The Strangest Dream?

By Darryl James

Sometimes I dream of love.

Sometimes I dream of the love I once held.

Today, I dreamed of them all.

My eyes closed.

My mind fell away.

I dreamed about all of the women I had been with.

I dreamed about the ones I loved. I dreamed about the ones I only liked.

I dreamed about the ones who loved me and the ones who only liked me. The ones who used me and the ones I used.

My mind flew through the ones who were mere reflections of each other, not having spent enough time in my life to make a lasting impression.

And then, for no reason, my mind flew to Ruthie.

Sometimes I forget her and sometimes her memory is as broad and as powerful as any other.

Ruthie was in my life for a short time, but she was very important in the bigger scheme of it all.

Ruthie lived three blocks away from me. I walked past her on the way to my house from the bus stop several times. On the last time–a warm summer day on the last day of school–Ruthie walked beside me, talking to me about everything and about nothing. She asked me to walk her home, which I did, and along the way, she told me about her life and her desires.

Ruthie was two years older than I was. I was going to be a sophomore and she was going into her senior year. She was the youngest of six, the only one who was protected from the rage of her father, who had beaten her three brothers and had raped her two older sisters. Her entire focus for the remaining year of school was to get the best grades to get into a college far, far away from her family.

We talked about her plans until we reached her house. Ruthie took my hand and lead me around the side of the house, through the back door and into her room, which was off of the kitchen. I couldn’t see all the way through the house, but I didn’t hear any noise, so I didn’t think that anyone was at home.

I stood at the doorway to her room, thinking of something to say to spark conversation. I couldn’t think of anything.

I stood there staring at Ruthie, with her staring at me. Time stood still until she moved to me and kissed my mouth, long and hard.

“I really want you to hold on to me,” she said. “I need someone to hold me and feel something for me.”

“Why me?” I couldn’t think of anything else, and I really wanted to know.

“Because you look like you need that, too.”

I did.

I held her. I kissed her and I felt something for her in my adolescent heart. Maybe it wasn’t much, but it seemed to be enough for Ruthie and it was certainly enough for me. She whispered a “thank you” in my ear and pulled me onto her as she lay back on her bed.

There, in silence, we kissed and hugged, explored and touched, and where there could have been words, there were none.

Ruthie offered herself to me.

“We can do it if you want to.”

I wanted to. But I didn’t want everything that she was prepared to give me, at least not at that moment. I only wanted the hugging and kissing she had initially asked for, because I needed that more than I needed a sexual encounter. It felt as though we had the entire world and all of time before us, and sex could wait.

“We don’t have to, Ruthie. It feels good holding you.”

When I told her this, she kissed my mouth again and looked at me in a way I still search for before expressing love for any woman.

Ruthie looked at me as though I were the most important thing in her entire world at that particular moment.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I needed this.”

Ruthie and I held each other. She told me more about her life. She told me that she was a virgin and that when she had awakened that morning, her one desire was to be made love to. She told me that she was prepared to give me her virginity in exchange for being held and appreciated. She said she saw something in me and that she knew I could give her what she needed. But I was getting what I needed from her as well.

“You don’t have to do that, Ruthie. Holding you feels good.”

We held each other tighter. There were no more words said, and no more that were necessary.

I fell asleep on top of her, and only realized it when I felt her gentle nudging.

“My mom will be home soon, so you should leave.”

“Okay. Wanna hang out some time over the summer?”

“Maybe when I come back. I’m going down south for a while. My aunt wants me to spend some time with
her, since it’s so crazy in this house. She thinks I might lose my mind if I don’t get a break.”

“When are you leaving?”


I had no idea what to say. Even if I could have found words, they probably would not have come out right. I said the most appropriate thing that could have been said at that moment.


I held her tight one more time and kissed her mouth and her cheek.

I thought about Ruthie all that summer. I didn’t see her when school started and went to her house to ask her brother about her.

“Ruthie ain’t coming back, boy. Why are you worried about her anyway?”

My mouth opened and I said the only thing that I could think of.

“I love her.”

Her brother’s laughter and dismissal of me didn’t hurt nearly as much as knowing that I would more than likely never see her again.

I moved through my sophomore year and into the next year and through graduation without too many more thoughts of Ruthie.

I never saw her again, but just before I left Chicago to go away to college, I heard about her. Ruthie did come back to Chicago after that summer in the south. When she did, her father tried to rape her and she killed him. She ran away and ended up turning tricks downtown until she died in a dirty alley from a drug overdose.

My heart fell into a thousand pieces.

We spent one afternoon together and never saw each other again, but those moments stayed with me and were amplified when I found out about her demise, wondering if I could have saved her if I had touched her life differently.

Most of my experiences with women stay with me. All of them impacted my life more or less, or as much as my experience with Ruthie.

They all represent hopes and dreams and potential wives and lovers.

Perhaps Ruthie impacted my life more than others, because she was the first woman who came to me just when I needed her and left without taking anything with her. Perhaps she impacted my life more because she was the first to open herself to me simply because she needed me to be open to her.

This experience and others helped to shape my outlook on women. In some ways, they shaped my outlook on the world.

Sometimes when I am in the midst of ending a relationship, or when I am completely alone, my mind wanders to a past lover, or to all of my lovers. I wonder of their current affairs, and I wonder what would have happened to my life and theirs if we had only made different choices.

But we do choose–all through our lives, and the choices we make today determine who we are and what we have tomorrow.

I realize the impact of each woman’s presence in my life and wonder about my impact on theirs. I wonder about the negative impressions I must have left on the ones I touched selfishly, or the positive impressions I may have left on the ones who were with me too briefly to have any other impression of me.

I dream about the happiness I might have left on the lives I touched when I was pure and I dream about the regret that must be held by the ones who forced me away from their lives or left mine for the wrong reasons. I dream about the abject sorrow that must be held by the ones who touched me for selfish reasons, or the ones who tried to hold on, but were unable to hold me simply because they came into my life at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.

I dream about all of them, and I wonder if I will be able to replace them with one who would come into my life at the right time for the right reasons.

I wonder if they were all part of some strange dream.

Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” Now, listen to Darryl live on every Monday from 8-10pm, PST. View previous installments of this column at Reach James at [email protected]