A friend stopped by for a visit the other day. There is nothing spectacular in this except for the fact that this particular friend is dead. He may as well have knocked unexpectantly at the door, come in, sat down at the kitchen table and had a coffee. Instead, as if it was just as normal, he waltzed right into my dream.

Mark had died, tragically as is so often the case, in a car accident two years previously. I was living in another country when it happened and my mom had to make the horrible call to let me know. I remember saying what I was supposed to be saying but feeling very little. I had not seen Mark for a few years and I was living so far away from anybody who knew and loved him so it was easy to ignore that one phone call. There was only one very drunken night of soju, a Korean fermented drink, and beer where a girlfriend and I laid on her bed and talked of loved ones dying that I let myself grieve for him.

The next morning I woke up and felt conflicted that I could cry for a guy I hadn’t even talked to in a couple of years. We had been close once: In high school. I had a huge crush on him but he had other girlfriends. I was more of a confidant. And as much as I loathed it at the time, a pal. After school finished we drifted apart and would only run into each other occasionally at the bar. I don’t have distinct memories of him there. Only a vividly simple portrait of him at the pool table, que stick in one hand, beer in the other. We were not close when he died. We didn’t even really know each other anymore. But I guess that does not matter when you love someone at some point in your life. And I did love him. He was a very good friend to me at a time.

Black, empty thoughts turn suddenly into an elaborate event of fairytale like proportions. A golden marble floor shimmers as hundreds of finely clothed dancers step and twirl and spin on top. Elaborately crafted crystal chandeliers cast a soft glow over the laughing faces. When I see every single one of them is a familiar face, I laugh outright if only because my friends and family are not the sort to hang out at a Gala event.

Regardless, here, at this moment, I can not imagine them belonging anywhere else. My mom, elegant in a creamy colored floor length gown chats intently with my handsome boyfriend decked out in a form fitted tuxedo. A girlfriend since kindergarten glides flawlessly by with a newly acquired friend from the states. Surrounding the punch bowl, a few of my Korean students eagerly practice their English skills with some pals from college. Traveling mates I only knew on the road in khakis and torn t-shirts waltz together in silk evening wear and smart suits.

I stare in wonder at them all, as candles flickering around the dance floor cast light from one person to the next. As if in Photoshop software, I click on the zoom icon and focus in on more people. My Japanese friend, and once roomie, blushes as she steps on my brothers toes. A coworker rolls her eyes in frustration at the never ending song. A neighbor looks frantically for either an escape or the bathroom.

Staring in wonderment at what must be every person I have ever been friends with, I am suddenly not a mere spectator anymore. A hand is thrust into mine, takes hold and pulls me onto the dance floor. I run my free hand along the soft, silver silk dress that flows with my every move. Not aware that I am in fact in a dream, my mind marvels as endless dancers stream by as if in a dream.

And then I am dancing. Strong hands grip my waist and hand as we spin effortlessly about. I wonder where I learned to dance before or if it really is that easy when somebody else leads. For the first time, I face my partner only to find that he is masked. Even so, I know exactly who he is. With a white Phantomesque mask with a black feather above the right eye and stylish simple tuxedo he glides me easily along the marble. I laugh and ask him what’s with the secrecy. He smiles easily and we continue to dance. Steady and smooth to start, I get comfortable in his arms while we cover the floor. Picking up the pace, he leads us faster than the tune playing and whispers in my ear. I laugh uproariously at the comment but immediately forget what is said as we spin a little faster. Like a child spinning like an airplane until falling into a fit of giggles, we twist and turn, faster and faster until laughing uncontrollably, I beg him to slow down.

As we slow, I stare at my partner and smile. I can not articulate the words anymore. They float somewhere along with the music. I do know that we feel free. I know I feel safe and innocent and happy. He spins me abruptly and I snort with laughter again as my head hits his mask. I chuckle, “Take that thing off! I know it’s you Mark. You’re not fooling anybody!” His smile deepens as he responds. “Fine!”

At that, he reaches for his mask while the song in the background is coming to a close. The beat quickens. His hand grasps the mask. Instruments come together at a feverish rate. The mask is whipped ceremoniously into the air. A final symphony of sounds is ignited. I look Mark in the eye and see the gleam of mischieviousness pleasure there. “Much better!” I tell him while he dips me gallantly upside down. I can not help but laugh again. So is he. Then his face softens and there is serenity in his gaze. He leans his face into mine, stares into my eyes and his lips softly touch mine in the gentlest kiss. Then he is gone.

With a blink, I am in semidarkness, on my bed and I am laughing. I immediately remember the dream. I whisper out loud “Hi Mark! Thanks for the dance. Trying to get me into trouble aren’t you?” I laugh some more. I softly shake my boyfriend awake. He mumbles incoherently until I tell him Mark just kissed me. He quickly opens his eyes and looks around the room. From beginning to end, I share the story with laughter. When it comes time to tell about the kiss, I do not know how to put it. It is just a peck but feels so unbelievably real with a love and innocence that is hard to explain. Yet there is also an undeniable mischievous undertone of Mark saying “Aha, explain that one to your boyfriend!” as he chuckles with delight. That was always Mark. Now I know that still is Mark.


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