Just a Dream

Tanya Dempsey

It had been over a decade since I laid eyes on you…in person, anyway.

Throughout the years I had intermittently checked up on you. Sometimes a string of years would go by before I'd even wonder (I was busy raising a family, after all) and then something would happen, someone would mention you, and I'd take a look online. Other times, I'd be on an airplane flipping through the movie list for two hours of hopeful distraction when I'd see your name. "Directed by" and then the title of a film I knew I'd never watch, no matter how much time I had to kill on that flight to somewhere. I made myself a promise many, many years ago that you didn't deserve my eyes on your work. By now, that promise shouldn't matter and in truth, it doesn't. But I have gotten used to the habit of being stubborn about it. Plus, you still haven't made that one film that matters. Maybe in a way, I'm waiting for that one. That one I would watch. All the rest is just fluff and Justin Bieber videos, and represents itself like the feathers of a male bird, prettier and brighter and more fluffed up than the female's. Just for show - to attract. Somehow every single trailer, billboard and famous celebrity face with your name attached to it feels like a pony show. And it makes me a little annoyed.

Annoyed because there was once a moment in time when I knew a better you. Those moments were utter slivers, don't get me wrong. They were such infrequent glimpses of that better you that it baffles me to this day, the duration to which I hung on for that guy. That guy was on his way out from day one in Los Angeles. The young and hopeful, bright-eyed and passionate artist who wanted to make a difference in this town was being wrung out like a dirty dishtowel, while every day he devoted his guts to it. You gave your everything to it and for it - and nothing else mattered.

I remember you once asked me what I thought the one thing was that we all have in common. “What do you think everyone really wants?” you asked, as we sat on top of the washer and dryer in the basement of your apartment’s laundry room. Without hesitation I responded - "Love. It’s simple. We all want to be loved." And in my own youthful naivety, I knew this to be true and argued with you for several minutes on our way up the stairs to your West Hollywood apartment, schlepping your laundry side-by-side almost like a couple. Almost. "Even him?" you asked about your friend who always made the most sexist remarks and once called me on the phone to see if I'd be interested in posing for a nude calendar, in his not-so-subtle way of wanting to see me naked. "Even him." I said. And I meant it.

I used to think that I was actually crazy when that better side of you would show up. Was he even real? Annoyed because that guy and the younger me shared the same dreams. The night you secured your first feature film, I screamed at the top of my lungs out the passenger side window of your car and you laughed and pulled me back in and took me to a dinner I couldn't afford and asked me to read the script and wanted my thoughts and help. But the other guy...the guy who, as it turns out, had another girlfriend the entire time (who eventually showed up at your apartment), the guy with the gold lapel jacket on the red carpet who made that film all those years later with that movie star? That guy annihilated me. Even before he existed. You were headed there, and you blew past everyone in your path on the way. You blew past yourself, what you could have been - the other you. He's as dead as that conversation we had in your hallway one night, while you organized your embarrassingly large collection of vintage tees, and we conversed and contemplated life and death, making films that mattered, films that had heart, doing something, anything that meant something, and changing the way people viewed the world.

But just like that James Blunt song - I knew that the end was inevitable, and I would never be with you. I was never really yours and you were never really mine, and I knew that my time with you was always hanging on by a very thin thread. I always knew at any moment it would snap. And eventually it did. Hard.

It was the very essence of who you were, and what you were chasing that somehow collided together and made the guy that you are now, all those years later. On the day I ran into you nearly twelve years later, I had my daughter in the back seat, sun-kissed and sandy from her day at beach camp, looking the same way her daddy does when he's sleepy and has had too much sun - happy, but a little over it. I had been running around all day and oddly enough you had popped into my mind that morning. It's as if I knew that, too. I was unknowingly bracing myself. I could have driven by you, standing on the street with those people I didn't recognize, and left it at that. A few seconds of traffic to notice that you still wore vintage tees and mostly black, and then gone on my way, shaking my head in silence with my daughter asleep in the back seat. But I didn't. I called out your name because my body couldn't help it. I had no choice but to face another inevitable - the day that was always coming...the day I had it all, and had left you far behind.

I remember when I met my husband, and I was recapping my heartbreak with you, he said - "I want to make sure you're past it," and he held my hand and said "Because this...this is good." It was in that moment with him, sitting on that barstool in that place that forever changed our lives, where I felt ten feet tall and finally understood the difference between this and that - real and dreaming. Our past  - my time with you, was full of dreams. But I was moving forward. Into the real and the now, not some distant maybe, and into the life I always wanted. 

You told me my daughter was pretty like her mommy, and mentioned that I should make that film, that one script I wrote all those years ago. You said it was because you wanted all my dreams to come true. I said "they already have" and you said "well that dream too" and I said "thanks" and there were a few more strung-together-niceties…  

"You look great"

"So do you"

"Take care"

and "Goodbye."

When I called my daughter's daddy to tell him "oh-my-God can you believe who I ran into?!" I felt at once lucky and proud to have a man so secure in us that his first reaction wasn't jealousy or worry, but interest in how I felt about the situation. Then we talked about what we were going to make for dinner, and our weekend plans, and oh, if I had booked that appointment, and let's hurry and get the kids to bed early so we can hang out before we get too tired and fall asleep, because lately they both just end up on top of us in bed anyway...  

Blissful reality.

There are ways in which to describe certain people of your past, people who have mattered to you, people who have changed your life.

And what I've realized is that it's not so black and white. It's not a stark contrast of who was good for you or who was bad for you. Who broke your heart, who did or didn’t deserve you. It all just mattered. It all makes up who we are now, because of who we were then. 

Even if it all was just a dream. 

Tanya Dempsey is a Creative Director and Founder of November Grey, a digital content and media company. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children and is currently scribing her first book, a memoir about overcoming the odds of childhood abuse to provide a voice for women who want to make a lasting impact in the world.