The Conservatory

I had a dream of the act before I moved to Illinois. In the dream, my parents and I were packed into our little red car as we drove down our street. The inside of our Nissan was comically crammed with our belongings, teeter-tottering to the felt-lined roof as if in a cartoon. I looked through the back windshield at the red brick apartment building we lived in for the past 5 years, the green lawns in front, and the cherry blossom trees gently shedding their petals. Those familiars retreated further into the distance and the glass-sheathed building in which my father worked came into view and similarly passed away. The dream shifted. My parents and I walked past parades of people under the brightest blue sky and creamy wisps of ivory clouds. There was...a dragon on the street. It was a yellow dragon costume donned by a group of people. The atmosphere was celebratory seemingly only for the beauty of the day and the place. Then there was the river.

It was the Chicago River. It was wide and gleaming and it seemed to feed the city. I volunteered in NYC when I was 17 and I used to imagine the narrow, grimy streets replaced by sun dappled rivers snaking through under skyscrapers. Boats ferried New Yorkers to and fro and people called to each other as they spotted friends and acquaintances. Bridges and walkways took the place of sidewalks. No one had to rub shoulders with strangers on a congested sidewalk, no cars honked at each other on one way streets, and the intense glare of the sun could not reflect off of any dusty pavements to create an urban furnace. I wished all cities could be recreated in this image. Start over. Start clean. The water took away from the industrial element of an urban environment and added something surreal. The Chicago River was a better reality than anything I made up. Lives unfolded on this water. People reveled on rocky boats and fulfilled their passions diving, racing, flying. One can fall in love, propose, marry. Chicago was my dream city.

A few months later, my dad informed me that his company was transferring him to Illinois. We drove off in our little red car with our belongings packed comically high in the backseat. I turned for a last view of our red brick apartment building. Have you ever had a prophetic dream as precise as this? I have them all the time. The first time we visited Chicago, I was shocked at the wide, clean streets, the sparse crowds of pedestrians, and the singular smell of fresh air. Every building was breathtakingly beautiful; I couldn't stop looking up. And there was the river, exactly as I had left it months ago, waiting for me in the present.

Veronica Zhang