In my husband’s dream, his old girlfriend’s dog flies out of the car, and he is given a receipt from the body shop for replacing the windshield. Somehow this gets my husband into court, where the old lady in line before him calls his receipt a “torture” receipt. The woman behind the counter says she has been working at the courthouse for twelve years. No one has ever called it “torture,” she says. It is just a receipt.
Because my husband and I are both writers, I say, “Torture Receipts: that’s such a good title.”
I do not tell my husband that I will steal torture receipts, but I sleep next to him while he dreams. I do not ask who the old girlfriend was, but I wonder.
I know that if my husband writes a story about torture receipts, it will be angry and cerebral and complex, and he will go to a place I didn’t know he had in him until I read the story.
I know that the violence in his head is something that we do not have in common; mine takes place in my stomach, and I keep it there by swallowing.
All this to say that if Torture Receipts were the title of my husband’s story, I would not be inside it.
Also: there are no receipts for things you take without asking.
In the rules of dreams you can only get a torture receipt after being tortured. The person to give you the receipt is the one who decides if what you felt was torture enough. But the court does not acknowledge the existence of torture receipts, even though my husband was not the only person who knew about them.
Some people say that when you write fiction you should imagine a world without dreams. They say that dreams are only interesting to analysts, lovers, and the people who appear in them. I say that dreams in fiction simply need to illuminate something else. I say that dreams can be beautiful too; that someone has to write them.
In the 1970s people wrote Dream Journals. People woke up in the morning or the middle of the night, named their dreams and then gave them a home. In the ‘70s I was born, my parents were vegetarians, and my father had an Amish beard.
In the 70s many people started couples’ therapy. In the 70s my father was in a men’s group. At one meeting, the men passed me around their circle so that they could all see how a baby felt. I don’t remember, but I do know this: male hands seem stronger than female ones, and this safety is deceptive and unfair.
The two couples’ therapists my husband and I saw before the one we see now were both women. They did not ask us about our dreams, but we told them anyway. We want a baby, but because this hasn’t happened yet, because I know I hide my violence inside my stomach, both women made sour mouths and their scowls of knowing trapped me in their hands.
After you don’t have a baby, no one gives you a torture receipt.
After you see a therapist, no one gives you one either.
Sometimes receipts are like the ones my husband told me his ex-wife would save all week, collecting them until Sunday when she would check them against her bank statements, dropping them on the floor when she was done. It was his job to pick them up, throw them out. After being accounted for, they were only trash.
An echo, however, is a receipt of a scream; a story is a receipt of my work; sometimes a baby is a receipt of love.
In the rules of dreams, not only what the receipt is for, but the kind of receipt it is, can be argued over.
My ex-husband used to say that couples’ therapy takes away the intimacy of a marriage. Then we got divorced.
Dreams are no use unless you can find yourself in them. A receipt is proof only if everyone agrees it to be so.
The couples’ therapist does not have large hands for a man, but no one is leaning on him. My husband and I sit on separate couches. When I talk I make no eye contact, and stare at the lines on the floor.
By the time he relayed it just this morning, my husband’s dream was already gone. By the time you read this story I will have ruined all intimacy. My stomach is a locked box, the world is better or worse for it, and no one can give me a receipt for anything before it doesn’t happen, again.