If you asked most people to come up with a synonym for "me" in relationship to themselves, they'd simply say their name and move on.
But I wouldn't. I'd say, "Dreamer."
I've always known. That I'm a dreamer, I mean. Just like I've always known that I'm a pink Xweetok and that my name is Iris and that I live in a small town outside of Neopia Central.
I've always known.
Sometimes I've acted different, worn masks. Around my cousins, Fia and Annie, a cloud Ogrin and a white Wocky, I'm peppy and perky and full of mischief. Around strangers, I'm shy and not at all social. Around almost everyone else, I'm calm and serene. I don't wear my heart on my sleeve. But no matter what mask I wear, I'm still a dreamer, inside.
I still remember the day I first tried to share my fantasies with my friends. Fia and Annie and I were laying in the grass, lazily gazing up at the clouds. Fia and Annie were gossiping about some girl who got in big trouble at our school. I can't recall the girl's name, or even what she did. I never did care about that kind of thing.
Sunshine was streaming down through the clouds, warming our faces and lighting the scene. I remember smiling and turning to my cousins. "Fia, Annie," the younger me said happily. "Don't you think the sunbeams are beautiful? That they're just like what a song would look like, if you could see it?"
I remember the girls laughing at me, as though they found it hilarious that I would think such a thing. "Fyora's crown, Iris, you're older than me and only a month or two younger than Fia! You should know that such things are impossible! Why won't you grow up?" giggled Annie. She was only seven, but she already considered us, as she put it, "almost adults." I should have known that I would receive only scorn if I spoke my thoughts aloud. It was all right when I was younger, just a toddler. People thought it was cute then. But that warm day, I was supposed to be smarter, at eight.
After that I mostly kept my thoughts to myself.
But I still dreamed. When I grew tired of Fia and Annie, I made up my own friends, friends that would never make fun of me. I could make them say anything I wanted them say, think anything I wanted to think, do anything I wanted to do.
Sometimes I had imaginary conversations not only with my made-up friends, but with my real ones, too. I'd imagine saying something bold and strong, instead of my usual timid little answers. I'd imagine speaking my mind, telling the world about my dreams. Imagine everyone in Neopia agreeing with me.
On some days I'd venture out into the forests, climb up into the trees, and just listen, thinking about the stories the wild petpets would tell me, if they could talk. When I heard the story of Princess Melody of Brightvale, The Forest Daughter, I was enchanted. I imagined what it would be like to be her, raised by faeries in a forest.
At school, I got good grades. I was great at interpreting the literature in Language Arts and I loved History because I dreamed about the brave Neopians from the past, come to life in our books. The teachers often got annoyed with me, though, as I'd spend an entire class staring out the window, sometimes. Dreaming.
Gradually, I needed more of an outlet for my imagination. Something to do. So I picked up a pen and a stack of paper and started writing.
I loved it. I wrote and wrote and wrote, all kinds of things, from tales about the Space Station to stories about Meridell to my own thoughts. No one saw what I wrote, of course. It was mine. And I was happy to keep it that way.
The characters seemed so real to me, so vivid, even more so than my old made-up friends. I was swept away in their lives. Writing became my life.
All of my stories were kept in a book, a journal, some might call it. I hid this book in a different place every day, for fear that someone would find it. I would be mortified if anyone read it. They'd say that all of the stories were worthless, horrible. And my dreams would be crushed. The Dreamer would be crushed, too. Me, Iris, The Dreamer.
All was well until the book went missing. I looked everywhere but couldn't find it. I didn't sleep at all that night. I would tell no one what I was looking for.
The next day at school, I was shocked to find Fia holding my journal up for everyone to see. She was reading passages out loud to the crowd that had gathered.
"'Sometimes, the girl wished she was a Pteri or a faerie. It was so tedious being nailed to the ground. So confining. She wanted to fly up into the sky and live in the center of the sun.' Isn't that weird? Iris..." Zia trailed off when she saw me.
I had tears in my eyes. That passage was one of my favorites. I could hear the whispers, the chuckles. I ran.
"Iris!" I could hear Zia calling after me, trying to make excuses. Well, it wouldn't work. I kept running, into the forest. I quickly climbed a tree, and let the tears flow.
I heard footsteps coming my way. Probably Annie, coming to make fun of me, or more likely Zia. I sniffed and tried to swallow my sobs. I felt like it would be impossible to be a dreamer, if I was so, so-
"Iris?" It was a small voice that said my name. Definitely not one of my cousins.
I remained silent.
"Iris, I'm coming up."
I sighed. Soon the furry head of a purple Kougra came into view.
Lidia. I didn't know her, not really. She was my age, and quiet like me. That was about all I knew.
"Hello," she said nervously.
I managed a smile. "Why are you here?"
"Umm, well, I heard Zia reading from your journal - she's your cousin, right? - and I thought it was really good, and then you ran away, and you looked like you were crying, so..." She trailed off, as Zia had, not from astonishment but from a lack of things to say.
"It's fine. You don't have to make up stuff to make me feel better. I know it's horrible." Eerily, I was calm now, tears completely gone. I was resigned to the fact that a dreamer was a stupid thing to be and that I was a terrible writer.
"Oh, no! That was awesome." Shyly, Lidia smiled. "Sometimes I like to imagine that I can fly, too. I write, sometimes, you know."
"Really?" Eyes shining, I stared at the girl as if she were my new hero.
"Really," she replied. "Now, let's get back your book. And since I got to hear part of your stories, it's only fair that you get to read mine."
I knew that I had a friend, that I could tell my dreams to Lidia. I knew that I was still a dreamer, that I would be one no matter what. And I knew that I wasn't the only one.