a slave, but in fact she was. Her master raped her and beat her every day. They all knew and no one said a thing.
I offer to teach her the language and the dangers of this strange society and feed and shelter her and never ever beat her; I'm in poor health, a poor scholar who cannot afford a wife. She's overjoyed--readily fits me into her world-view. I'm lonely and need a maid who'll keep me warm at night, hold me and pet me and remind me to eat, and teach me about sex--gently. An ideal offer, from her viewpoint. Despite her age I'm attracted to her and go along with this. Swear to myself to try to please her.
I ask her "What do YOU like?" She's stunned by my question--has no idea. No one's ever asked. No one's ever touched her gently. She starts crying and I hold her. She massages my back and neck where the fever hurts the worst.
To my surprise, instead of staying with these charged sexual images I find I'm telling her how to survive in America; and we talk dreamily on and on--mostly language-teaching. Only I'm relearning Chinese rather than teaching her English!
This could keep her isolated. I justify it by thinking "They'd assume she was from modern China and deport her, she has no papers..." But when my dream gets to the point where my secret sex-kitten starts going to school and meeting other Chinese speakers and making her own friends, and coming home wanting cool shoes and a CD player... I have to face my fantasy WANTED her isolated, dependent. I felt so much love for her--and she's my own battered lonely self at 12, of course--yet that love is controlling and possessive, for I don't want that self to grow up, turn independent, materialistic--able to judge me through American eyes, and walk away. I'm far more shocked that I want to keep her ignorant and dependent than that I want to make love to her. For it is love.
My aches and fever keep me unable to dream deep. Keep waking. Want to masturbate: an orgasm or two, even feeble ones, usually relax me enough to sleep. So I deliberately try to find a purely sexual fantasy and make no judgments. But a second, equally guilt-charged image appears from a book I just read: Eliza, in Norma Klein's It's OK If You Don't Love Me. Eliza's half-sister Jo calls her "a really evil child. I suppose evil sounds too melodramatic. She's not actually a Bad Seed or anything, but she's always had a kind of calculating air like she was sizing people up and figuring what she could get out of them. She's pretty, with black straight hair, kind of skinny. When she was little, [her mom] used to dress her in dresses that just grazed her buttocks and she'd go swirling around the house like some miniature Barbie doll..." She's not just practicing how to manipulate males, she's already a full-time pro.
So as long as I'm bad and manipulative and want to exploit a little girl, and you're evil and manipulative and want to exploit someone older, let's be bad together, Eliza. I masturbate, imagining Eliza the little teen schemer crawling in with me, in exchange for something she's after... maybe she's Satanic Barbie, but isn't that all I deserve? If that...
I come, but sleep doesn't.
Can't stop thinking. Even though they're pure fantasy and feverdreams, is this all I have at my sexual core? Madonna and whore! Stereotypes from my parents' era, with the added worry of pedophilia? Victims or bad seeds, abusers or abused... ugh. When I'm sick or stressed is this what I revert to--are these the only roles for lovers I believe in, down deep?
Nightmares aren't just when you're being chased by monsters. The worst nightmares are when you find you're a monster yourself.
A controlling monster.
Eliza, Yulan... I set you free. Fly free. Learn English, assimilate, be normal, be happy. Find love without strings... good luck.
Yeah, good luck with that one! And a trace of skeptical self-respect, like a candle-flame, sputters and flares, then burns steady. It turns and bows to the wall of shadowy shame, and says "So everyone else loves without games, selflessly. It's only him, eh?" And slowly... the wall sags back before the light of a small truth.
The monster relaxes, and slides into sleep. Tomorrow, when the fever breaks--then the struggle resumes. To learn to love.
But you can't struggle all the damn time.
Footnote: "Rescue fever" is real. David Brin, in "Startide Rising", describes it as a mass hysteria in which dolphins will rush to rescue stranded friends on a shoal or beach, and get stranded themselves. They're smart enough to know better, but that doesn't stop any of us, does it?
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