Somebody came close to strangling me with a telephone cord. I have to clarify, that happened in a dream, though.
All right, so that sounded saner in my head.
But I do have a recurring dream about a telephone almost wrapping its cord around my neck. The first time I had this dream, I was in the eighth grade. However, as to who was doing it, I don’t know; the face was blurred out. The telephone they were holding was white with a rotary dial – the old kinds you see in museums and what I saw at my grandfather’s house. At the time he did say it still worked, so why throw it out.
Veering off subject here, but back to my dream. I was lying on my bed, looking up at the ceiling, tuning out the noise happening outside of crickets and the occasional rustling of the bushes outside my window. I didn’t have a problem with the silence, but then I snapped out of my trance and noticed a telephone appear on the night table next to me. The white rotary with its cord flowing over the table edge like an animal’s tail.
I sat up in bed, stunned, wondering where this came from. I reached out to feel if it was real. Maybe my grandfather left this for me as a present since he realized how much it intrigued me.
This was becoming silly, I thought. Something horrible and spooky would happen from me staring at this antique.
I lied back down, and pondered. Waited. Listened to the silence.
From out of nowhere, someone lunged at me and clasped my mouth. I made an effort to scream, but nothing emerged from my mouth. The glove pressed down on my lips and pushed into my teeth to the point where I heard a crack; some of my teeth had broken. This stranger reached over to the nightstand, grabbed the telephone, and pulled my head forward to wrap the telephone cord around my neck from the front. The cord pulled upward on the front of my neck, and the cord wrapped tighter and tighter as the stranger snuffed every last breath out of me.
Oxygen got sucked out of me. White spots appeared in my vision. My head became lighter. Blood dripped from my eyes.
I hit the person on the shoulders and the arms with anger and desperation, holding on to my life driving me at full throttle to fight back. I punched at the face, but he was stronger. Or maybe I was just weak and losing oxygen to the brain.
Something about this individual stood out to me as I panted for my last breath: a white, round object sparkled on my attacker’s hand. I wasn’t sure if this white, round object was there or one of the several spots that flecked my eyesight.
Unconsciousness took a hold of me.
And then I would wake up.
“… And that’s how it was, doctor,” I said, finishing my story. “The same dream that first came up when I was in the eighth grade. It occurred once in a while through my adolescence, but it really became prominent in the last six months.”
The white couch I sat on provided me comfort. Outside, storm clouds gathered, and the breeze from outside swept across my neck and bare forearms. My psychiatrist’s office had the low light glow about it, with a coffee table between us and a tray on it with coffee mugs in them. The office furniture I recognized as being purchased from a favorite department store of mine. I’m not knocking that store, but I can identify their furniture.
“Became more prominent now?” my psychiatrist asked. “How so? Do you see the images in the dream more clearly? Can you recall what happens?”
The ticking of the clock on the wall punctured the silence. Even my own breathing became louder in the room, alternating with the sound of that clock’s second hand. So much anticipation as I waited for the doctor to say something. You’d think that paying $400 a month out of my paycheck plus shelling out a $50 co-pay per therapy session would benefit you in some way.
“So why do you think you’ve been having this dream consistently for six months?” the psychiatrist said.
“I’m no dream interpreter, but I think the telephone is a symbol. Me getting strangled by it is somehow telling me I’m not very good at communicating. But that’s stupid, right? How can I be bad at communicating? I work in media relations for a clothing store. It’s my job to hype up anything you bring my way. If you’re selling hemorrhoid cream, I can help make that trend on any given social media.”
“You tell me about a friend you once had in school. Nicole.”
Nicole. Nicole Bosworth.
“Yeah, I mentioned her in our second session,” I said.
“And how you believe your life never was the same when both your paths diverged when you got older?” Dr. Allen asked.
“Yeah, I became more withdrawn – in school, when hanging out with friends … I developed a great circle of friends and Nicole …”
Uttering her name was like bile on my tongue. Nicole. Yuck!
“Her popularity in school exploded,” I said. “Everybody wanted to be her friend, and that overwhelmed me. She saw that, and we drifted apart. Friendships, they come and go. The nature of the beast. Nicole grew close with my Aunt Tina when we were growing up, after I moved in with my aunt because my parents got killed in a car accident,” I said. “Nicole thought of my aunt like a surrogate mom. And because Nicole was having her own problems with her family, she liked to visit us often. Aunt Tina never had any children of her own, but was always comparing us two, saying how I should be more like her and how Nicole is like the daughter she wishes she could have. Before moving in with Aunt Tina, I thought my parents’ deaths were the low point of my childhood.”
Somberness draped over me. “I had a great circle of friends,” I said. “I love my job. Isn’t that enough? Haven’t I been able to get by in life on my own strength, and not on someone else’s definition of strength?”
“You have worked so hard to get to where you are in your career and your life while staying who you are as an introvert. That’s good.”
A smile inched its way across my lips. I thought about Nicole and how her big mouth sometimes got her into fights – and trouble – on school grounds and in hallways, both when we were friends, and after.
Dr. Allen smiled, and her eyes brightened with a sympathetic glow. “Introversion is not a mental disorder. There are extroverts, and there are introverts. The world is divided into two camps. If everyone were an extrovert, the world would be too noisy, and if everyone were an introvert, the world would be too quiet. We need both, a balance.”
“Dr. Allen, because of my insomnia, at least – I insist – at least give me a prescription for it. This dream I’ve been having – I can’t go back to sleep and it’s affecting my work now. I run late for meetings and forget to reply to work emails.”
“I’ll give you a mild dosage of a sleep medication, but personally, I don’t think you need any to help you sleep. I prefer we work on the exercises in getting to the core root of your problems first, and then we’ll see.”
My tired eyes did not stray away from Dr. Allen while she pulled a prescription pad toward her and scribbled on it with her pen. While she did this, my conversation went back to figuring out the identity of the murderer in my dream. The white, round object, which sparkled, too. What was that? A piece of jewelry?
Dr. Allen ripped off the sheet and gave it to me. “Here you go.”
I did what I could to decipher the scrawl. “What’s …” I put the paper to my face, the sheet nearly touching the tip of my nose and pulled the prescription slip away from me. “Zolpidem?”
“Zolpidem. It’s a generic drug. As with any drugs, this comes with side effects. I want to keep a close eye on you to see if any of them come up.”
The psychiatrist didn’t look up from the folder she wrote in. My folder, with my name “Gilman, S.” in red on its tab. If you want to get my life and my psyche at a glance, check Dr. Allen’s folder.
A few more minutes of questions and answers, and I left her office, prescription slip in hand. Memories of Aunt Tina and Nicole crashed upon me like an avalanche. My cell phone rang and I answered it. I can’t even get a hello in before Aunt Tina’s voice burst forth from the reception.
“I’ve been doing some spring cleaning and I want to see if you can stop by my house today and pick up something. It’s an antique. I know how much you like those kinds of things, reading about them, visiting those conventions and such,” Aunt Tina said.
I haven’t spoken much with her since I moved out after college fifteen years ago, but she had me at “antique.”
We agreed that I’d see her in 20 minutes, since she’s across town. I got into my car. While on the road, grey clouds loomed before me and in the sky, settling into their positions as their brooding became more pronounced.
Upon driving up to Aunt Tina’s split-ranch house at the cul-de-sac, I discovered a red Mustang in her driveway. Seeing the manufacturer’s emblem daunted me; considering the real estate market value of Aunt Tina’s neighborhood, no way could anyone living on the street afford the car parked in the driveway. Plus, she lives alone so the car must belong to a friend.
Aunt Tina emerged at her doorway as soon as I parked at the curb. “Sophie!” she called out while I came up the walkway.
“I have to get back to work,” I said, cutting into her niceties, “so whatever you want me to pick up, point the way and I’ll do it.”
No reminiscing, no catching up, no trip down memory lane – I have no interest in seeing how she’s doing, at least not now when I’m awkward-slash-pissed at her. Yet Aunt Tina, in an understandable yet irritating way, had to say something.
“Oh, Sophie, whatever you have to do, you can go back to it later. Considering your life, it’s not like anyone will call you with an urgent invitation to a VIP.”
Yep, dear Aunt Tina had to say something.
She guided me through the foyer and the living room to the kitchen.
“I’ll get you the antique, but first, say hello to –”
If only I stayed in therapy another hour, for sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of tea, sat Nicole Bosworth.
With her red fingertips wrapped around the teacup, Nicole set down her cup, its rim stained with red lipstick. She smiled at me. Nicole emerged from her seat and approached me with extended arms. In my memory, when she greeted people, she greeted people: her voice charged forth and her boldness overcame the person she was meeting with the aura of a lion. She sucked up so much oxygen in the room you need your own oxygen tank.
As she approached me, I hugged her, my eyes caught a view of the white, shiny object that glinted from her left hand, the image that recurred in my dream: her ring.
“I haven’t seen you since high school!” I said, refraining from screaming the next sentence, “And you should have stayed there and out of my life!” as though saying that would send her back in time and out of my sight.
Nicole rubbed her throat. She let go of her embrace of me. Aunt Tina moved toward Nicole and faced me as she placed her hands on Nicole’s shoulders. The top of Aunt Tina’s head met at Nicole’s shoulders, and Nicole wore tan flats.
“Nicole has laryngitis, so she can’t speak much,” Aunt Tina said, placing her hands on Nicole’s upper arms and squeezing them.
Nicole has laryngitis? Wow, miracles do happen.
“So it seems that you’ll have to carry the burden of the conversation,” Aunt Tina said.
Both women giggled at Aunt Tina’s joke. Sorry, I should put “joke” in quotes. Their little derisions at my expense haven’t got old.
“I’ll be right back, but Sophie, sit down and catch up!” Aunt Tina said.
She exited the kitchen as I sat down at the table, across from Nicole. She had a tablet propped up on a Wi-Fi keyboard.
The quietness of the environment contrasted with what was happening to me on the inside. My stomach nipped at my interiors as I strained to hear some noise – any noise – tap through the calmness. The motor of the refrigerator clicked on, and the 15 years of not having seen this woman in my childhood home, made for a daunting reunion.
What would I say to Nicole Bosworth after 15 years? What should I say? And those earrings Nicole wore – I can’t get over how they are the exact ones in my dream.
As best as my memory serves me, if Nicole wanted to impose her mea culpa on me for betraying me because she said I had no personality, then by all means, she’s more than welcome.
The good news is that she has laryngitis, so I don’t have to hear her harpy voice claw at my ear, so I kind of have the power over this conversation.
“How will this work, since you have laryngitis?” I asked. “You going to type on your tablet keyboard and I respond by actually saying something?” I cracked a smile.
No flowery language, no bull. Sometimes simplicity is the way to go, especially in communication.
Nicole looked at me with an expression that had a combination of damsel-in-distress sad and Wicked-Witch-of-the-West evil. Using the Bluetooth keyboard, she let her fingers fly on it, her eyes locked on the table screen. While watching her finger, I got a full-frontal view of her engagement ring. An antique, a 1.26 carat Old European cut diamond, dated 1930s. That ring, as far as I know, has to be worth at least twelve grand.
Nicole turned her propped-up tablet toward me, and I read the screen. The screen read in what I’m estimating to be in size 20 Arial font. I watched the screen as Nicole continued typing: “How are you? Seventeen years have been a long time.”
I moved my eyes toward Nicole. I wanted my eyesight to burn into her so bad, like sunlight through a magnifying glass on a colony of ants.
“This is not easy for me, seeing you again, understand?” I asked. “In elementary school, we had sleepovers and movie nights. Next thing I know, you’re pranking me and shoving Polaroids of me in my locker attached to pictures of Medusa with the note, ‘Your hair does look better than hers!’”
Nicole types on her keyboard and pushed the tablet toward me.
“By the way, sorry about being so nasty to you after eighth grade graduation. Let bygones be bygones, right?”
“Don’t make me out to be the bitch in all this! How am I to feel when, in high school, I see you in the hallways and wave to you, but you ignore me? Instead, you’re running to whatever activity you had scheduled that day.”
Nicole typed. I read: “Tina told me you work in media relations for a retail company, doing all this traveling, meeting with the press.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“That’s good. Media relations,” Nicole continued typing. She ignored my comment.
“Isn’t that a fancy way of saying ‘spokeswoman’?” the screen asked.
For all the animosity between us, I can’t be angry at her for admitting what’s true. “It is,” I said.
“I never thought that someone like you could actually get a job talking to people.”
Reading those words arrested my patience. The cup on the table, I was prepared to grab it and hurl it across the room. Instead, I figured to try to at least open some old wounds and see how much gnawing at her envy I can do.
“What do you want from me? Do you want to know what celebrity customers come to our stores? Want me to hook you up with discounts?”
Sarcasm dripped from my questions as I rattled them off. I can’t make those things happen, but I can rub it in her face that from time to time, my retail store organizes the occasional A-list endorsement campaign, sends me on overseas travel and sets me up in five-star hotels.
In what I believed would be the final blow to her ego, I asked her the one question that’d dig into her nerves.
“So, what happened to you becoming an actress?” I asked her. “All the time I knew you, you did nothing but talk about moving to Hollywood, becoming a star, endorsing your own perfume?”
Nicole frowned and she typed.
I read. “I was going into theater, but the day after graduating high school, on the same day I was ready to move to Toronto, my dad fell ill. I left home for Toronto, but I couldn’t concentrate on building a career there. I flew back home six months later.”
“My dad fell ill” were the words that stood out to me the most. “Oh, I’m sorry about that,” I said. A pang of guilt crept into my stomach.
“Thank you,” Nicole typed. “And as a matter of fact, I had to help my mom take care of my father. At first, the doctors said his cancer was benign, but we found out later that was a misdiagnosis when we got a second opinion. And his cancer metastasized from there. All that time, I forgot about having an acting career. An agent I contacted when I was in Toronto called me, but I forgot to return his call. So much for a shot at a career in Toronto. Fast forward three years later, and we buried him in Lawn Forest Cemetery.”
“The one near my house?” I said.
Aunt Tina entered the kitchen with the antique I have been anticipating. I gasped at the sight of it. I rose out of my chair, but it was more like I levitated.
“Grandfather’s phone!” I said. A white rotary. Something one doesn’t see in a house anymore, at least the house of the millennials. I went over to my aunt.
“I want you to have it,” Aunt Tina said. “I got it refurbished and everything.”
I took the rotary telephone into my hand as if it were a newborn baby. “Even if it doesn’t work, I can always sell it on eBay,” I said, “but I don’t think I’ll do that.”
This kind gesture of Aunt Tina giving me this telephone has been worth the drive to her house. The kindness that compelled me to hug her.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I placed the phone on the table and sat back across from Nicole.
“How is your job?” Aunt Tina asked.
“Busy,” I said.
“Hope you’re making time for yourself. You can be quite a workaholic.”
“I love my job, so it’s not work at all, so to say.”
My aunt sat down in the empty chair next to me. “But don’t you think, outside of your job, you want to take the time to slow it down, relax and make sure you’re enjoying life? Go mountain climbing, visit a museum, go someplace where the young people go, make friends.”
“Aunt Tina, I’m happy with the friends I have.”
“I mean, the kind of friends that are actually worth spending time with, not the ones you have, with them dwelling the aisles of libraries and going to garden club meetings. I mean people who are fun, the beautiful people. People who can really make life full.”
Where is an oxygen tank when you need one?
“You know who else is full – and of what, might I add, Aunt Tina?” I wretched my jaw in getting ready to unload on her and Nicole. I opened my mouth to unleash some vitriol on her, yet somehow through will power, I stopped myself. I switched the focus of conversation to Nicole. I’m sorry for Nicole’s loss, but all the same, that didn’t mean I forgave her for what she did to me in eighth grade.
“But now she’s getting married, marrying the heir to a conglomerate that is best known for making life’s necessities like adult diapers, hemorrhoid cream, and paint,” Aunt Tina said.
Nicole signaled me to look at her tablet, and she typed, “So now, through that marriage, I can have a lifelong discount on all those things, you know, if ever I decide to develop an addiction to paint sniffing and risk getting bowel problems that’ll lead to me needing hemorrhoid cream, and eventually jack up my insides so much I’ll need to wear adult diapers. A natural progression.”
Although she broke off our friendship, one positive aspect of that is I don’t have to endure the burden of her sad attempts at cracking jokes like what she wrote.
“So what do you want from me?” I asked. Does she want me to be her maid of honor? Help plan the wedding? I can even design wedding invitations! I’m getting ahead of myself and I’m setting myself up for something anticlimactic, but I’m game for anything to make myself relevant in her life.
Nicole began typing. “I want you to…”
I read Nicole’s finished sentence on her tablet screen. Glancing up at her, I narrowed my eyes at her. “You –” I glanced at the tablet screen, then back at her, “–want me to be your understudy of a maid of honor?”
Nicole creased her eyebrows and turned the tablet to her. She read the screen, rolled her eyes and edited her sentence before pushing the device back at me. I perused the sentence once again.
“Second understudy?” I asked. A leer ended my sentence, disgruntled wavering in my voice and in my question. My eyes trailed to Nicole. “For maid of honor?”
Nicole nodded, but the way she nodded, I assumed she was satisfied that I understood at last what she wanted.
“So this whole unexpected get-together was so you can ask if I can be your second understudy?” The question slid down my throat like bad liquor, almost as bad as the question came out of my mouth, as if I threw up.
Nicole nodded. Again with the typing. “See, I knew I could count on you after all these years.”
I skidded back in my chair and gave Nicole a dirty look. I used to be afraid of looking at her straight in her eyes when we were in elementary school and go along with whatever she demanded of me, but not anymore. “What made you think I agreed to anything? I said nothing of the kind.”
Nicole craned her neck. She popped a lozenge into her mouth, crunched on it, and swallowed.
“Because you’re …” she said.
Nicole swallowed hard again. “You’re …” she managed to say again. “Someone with a good heart, someone who’ll do anything I say.” The words sounded scratchy, but Nicole managed to get every syllable out of her mouth.
“Like we’re in fifth grade again, where you call me up because you forgot your math book at school and I spend the next hour with you over the phone giving you the problems and the answers?”
Nicole nodded. “Yeah, exactly. Why, don’t you want to be my second understudy? Don’t you want to be at my wedding?”
“Just out of curiosity: who is your maid of honor and your first understudy?”
The name Nicole typed pained me.
“Jasmine Darnell? The girl who harassed me by stealing lunch money from my backpack and twice squeezed paper glue in my bag. The one you ditched me for on our class field trip? Her?”
Nicole’s eyes simpered. “I owe it to her, she has been my best friend all these years.
Aunt Tina put her hand on mine. “Don’t get upset, Sophie,” she said. “Look on the bright side: you’re invited to be a part of Nicole’s big day.”
I angled an accusatory finger at her. If I could, I’d shoot fireballs out of my fingers. “This girl used me for a toady, like a sidekick all through middle school,” I said. “And then, when she saw that she didn’t need me anymore, not only did she stop talking to me, but she used me as a social punching bag for her and her new minions. But hey, I was doing you a noble service, correct? Because there is nothing more respectable than being a toady and being used as a stepping stone for Nicole’s greatness. I should feel honored – right? Homecoming queen, Harvard, and now fiance of a wealthy heir? Girl, you don’t need me anymore to step on. You have Jasmine Dumbbell to rely on.”
Aunt Tina squirmed in her chair. “No need for you to get bent out of shape,” she said.
The telephone, like the one in my recurring dream, sat in the center of the table. The cord that Nicole might have wrapped around my neck, torturing me, I guess punishing me because I was too quiet and not what she thought was loud enough to make an impact on those around me to get noticed.
“I’ve been having a recurring dream involving this telephone,” I said, my hands on the telephone.
The shaking of my hands ceased.
“You know what?” I looked up at Nicole. “I don’t want to be at your wedding. And I wish that you hadn’t come back here.”
Nicole knitted her eyebrows. She typed on her keyboard, her fingers storming across the keys: “WHAT MAKES YOU THINK YOU CAN SAY THAT?”
I chuckled. “What makes me think I can say that? Easy. Because I’m not the one between the both of us who is at a loss for words, for once.”
I snatched up my telephone, the recurring dream flashing through my mind. It all made sense now, the dream did reflect my insecurity over my introversion. In some way, confronting these two women – who have been the contention of my insecurities of my introversion – was my way of saying that I don’t need their validation of myself.
“I don’t need to change. I don’t need to change for you or for anyone. If you can’t wrap your head around that, I have a nice little antique telephone here and you can shove it up yourselves along with how you two treated me.”
With that, I left Aunt Tina’s house, hoping to never see those two women again, even if my aunt found another antique. I had regrets for what happened just now – regrets that I didn’t bring an umbrella because the rain drenched me when I raced to my car.
That night, I plugged the antique telephone into the wall, and picked up the receiver. It had a dial tone. Having picked up my sleeping prescription earlier that evening, I swallowed two pills as instructed and sipped my water. I laid on the bed and expected to fall asleep, which I did at last after who knows how long.
Yet, the ringing of my new, old phone interrupted my sleep.
“Did you see the news?” Aunt Tina asked.
I scratched my head and rubbed my non-exhausted eyes. “Did I see the news? What are you talking about?”
“It’s all over the news. About Nicole.”
Snatching up my charging cell phone from my nightstand, I typed in my phone browser “Nicole Bosworth.”
“Nicole and I were on the phone while she was driving,” Aunt Tina said.
While my aunt babbled, the first headline at the top of the search engine results page shocked my eyes wide open: “Fiancée of heir dies in car accident.” “Nicole Bosworth” showed up in boldface in the meta description under the headline.
“Sophie, are you there?” my aunt asked me over the phone.
I tapped the phone screen, doing what I could to calm the hurricane in my mind as I read the story. The story was from a local news channel, posted at 10:30 p.m. on June 3. Now the time was 12:30 in the morning, which means the article posted online yesterday.
“The fiancée of the heir to a health and medical care company was killed upon immediate impact when her car swerved and hit a telephone pole while driving in torrential rain tonight,” the article read.
The sound of sobbing came through the line. My aunt was inconsolable. We spent the next hour on the phone talking about Nicole, and the memories we shared, both good and bad – bad on my part.
I got off the phone and curled up on my bed, crying myself to sleep. I woke up the next morning with a slight cold that gave me a hoarse throat. After going to Nicole’s funeral a week later, night after night for weeks, I was able to get as close to an eight-hour sleep as I could, without my sleep getting interrupted by dreams. Five weeks had glided past me, and the dream about Nicole strangling me with a telephone cord subsided.
I even informed my psychiatrist I didn’t need the prescription medicine she gave me anymore.
Teresa Edmond-Sargeant is an Orlando, FL-based journalist, author, poet and editor. A former staff writer in North Jersey, Edmond-Sargent won two NJ Press Association Awards and is now a journalist in Central Florida. She is the author of the poetry book “How Fate’s Confusion Connects” and four Amazon Kindle ebooks. You can learn more about her at her blog, follow her on Twitter, or check out her Facebook page.