Dreams are a powerful way of getting to know yourself. Sometimes I have dreams that stay with me throughout the day. Some dreams are still as vivid as they were the nights I had them. Some warrant writing down for whatever message I might glean from the mysteries of my mind.
The old man taught me photography. He wanted me to learn what it was like to see the world with a different eye, through different lenses. My lessons took place in the room with the Persian rugs and heavy dark furniture. There was always something cooking but I don’t remember ever having something to eat while I was there.
It was dark all the time, even in the day. They never drew open the curtains to let in the sunlight. I thought that odd and questioned the old man because everyone knows photography is all about light.
On the days of my lessons, I was told to come through a special door off a back alley. I never went through a front door and now I’m not even sure there was a front door. I had to squeeze through a hidden hallway and through a wall to get to the apartment. I loved my instructor and he mussed my hair whenever I arrived, his smile paternal and sad at the same time.
I was young, so young and not completely aware of what was going on though I knew his life was different from mine. There were a number of women who lived in the apartment, his wife, her sisters and their daughters. I never saw other men and was too afraid to ask if there were any. The women were told to leave the room during my lessons, as if my schooling was too much for a mere woman to understand. They eyed me with suspicion and I knew I wasn’t welcome by them.
One day I was restless and grew bold. Something was happening in town and I heard voices from the window out on the roof. I stepped out of the window to see what all the excitement was about. I followed the steps down to a screened porch where a man stood looking out into the street. I watched the man who hadn’t seen me yet. I stood there in awe, like a criminal looking into another person’s rooms, the apartment of another family and was surprised it was there hidden from the street.
The man turned to look at me and I became frightened. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be out there, a peeping Tom, and realized immediately I had done something terribly wrong. Guilt over took me and I began to sweat. The look on the man’s face surprised me and made me want to wretch. What I saw was a wickedness I had seen on the faces of soldiers as they grabbed young girls off the street. I was afraid and stepped back inside the window of my instructor’s apartment. I could swear I heard the man on the porch say, “I knew it.” And he smiled.
I bolted out of the room that led to the roof and ran into the room with the Persian rugs bumping into the bosom of my instructor’s wife. She saw the look on my face and we both knew at that moment it was all over. I had finally learned my lesson, seeing what was being taught to me and that my instruction was now at end.
They’d be coming to take my family away.
The women wailed. I cried. The old man hung his head as he gently placed his hand on my head. I knew I had let him down.
After they took the family away I was standing in a courtyard with my mother and father. I was holding my sister’s hand. My Aunt Jennie and a cousin were singing a beautiful song in Italian. I was trying to video tape it but I couldn’t see through the lens for my tears.
The water rushed in fast. It swept my little cousin away who was buying ice cream at the truck whose song rang even after the water washed it down the street. Some neighbors tried to help and one was carrying a tray of food she was delivering to an old woman who lived by herself.
I got scared, scooped up my camera and jumped into my old professor’s apartment now occupied by another family. I held my camera high in hopes of capturing the mayhem in the streets from the apartment on an upper floor. As I lowered the camera, the woman of the house approached me screaming about a monster. The water nearly washed my camera out of my hand. The woman brought me inside where the same Persian rugs of my instructor’s room were tattered and worn. I helped her pull them up for they were saturated with the rising water. We hung them over the railings to dry. The hard wood floors which were once polished and shiny when I was here for my lessons were now scraped and dull, unkempt and I grew sad for my old man and his family understanding my part in his downfall.
I looked past the flood that swept my own family away. I put down my camera that had gotten wet and realized I didn’t need it to see any more. I couldn’t weep, for who weeps for oneself and that loathsome selfishness that wreaks destruction? How could I weep for myself that I hid behind a different set of eyes and had not seen through my own?
Had the old man been teaching me ancient secrets that I discarded not understanding it might have saved the lives of my loved ones; secrets of the heart that might have saved my own life? How could I live with myself knowing the wickedness in a man’s heart?
There was no monster in those waters. The monster swam in my heart in a channel of self-loathing and uncaring. The monster was me looking out to devour every soul it came upon in its blind search for more.
I wanted more out of my life and I consumed greedily what should have taken time to appreciate. Life cannot be captured in a photograph, only an image of what has past, that without light, the image can never be produced. What good is seeing an image of a life that was never lived in the first place, one that has been kept in the dark and never allowed to grow? One needs light to see and the eyes of one’s heart open before life can be looked at from a different angle.
The dream is lost. I always forget the final message. But I had this dream before. It always ends the same way. I feel so arrogant, so selfish and yet I never change.
How come, after all the old man had taught me, I still cannot see?