by Alyanna Batoy
(Trigger Warning: Internalised racism, implied SA, implied internalised homophobia)
You were in my dream last night, as you had been last year and the year before that. Only everything is different. Only everything is exactly the same.
In the first dream, you were on the windowsill with a cat that we called Christmas - waiting for me. It was a fantasy, a myth. Sat there, each elixir breath swamping the plastic in my lungs, whispering into me: be alabaster skinned, be the coat of snow on cherry blossoms, be six figures, be the lock to the key, the mortar to the pestle, the tunnel, the void.
A scene soundtracked by church bells from the day before, I made my mum proud. The ancestry knows little of me, so let this be the lasting impression: where I get saved and the life I was meant for is mine. Everything is in its place. Everything is exactly as it should be.
With Christmas in your lap, at that moment I decided he needed a friend. So our daughter would be called Iris for the blue in your eyes. She would hold it in her. The power of being of you. The power of being Christmas’ best friend.
Could I make her less of me, more of you? So she won’t use up all the ink in the class photos like I did? So she gets a shot at being an angel in the Nativity and not a sheep? So she’ll sleep easy in the country she was born in?
I woke up in the foetal position. The LEDs were sprawled around my straw doll body, blaring red from when I hid my brown skin and scars each time we spoke. Red, warm and blistering. If only I could tolerate it longer. I’m no stranger to the blows. It’s good morning good morning good night good night good morning how are you good good good night good night. I’m starving. We’re not doing monotony, grey scale man. I’m starving. I’ve been empty since I was a girl. You’re making me thin, you’re making me thin. Why am I the only one trying? Play your part, play it well.
But not like this. No, not like this.
I flinch when I hear your name. And yet, I’m only a name on a list to you.
It’s your name that takes up space in therapy. It’s lines of formality, double-barreled at the end. Not a syllable is out of place.
“I have loved you since I was sixteen,” I cry into my pillow to a boy, overgrown, who’s not really there.
It’s like this for the rest of my life.
By the second dream, I wanted to kill you. But here, you were my father.
Molecularly, I was everything I wanted. I was made of it. Iris. The outer ring, bordering the black void, shrinking and growing depending on light. Depending on love. Depending on whether you’re concussed.
In your arms, it smells like petrichor, like a baptism. You emitted a feeling that was different from what I knew. Ah, you loved me because you had to.
Even after everything, I was looking to be loved by you. If not as a lover, as a child? It didn't feel impossible.
Until I woke up. Through fluttering eyelids in denial, it gathered in each midday sun ray, the ache that I had lost you again, as I had previously lost my religion. Or rather, it had lost me.
In this last dream, I’m an adult now with adult problems - somehow you’re still one of them.
Shopping bags pool around my feet. Double take and you’re in front of me. Jumpcut to my white open-plan city apartment, which is a lot like you in many ways. Looking to be loved by you. Looking to live in you, always.
And we’re talking, we’re drinking, we’re laughing at the past. At my juvenile obsession, at your stupidity. As if both don’t still exist. The red wine matched my hair, fried from years of dye, the only colour in the room beside the bags of fruit, beer. Meat. You’re as beautiful as I once made you out to be.
This you works for a non-profit, ditched that architecture degree long ago, you say. This you combats racism, you say. Specifically female victims, you say. I’m making up for what I did to you every day, you say. And it’s beautiful. And it’s devastating. Because, like what you are to me, what you have always been, it wasn’t real.
But it’s a memory. I know this part well, the lyrics come out of me, not a second thought about it. Where I laugh with a dream, he leaves, and I cry.
I can’t stop writing about you.
When it ended, I wrote about driving into the ocean. Suffocate me with the blue I once fell for - fall for. Then, I wrote about when the snow fell in January where, this time, I leave. But when I do, the path goes brown, rocks and dead leaves stuck to the mounds of white like severed limbs. Follow me, I begged. Follow me as I follow you. Return the favour.
You couldn’t. As a father tries to love their child. The follower calls out for their cruel God. The sad daughter of immigrants claws the white off the man who killed her. Sleeping with the enemies, they said. But that makes it sound peaceful. The pillow between us that you laugh at in hindsight was the only protection I had.
Have you noticed that in my dreams, we’re not naked? We never are.
Sometimes, I’m naked and I slam the laptop shut. Cut the cameras, I cry to no one. Throw the blindfold into the air. Hopefully, it’ll fall over your eyes. I feel you on me all the time. I’ve inherited your gaze, aren’t you proud?
You sent me a friend request two days before it marked two years since things ended. I hit decline. Decline. Decline. Decline. One for each shattered dream, one for luck. You were the worst thing that has ever happened to me. You were the only thing I’ve ever wanted this bad.
Because our dreams together are never nightmares. I’ll want that dream every day.
About the Piece
"This prose piece takes inspiration from a particularly traumatic past relationship of mine. The relationship was born out of obsession, particularly my hunger to fit into conservative British society to "make up" for the fact that I wasn't white. After a while, I became the victim of casual racism and betrayal, which caused me to end the relationship. But, he would find a way into my dreams, even after several years. It was as if my brain was still longing for him - or rather, the version of myself I could be if I stayed with him. This piece is certainly not from my current voice at all, at least not consciously. But I'd say I gave that part of my brain, the part that still craves him, a voice. One that explores the internalised parasite of racism and the expectations that society can leave on a non-white teenage girl, especially in their first experience with straight romantic relationships."
"Fun fact: I named the piece INCUBUS after the folklore demon that seeks to have sexual intercourse with sleeping women, but the term is also used in modern psychology to the type of nightmare that gives a person the feeling of a heavyweight or oppression on the chest and stomach."
- Alyanna Batoy
About the Writer
I'm Alyanna, a Filipina-British aspiring writer and filmmaker. My creative endeavours range from screenwriting and filmmaking to poetry and prose. My work typically explores the marginalised identity, ruminating on the queer, immigrant, and working-class perspective.