The Birthday Dream

The Birthday Dream

by Kyle Barnhart

27 May 2022

I awoke on the morning of my 35th birthday from a very vivid, very strange dream. In the dream, I’d been surrounded by an entirely random assortment of people I’ve known throughout my life, all gathered at some sort of large vacation home to have a potluck dinner.

The scene was very Fallingwater meets Ex Machina. Imagine a home shrouded in pines and mist up to the doorstep, trimmed with the sort of sharp angles and enormous glass windows you can only build outside the purview of nosey neighbors and permitting authorities. Some distant mountains broke the horizon with jagged edges all brown and green beyond the haze.

Inside, the furnishings were someone else’s idea of modern-meets-mid. Certainly not mine. Some madman wanted negative space but couldn’t stop himself from trimming the walls with lacquered wood and outdoor kitsch from a century ago. The requisite set of old snowshoes like crossbones over a brick— brick?—  fireplace. Did it even snow in this place? Maybe. I mean, there was a fireplace.

The occasion wasn’t known to me. It wasn’t my birthday in the dream or, if it was, that detail wasn’t of great significance to the others gathered with me. But why else would my childhood dentist, a few ex-coworkers, the old friends long separated from my life, the serial entrepreneur, and the crush I never had the courage to ask out be here? I was the common thread. No denying that.

Anyways. They were there with me, for some reason, and they all had their Crock Pots and casserole dishes set out on a folding card table in the living room. Any cohesive narrative or overarching story to share from this dream was shattered and forgotten the minute I woke up.

That’s just how dreams are.

I remember the serial entrepreneur talking at me. He only wanted to discuss push-ups— the importance of strong shoulders and upper back muscles and the cues to avoid bad form when doing push-ups alone at home. This guy had biceps the size of East German sedans.

Then, I remember having a plate of food in my hand and looking for a place to sit down. For some reason there were two grade school desks set out in the living room. You know, the ones with laminate desktops and plastic seats fixed together, except a 35-year-old man could comfortably sit in one. I carefully slid myself into the desk and started on my dinner.

I watched in silence as an old co-worker and one of the other section editors from my college newspaper took seats on the ground beside me.

“Were y’all sitting here?” I asked them.

“Oh, yeah,” one of the girls replied. “We brought those desks. Those are ours.”

I got up and apologized for the mistake. They ignored me, took their seats back, and continued talking to one another. I tried to say something else, like that it was good to see them or a kind joke about how long it’d been since we’d seen one another. Finally, I dropped my plate into the trash and walked out of the party.

The sky was different now. It was painted with bright daiquiri flavors behind the dark forms of some distant mountains. I stood between a desolate, simple beauty that I understood and a subdued celebration that I didn’t understand.

I went back inside, and that’s all I remember.