The Dream - Whitney Dineen


Fall 2005

“I tell you Ash, that Blane always comes through,” my mom gushes as she convulses in sobs of joy as the credits roll at the end of Pretty in Pink. It’s like she thinks Andrew McCarthy’s character has magical powers and can change the ending anytime he wants to. We’ve watched this movie together at least fifteen times, and Donna seems surprised and delighted every single time.

“Do you ever wonder what would have happened if Andie had fallen for Duckie?” Before she can answer my question, I use my best fifteen-year-old logic and conclude, “I bet they would have both gotten scholarships to college and turned into a power couple without all that preppy old money.” I’m not bagging on money, but John Hughes movies usually portray the rich as bullying, weak butt-heads with an obliviousness toward real life that borders on criminal.

My mom explains, “Duckie was a great friend and I’m pretty sure he and Andie stay buds forever, but he was just the vehicle to help Blane understand he couldn’t live without her.” Her, being Molly Ringwald’s character.

“If only life were an eighties romcom,” I say. I sometimes think my mom doesn’t understand this and at thirty-two is still waiting for her prince charming to pull up next to her in a vintage red Porsche with “If You Were Here” by the Thompson Twins blasting through the speakers. That’s what Jake Ryan did in Sixteen Candles, which makes it totally possible in my mom’s eyes.

“Ash, we’ve got to reinvent ourselves,” she says with the same intensity she did the first time she had this thought.

“Aside from winning the lottery, how do you figure we do that?” All previous reinventions have started with the Illinois Lottery Commissioner handing us a giant check for a cool twenty mil.

“We need to move.”

“What, like to another trailer park?” I ask. Not that I’d be opposed, but really, what’s the point? One trailer park is as good as another, and we don’t have the cash to make a major upgrade.

“We need to get out of the Chicago suburbs and head for someplace without as many expectations.”

I’m not sure what expectations she’s talking about. No one at Windy Court seems to give a flip about setting the world on fire. “Do you have some place in mind?”

“This guy came into the bar the other day and was telling me about his hometown in Missouri. He made it sound magical.”

“Missouri? Like St. Louis, Missouri?” My mom has lived in Illinois her whole life. As far as I know she’s never even set foot in the Show Me State. I certainly haven’t.

She nods to confirm that she’s talking about another state. “He’s from a place called Creek Water in the southeasternmost corner near Tennessee. I think it would be a fabulous adventure.”

“Creek Water?” I ask suspiciously, wondering if it’s deep in dueling banjos territory. “What would you do in Missouri to reinvent yourself?” I want to make sure she knows that moving alone won’t make her a different person. That ship sailed when she got pregnant with me the night of her junior prom and dropped out of high school before her senior year.

“I could get out of cocktail waitressing and work in a dress shop or something. It’s cheaper to live in a small town, so we wouldn’t need as much money. We could be respectable.” The determined look on her face confirms that she’s serious and not just throwing out another random pipe dream, like when she suggested we buy a Geiger counter and start searching for buried treasure in Grant Park right after Chicago Fest.

“Huh.” I never thought we’d leave our current digs. The idea is kind of appealing. “I’m in,” I tell her, not once considering there might be ‘a turd in the punchbowl’ as my grandma Shirley used to say.

Within a few short months, I would learn that life isn’t like the movies where you can go from rags to riches or white trash to white gloves in a matter of two hours and a box of tissue. No, sir. Hollywood endings are essentially like a truckload of Twinkies, awe-inspiring and exciting, but without any real substance.

Being poor is almost a genetic disorder, like high-blood pressure or cancer. If those diseases are already in your family, the only way to avoid them is to work your butt off making positive changes. Otherwise you’re sunk.

Mom and I optimistically prepare for the best without ever considering the worst. By not paying rent on