by Jim Ruland
When I was a boy I had a recurring dream. My parents divorced when I was nine. When my mother left and moved away with her new husband, my father switched to the night shift at the tool and dye shop so that I wouldn’t come home to an empty house after school. My grandmother, who lived down the street, slept in the guest bedroom, but as her health failed and the shock of the divorce wore off she came over less and less. By the time I was 12 I was on my own. That’s when the dream started. In the dream I sailed across the ocean onboard a schooner. The way the wind and spray kissed my face as the boat rode up the crests and down the troughs made the dream seem realer than real. But no matter how long the voyage or how rough the seas, at some point I’d discover the ship wasn't made of wood or steel but newspaper. The hull, the mast, the decks, the sails—all of it—was nothing more than newsprint. As this realization took hold, the ship would lose its way and begin to founder. The wind no longer filled the sails but ripped pages from the forecastle. Swaths of the sodden deck collapsed into the treacherous waves. Freezing seawater pooled around my ankles as the ship shuddered into the deep with a tearing sound that told me I was going under. It was as if the dream had been engineered to manufacture this sinking feeling. When I woke, my hand wedged between the boards of a book or thrust down the front of my underwear, I would cry out for my mother, and when she didn’t come I marveled for the millionth time how nothing more than noticing had brought the ship down. Somehow knowing the true nature of that which carried me along robbed it of its magic. Although I stopped having the dream long ago, I still don’t know how to unlearn the truth of something so vital.
Jim Ruland is the co-author of My Damage with Keith Morris, founding member of Black Flag, Circle Jerks and OFF! (Da Capo 2016) and Giving the Finger with Scott Campbell Jr. of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch (Lyons Press 2014). He also wrote the award-winning novel Forest of Fortune (Tyrus Books 2014) and the short story collection Big Lonesome (Gorsky Press 2005). His work has appeared in many publications, including The Believer, Black Warrior Review, Esquire, Granta, Hobart, Los Angeles Times, McSweeney’s, Mississippi Review, and Oxford American, and has received awards from Reader’s Digest and the National Endowment for the Arts. he runs the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount, now in its thirteenth year.