Jefferson Ellison finds himself at “the universe’s table” in the first of a new series of dream dinners.
I can’t help but wish that I was still asleep. I long for the comfort of my bed and the warmth of my fantastical thoughts. Sleep has that effect on you. Or maybe it’s just the dreams. I can’t put my finger on it but it seems these days I can only find solitude in my head. Maybe it's the way of the times or maybe it’s the ability to control. In my dreams, I am both king and jester. And last night, my kingdom was filled with moments so precious I worry they’ll dissolve at the hint of a Southern breeze. Last night, I went to dinner for the first time. Of course, I’ve sat at a table before. But not one dressed for me. In my youth, I sat at the children’s table and as a young adult, I sat at one headed by my father. In my early twenties I sat at a table that society passed along and now I aim to build one for myself. But last night, at 3:07 am with the crickets in my ear and my lover in my bed, I found myself at the universe’s table. In a seat that held me almost biblically, I heard her whisper grace into the evidence of manuka and felt the wicker behind my eyes inflame. There, at my little table for one, I became alive.
My mother always told me that God would prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies, I just didn’t expect the mirror to be so big. As I sat in my own presence, I noticed all the food laid out in front of me. It was up to me to decide the order of courses. The freedom crippled me. I looked down at an empty plate trimmed in my ancestry and baked at the temperature of God’s rejection and realized that this was my liberation. The opportunity to choose my journey. And so I did….
Course 1: Macerated Cherries
Each bite recalled a different memory. Summer ice cream sundaes, the only bite of a classic old fashion. But none more visceral than the walk James Baldwin describes in Giovanni’s Room:
Giovanni had awakened an itch, had released a gnaw in me. I realized it one afternoon, when I was taking him to work via the Boulevard Montparnasse. We had bought a kilo of cherries and we were eating them as we walked along. We were both insufferably childish and high-spirited that afternoon and the spectacle we presented, two grown men jostling each other on the wide sidewalk and aiming the cherry pits, as though they were spitballs, into each other's faces, must have been outrageous. And I realized that such childishness was fantastic at my age and the happiness out of which it sprang yet more so; for that moment I really loved Giovanni, who had never seemed more beautiful than he was that afternoon.
As I sat enjoying my fruit and reminiscing of the sweetness of love, I wondered if maybe I’d have a meal of desserts. Decadence is a vice my dreams turn to virtue and I’ve never been one to say no. But just as I readied a scoop of ice cream into existence and justified to myself that I could resist anything except temptation, Mr. Wilde himself rebuked my claim.
He whispered, “I should fancy, however, that murder is always a mistake. One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner.”
For some reason, I was sure this wasn’t originally written about caloric intake but the sentiment felt the same. If I wasn’t going to eat well in real life the least I could do is lie to myself in here.
Course 2: Charred Caesar Salad
Simple. Monotonous. There’s nothing quite romantic about a salad. The lettuce wilts under the weight of flavor and the longer it is in existence the less appealing it becomes. The similarities between the two of us felt both cosmic and Shakespearean. Perhaps with enough salad, I too would rule the world and Cleopatra would unveil herself in a rug under my reign. Or maybe, like the lettuce in front of me, I’d lose my luster in the presence of hesitation. At least the bread has garlic.
Course 3: Coq Au Vin
The French have always been good at a few things. Couture. Revolution. But I can’t help but feel that this free-range organic delight was mocking me. Am I the chicken? Stick a fork in me, I’m done? What am I afraid of? Where have I failed?
The question almost brought me out of my sleep. Until I realized that life was much scarier than the exploration of it. I’d lain dormant. My fears of rejection and failure were at least—in here—theoretical. But how did she know that? Is my imposter syndrome so ingrained in me that the universe feels it in my vibrations? Is the salt of the Earth made from the nervous sweat of the mediocre? Am I mediocre? Or is the chicken a metaphor for my personal process? Slow-cooked and tender, well seasoned. Dark brown in color with a subtle hint of fat? Yes, of course. I’m not terrified. I’m decadent. I, like the French, am a product of a great legacy. This braised piece of meat represents my life journey. A turtle on a fence post, I am placed in circumstances that some may not understand. But like a caged Phoenix, I rise from the ashes and sing.
Final Course: Just Desserts.
Of course. I always knew it’d be sweet. And quite frankly, the best revenge. But I was surprised to see it in my dreams. I thought Justice was something to be fought for overtime, not dreamt about while last night’s mistake snored in my ear and my body floats on feathers. But then I realized I do dream of justice. For her. For him. For them. And for myself. But it feels almost implausible. So much so that I almost have to dream about it so that I can experience some form of gratification. A false phenomenon that imprints in my heart and pushes me out of bed and into action.
And then I woke up.
My eyes were open but I couldn’t move. Haunted. At first, I just assumed that a trapped soul was surrounding my spirit and then I realized it was her. The universe was still with me. Mother Nature. She had shown me the literal fruits of my labor and held space for me to decipher them. What I hadn’t realized lie trapped in my own consciousness was that she was not showing me my future, she was inviting me to my present. Every time I seek sustenance, the most basic of human needs, I have the opportunity to become more. I have the chance to find joy. With each bite at the dinner table, the universe invites us all to savor life’s simple pleasures and to ask tough questions. To surround ourselves with others or become ensconced in our own thoughts. To love. To laugh. To fight. To fear. To scream. To cry. To live and maybe even to dream.
Dear diary, last night I ate for the first time. And now, I know starvation.
About the Dreamer:
Born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina, Jefferson Ellison has been working in fashion since he was 16. After earning a degree at North Carolina State University’s College of Textiles, Ellison moved to NYC and expanded his body of work to include sales strategy, content creation and public relations. Under Ellison’s creative direction, JAWBREAKING, a digital platform offering interviews and investigative reporting, op-eds, fashion editorials and prose, became known for its irreverent sense of youth and boastful hints of Southern charm. Upon his return to Asheville, Ellison founded Jawbreaking Creative, a creative agency that offers consulting in editorial, advertising, events and influencer outreach as well as data analysis, trend forecasting, brand monitoring and more.