"To Sleep; Perchance To Dream...
When I awaken, I don't remember having dreamt. Which means that for the first time in months, I haven't been awakened by the cold fingers of dread scraping down my spine, or the tickle or tears pooling in my ears. But then I stumble to the bathroom, where my reflection reveals eyes that are hugely swollen above and darkly bruised below. And then I know that I haven't escaped the dream. I've simply learned to cry in my sleep.
I don't know what it means, this dream. I feel like there is some kind of message there, since it plagues me so often. Sometimes small details are different, but it is essentially the same every time. Is it my heart or my psyche that is trying so desperately to make a point? And why? I've acknowledged all the horrors to myself, even if I've not spoken the words aloud. So what is lurking in my subconscious that can't be examined directly?
Sometimes, I welcome the dream. It's the only way for me to be with her now. In the beginning I am unaware and I feel only happiness. Ecstasy, really. Euphoria. I am so goddamned glad to see her. It occurs to me that the feeling is too big and I wonder about it, but only fleetingly. The script is already written and I can't realize before I'm supposed to.
We talk. We eat. The sun is shining, the water is gently lapping at the rocks circling the patio where we sit under a red and white striped umbrella, watching ducks, giggling with exaggerated horror at the wealth of calories we are consuming with such reckless disregard for points.
It's so perfect. So perfect.
I study her face, revisiting all the familiar landmarks; eyes green as grass, straight teeth that I always envied, full lips that I don't have to because they are repeated on my own face. It's older, this face, but still the one that I have always known. Still her. I snap my eyes open and shut several times in rapid succession, like the shutter on a camera, hoping to capture the image before me and file it away forever. I don't know why I am doing such a silly thing. But I know it's important. Very, very important.
One by one, small details begin to change. The sun is eclipsed by clouds and it grows suddenly colder. The charming quack, quack, quacking of the ducks turns to loud braying. It's intrusive and somehow malevolent. The rich food turns to sawdust in my mouth. Raindrops fall; not pattering gently, but drumming loudly on the canvas under which we sit.
And then I realize that the canula is missing from her nostrils. There is no hose snaking up from beneath her chair, where her oxygen tank is discreetly tucked away. There is an ominous sucking noise that sends a lightning bolt of fear deep into my guts, even though I don't immediately understand that it's coming from her.
And then she falls forward, slumping in a hideously boneless way, striking the table with her face, knocking her stylish new glasses askew. The strange part of this...the awareness that somehow reaches through the dream; that odd knowing not knowing... is that I never actually saw her wearing the new glasses. I am sad about that. Because I know that she is dead. I know it even as I shake her and call her name. I scream for help, but nobody hears me, not even the people who are dining at the table right next to ours. Everyone carries on as if everything is normal; as if I am not standing in the rain screaming. How can they eat and laugh with a dead woman next to them?
I see the bluish tinge creeping up her neck onto her face. I see it spreading under her nails. Even on her scalp, where her hair is parted, I see the death stain. It horrifies me. I snatch my hand away from her shoulder, but not before the cold of her skin has chilled me to the bone. My hand hovers over her, wanting to touch her, stroke her brow, but afraid...so afraid. My terror of death is not diminished, even when it claims a body I know almost as well as my own.
Suddenly, ambulance people are at my elbow, telling me they must take her away. Who called them? How did they know where we were? How did they get here so quickly? My mind is whirling with questions and confusion, but then I remember that there's an important step being overlooked. I must beg them to save her life. And so I do, even though I know she's gone. It's part of the script after all, and I cannot deviate from it.
We can't save her, they say. Look at her. She's already beginning to decompose. We have to take her, they say. But I don't want them to. I'm afraid of what will happen to her. I know the indignities that a dead body is subjected to. She would be mortified. Let me take her, I implore. I'll put her someplace safe, I promise. I'll put her someplace beautiful, where death won't touch anybody else. But they refuse me. We have to take her they say again. They are gentle, but I get angry with them anyway. They take her away while I scream obscenities at them. One of them hunches his shoulders against the onslaught of my words and then I feel badly. I turn away heartbroken and ashamed.
And then she speaks. My heart nearly lurches out of my chest at the sound of her voice. She tells them to stop fussing over her for heaven's sake. She is perfectly fine and she doesn't need to go to the hospital. Can't they see that? They tell her that yes, they can see that she's fine, but it's policy to transport any formerly dead persons. She argues that she wasn't dead, but eventually she agrees to go. BUT...she insists, she will walk to the ambulance. She can still walk, as they can plainly see.
It isn't until then that I have the courage to turn and look at her. All I can see is her back as she makes her way to the ambulance. I need to see her face and I call to her, but she doesn't hear me. But I don't worry because I will see her at the hospital and then we will laugh about those poor stupid ambulance people actually thinking she was dead. And me too. Har Har. See how I'm laughing?
I follow the ambulance to the hospital. As I'm driving, I note that my hands are still ice cold, as if the feel of her dead flesh has not left them. I wonder why that would be. I think I will need to touch her again now that she's alive, to steal back some of her warmth. I marvel over what a strange thing that is. I wonder if it is because all our lives, without really being aware of it, we are stalked by death.
Suddenly I am in a hospital room before a white curtain. I know she is behind it and I am desperate to see her. I don't remember parking the car, or walking instide. I toss the curtain aside with a wide sweep of my arm and start forward, intending to seize her and gather her to me. We are not normally huggers, but I need to touch her and hold her just now. But I my forward momentum is halted by the sight that greets my eyes. On the gurney lies, not my mother...but a small decorative urn, inlaid with decorative tiles. I recognize that urn. It is the same one that sits on my bedside table, next to a picture of her. I know what that means and I sink to my knees, sobbing.
A hear someone enter the room and voice behind me says he is so sorry. It's one of the ambulance people. But HOW?? I ask. I SAW her. She was walking, she was talking. She was FINE! The voice is kind, but firm. No, she wasn't fine, she really was dead. You saw her, didn't you? She just didn't realize it. Sometimes they don't. That's why we had to bring her in. You can take her with you now. I ask him how I can be sure it's really her. See for yourself he says. And then he leaves me. I open the urn and pour the contents into my hands. There is ash and chips of bone. An earring. A lipstick, which makes no sense. I finger the bone chips, rubbing them between my fingers, trying to understand that this is all that's left of her. How can someone so hugely alive and vibrant be reduced to a small pile of colorless ash?
I know I have to call people, do official things, make arrangements. But all I can do is sit sobbing while ash and bone trickle through my fingers.
Usually I wake up then. Sometimes before. But I never get the privilege of waking up before she falls dead into her plate. To have her with me for a few fleeting moments, I have to suffer that over and over and over. It's not every night, but often enough that I dread going to sleep. Until recently, I've told nobody about the dream, not even my husband. It just seems like talking about it will somehow make it even more awful. But recently my sister shared with me that she is dreaming too. We still have so many questions you see. We still have anger. We still want to place blame. We are the kind of people who need things to make sense, and this never will. The dreams, they have some purpose, but neither of us know what it is. I wonder if the dreams will stop when I truly accept that she is gone. I haven't yet, as unbelievable as that seems. It just doesn't seem possible and I'm not sure if or when it ever will. Maybe I'll be having the dream until I slip away myself.
Well...if that's the case, at least we can be together, if only for a few fleeting moments. It's really all I have. Maybe....maybe the dream is a gift then. Maybe it's meant to help rather than torment. Maybe I've been looking at it all wrong.
I wish I could ask her what she thinks it means. Maybe I'll give it a try, next time she visits me.
They say you can do anything in your dreams. But if that's so....shouldn't I be able to save her?
I think that might be what this is all about. I wasn't there to save her. I should have been.
Maybe the dream stops when I forgive myself.
(It took me five days to write this. And it's been sitting here finished for another five. I didn't know if I wanted to put it out there, but we writers have this strange compulsion to bare ourselves to our audience. I don't know why. I wish I did. It's not entertaining, and I'm sorry for that. But it really, really helped me to write it all down. That last part never occurred to me until I was writing it. I think there are probably typos galore and a multitude of clumsy sentences and awkward grammar. But I don't dare go back and edit, or I will lose my nerve to post it. So you see...writing is my tool. Thanks for bearing with me while I use it to work through this. I know I've subjected you to a lot of doom and gloom since my mother died. But maybe some of it's been helpful to someone else out there who has lost. I sincerely hope so.)