Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 21, 2024


Aghamohammadi reflects on for whom stories are meant to be. 

In my dream, I am standing in a forest.

Where am I, my dream self asks, because the me in the dream is not the same me that I am, not the same me that is writing this. I don’t know why I ask this because there is no one around to answer. In the dream, the trees are so tall that I cannot see the tops of them. The bark is grooved and scored like a delicate sculpture. It must be right before sunset because it is still light, but just barely. In the stream of twilight, I see a line of bread crumbs meandering through the forest. I follow them, not caring where they are going. 

After a while, I get to a point where the bread crumb trail stops, not because I got to where it was leading but because a flock of birds perched in the underbrush has eaten all of them. I wake not knowing where I was going nor where I was.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking to an acquaintance of mine who complained about the way I write about myself. They were criticizing the fact that I, according to them, really say nothing about myself and pass it off as personal. Then they said quite harshly, “Your reader should know everything, like everything, about you right away. If they don’t, you’re just not a good writer.”

I sat there processing what it is they meant when finally it struck me. In a way, they were saying that the reader is entitled to the author’s life. In other words, everything about the writer should be accessible to the reader without any effort on the reader’s part. They want to have their cake and eat it, too. To quote a good friend of mine, if anybody can make any sense of that, please do let me know. I’ll buy you a cookie.

Where even was that breadcrumb trail going?

I wonder why everyone is so hungry for stories now; they’re so hungry for stories that aren’t even about them or for them. I look out my window and see three helicopters tracing circles in the sky, and I imagine them searching the ground for some unrealized future or some forgotten past. I look down and see a yellow dog rooting around for something in the dirt, and I imagine that it is either unearthing something to eat or burying a bone for later. I look up and see nothing but sky, silent purple sky, and I imagine that late in the day someone must have gathered all the clouds with their fingers and put them in a jar. Do what you want with this; you’re allowed.

I envision every noise I hear swimming at the back of my head, every sight I see burrowing itself into my iris, every emotion I feel sliding slowly over my entire being  like honey. I imagine some great story-collector, a story-thief even, hovering over me as I sleep. It has no shape but looks perhaps like a horrible bird, or a wavering phantom, or the secret that you’ve never known. Its hands stretch out to take all my stories away from me. 

“Mine,” the story-thief says, “all that you have is mine.” I imagine him taking it all, scooping the stories out with his fingers and eating them right there.

“What do you even want with them,” I ask, “with all the stories?” 

There’s no answer.

I imagine that the story-thief feels a sense of entitlement over the stories, that it somehow deserves them, that they are theirs. But we have no right to someone’s story; we have no right to their history, their past, their future. There’s nothing that says we should automatically know everything about someone, especially if the information is sensitive. Sometimes we should honor the mystery.

While I do have a lot of respect for those who are entirely comfortable sharing extremely intimate parts of their lives with others fairly quickly, that is not who I am. I have no interest in making myself entirely transparent or readying the entire history of me for external consumption. It’s not that I want to be shrouded in mystery; it’s that I want to be the arbiter of my own stories, not someone else. I don’t want to be made to feel guilty for not putting every part of myself on the market — I will share what I want to share on my own terms; I’ll share memories and secrets when I want to. My stories are my stories

But what was this story about, again? I can’t remember. Was it about me? Is this a story about you? Is this the story of the witch being pushed in her own oven? Is this about the children finding their way home? Is this a story about the birds eating the breadcrumb trail? I can’t be certain, but I think it was about the birds. What were the birds doing? What have they done?

Can you help me? What was this story about? What have you heard? What have you seen?

I am back in my dream. There is no bread on the ground, and perhaps there never has been. The birds are everywhere. Some hover and circle around me, some peck at the ground, some perch in the trees. They are birds of every kind: ravens, crows, falcons, hawks, others I don’t know. There are all these birds and nothing but silence. I pinch myself to wake up, but I can’t. I take a step forward, but I can’t. I look down at my hands where a small bird, a finch perhaps, has landed.

“This is a story about you,” the finch says. “This has always been a story about you.”

Ryan Aghamohammadi is a junior studying Writing Seminars from Woodbury, Conn. His column uses the occult and the supernatural to cast a light on his ongoing journey of self-discovery. 

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