You know that special thing that only you can do? Yes, you do; everyone has one. A guy I know is really good at clicking his pinky finger at both joints as he pulls it all the way back to his forearm. This kid I went to preschool with was super good at hocking a loogy all the way until it nearly hit the sidewalk and then sucking it back up. No matter how hard the rest of us tried, we couldn’t do it like he did. A woman I love does this thing where she rolls her stomach around, not like a belly dancer, but more like the ballast of a print press, spreading ink, the center of her stomach rising up like a buoy. It’s really gross. But that’s her thing.
I have this weird thing where if you put a pencil on my stomach when I’m lying flat on my back, it pulsates, up and down, up and down, about a quarter inch. A doctor says it’s just that my spinal fluid has a pulse. So that’s not really a special thing. It’s just a physical oddity. You could do it, too, if your spine was near to your belly button. Maybe it is.
No, the real special thing I do is bounce. I can’t do it all the time, but sometimes, when the wind is just right, and I’m walking down the sidewalk on my way somewhere, I can do this little hop. It’s best to get a bit of a running start. I have to lunge into it, putting all the power of my thighs into the first hop. But the special thing is what I do with my arms. See, I figured out that if you beat your arms up and down, up and down, up and down at the exact right rhythm to match the wind, you can keep yourself in the air a little longer. Not much longer at first, but just a fraction of a second aloft. But that blip in time is a miracle. It feels so different than any other time in space. It’s better. It sounds silly to say it’s elevated, but that is basically how it feels. Now, the key is to keep it going. When you hit the ground again, lunge up with as much power as you can muster and keep your arms beating, up and down, up and down. And not just straight up—circle them like you do in the gym with light weights. It’s a full muscle beat. With every little hop, you can stay up longer. And with the power of the floating, every time you come down, you can push off stronger—like a swimmer flipping at the deep end of the pool—and take off faster and go higher. Sometimes, when I’m having a good day and there’s nobody around, I can get going so high that I’m up at the same level as the trees lining the streets. It really comes in handy when I’m in a rush. The other day I had this appointment somewhere—I can’t quite remember where—but I was late, like really late, and it was snowing. Generally it’s really hard to get enough momentum in the snow to even start bouncing in the special way, but I got these new boots recently that have a lot of traction in powder and they managed to get me going. I’m telling you, I must have raced past 15 people trudging through the ankle deep snow. I wanted to yell down to them and say, dudes, come on, beat your arms! The wind is just right. But then I remembered, this is my thing. No one I’ve tried to teach to do it has so far been able.
At dinner a few days ago, my friends were talking about that dream everyone has, the flying dream.
“Lately, I’ve been having the flying dream like every night,” friend E said, as she piled more roasted potatoes on her plate.
“Really? Ever since I started medical school my flying dreams are all plummeting dreams. Just me, jumping off a building and falling forever,” friend G said. He stole a pea off my plate.
“Do you ever land?” E asked. “They say you can’t ever actually die in your dreams. You just get, like, bludgeoned and then wake up, or fall and see the ground coming up at you and boom, you’re awake.”
“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s true—like, you’d die if you dreamed you died? That’s what my mom used to tell me,” G answered. “But it is true that I don’t remember ever hitting.”
“When I dream of flying lately it’s up in the mountains. I think cuz of that YouTube video? Of that guy? Wearing the flying squirrel suit?” friend S said.
A round of uh huhs and oh yeahs erupted around the table.
“That’s so weird how this universal dream can be so changed by a stupid video on the Internet,” friend M chimed, in, the serious one, the commentator.
“It’s not stupid, dude, that video is insane,” friend E said.
“Is it a universal dream?” I asked.
My friends exchanged glances.
“Don’t you ever dream of flying?” friend E asked me.
I thought about it for a second, again. Maybe I had? But I had no memory of it. No sensation.
“No,” I answered honestly. “I can’t remember ever dreaming of flying.”
“That is so weird,” friend M said.
“You’re the only person I’ve ever met who doesn’t have that dream,” friend S agreed.
“Well,” I said, “I mean, it’s weird, because I do do this thing sometimes, but it’s not a dream. I do this thing where I hop up really high and catch the wind and use my arms to sort of keep myself up there in its current. It’s not like flying at all, but it’s like, bouncing. It’s like I’m a bouncing ball.”
“Oh, that’s totally a flying dream. It’s just a little different,” friend E said, relieved.
“No, but that’s not a dream. That’s a thing I do when I’m walking sometimes. Like, a few days ago, walking down from the bus, I bounced all the way home.” I said.
I remembered how cold the wind off the Charles had been that day. The bus dropped off at the top of a hill and I had to walk all the way down. This was the best way to bounce because you’re basically cheating, floating down easily with gravity’s help rather than having to build the momentum to jump up. I had let my feet graze the top of the warehouse right across from our apartment. It was surprisingly dirty up there, not just with trash and grime but with inches of warm tar. It was probably still on my shoes.
“R, what are you talking about?” friend S wanted to know.
So I told them again.
“R, that’s not a thing. That’s definitely not a thing you can actually do,” friend Ma insisted.
But it is. It’s my thing. Isn’t it? Hasn’t it always been? I can remember bouncing down my driveway in LA when I was a little girl, bouncing in a circle around the tree in the center of the roundabout. I can remember bouncing in Idaho when we first moved there when I was 10, down the paved street that ran along the river. The cottonwoods choking me as their fluff fell down midsummer, the kids below me on bicycles. I remember bouncing from the top, overflow parking lot at school to the bottom, over the horse fields in the way, and then along the sidewalk that ran next to the elementary school. I remember winking at a child swinging on the swings on the elementary school playground, them smiling back at me. I remember bouncing down River Side Drive late at night after my first kiss in Manhattan. I remember bouncing down the street at Wesleyan in a snow storm, when the rest of the campus was asleep and I was sneaking back to my dorm after spending the night drinking and talking about life and death and what “is” is with a boy whose name I forgot. I remember bouncing a million times in San Francisco, along the water, down the hill, in North Beach heading back to my car in the Chinese Good Luck garage. I only had two memories of bouncing here in Massachusetts since we moved, but the sensation was so clear. The last was only a few weeks ago.
I explained all this to my friends and their faces contorted in horror. Pity flashed across E’s face for a moment too, but was replaced by worry. Wait, I could see them thinking, is this the moment that R goes insane? Is this when friend R loses her grip on reality? I saw them looking at each other as though trying to silently ask, what should we do? Tie her down?
And though I knew as much as I knew anything that they were wrong, that my memory was true, that those instances were unique and real, I could also see that something was really wrong with knowing that. That my special thing was, come to think of it, not strictly in accordance with the laws of physics.
But I was never any good at physics! What do I know?
“R, honey,” friend S said, “do you think that could just be a recurring dream? Think about it for a sec.”
Could it be? Could I really have had a dream since I was a kid that felt so real that I was convinced it was real? It was true that I’d never been able to bounce around these people. The only people I ever bounced with were strangers whose faces, come to think of it, I couldn’t totally make out right now.
But how could a dream feel so real? How could my body remember something in its synapses, something so familiar and the same every time, something that never happened?
I laughed. Ha. Haha. Of course it was a dream. Haha, so silly, pass the rest of the peas, please. How funny was that?
So I guess that’s my special thing: the ability to not totally distinguish dreams from reality. What’s yours?