It feels like I write about my dreams repeatedly, but sometimes they are just so intense that when I wake up, my mind is still racing in time with the random sequences of events. I’ll still believe the majority of the happenings in the dream truly took place, I’ll still be afflicted with a thousand leftover emotions, and I’ll have no idea why I’m lying in bed with my face smushed into the pillow and a numb arm. I like to believe that in this small window of time, we are somewhere in between the Earth and the Nether, whatever that may be, and we have very, very briefly landed on the divide between reality and imagination, one foot into Infinity and the other resting safely in our warm beds. And then, after those few, precious minutes of mixed cognition have dwindled and passed, so comes the post-dream emotions, for me always either being extreme relief or extreme disappointment. Then the truth of your situation sinks in, and you’ll think something like, “Ugh, this sweatshirt is too hot. Great, I slept on my neck wrong. Both arms asleep, better flop around like a fish. Must…. Urinate…. but where did my pants go? Oh GOD, LEG CRAMP!”
I never dream in Maryland. As strange as it sounds, when I actually take time to notice where I am in my Dream-world, it is always some distant place that I’ve visited. Mostly I find myself in California, as I did last night; nostalgia runs rampant in my head when I lay down to rest, and last night was no exception. I was walking through the neighborhoods surrounding my old home with a few girlfriends who had never seen this place before, and I remember being so happy to show and share my former home to someone else, ridiculously excited to try to describe the environment that helped cultivate and shape me, a place partially responsible for who I was today, but above all, I was hoping I could meld the amazing people and dear friends I’d known all my life with more recent bonds. It’s hard to keep something to yourself when you love it so much; that’s California to me.
I led them all through the winding streets of my huge, suburban neighborhood, streets filled all with houses about the same size; standard, one-story, 1700-1800 square foot homes with tiny, fenced-in backyards pushed right up against each other, like a half-finished game of Tetris. As we neared the little one in the middle of a long street sharing the same name as Tillamook cheddar cheese, the sight of my old home was utterly demoralizing; it was derelict, dilapidating, slowly decaying into the folds of memory and time. The beautiful roses my father had once so loved were dead underneath the kitchen window. The stonework my mother had so carefully planned on each corner of the tiny house was crumbling away with the passing of the years since our absence. A blooming, silver web was stretched in front of the little alcove leading to the front door, a monstrous, hideous spider sitting in the middle, threatening us with her very presence. I walked slowly up the short flagstone path, my heart breaking with each step. This was what had become of a place where I had spent numerous Christmases sitting on the green carpet of the family room floor sucking on a candy cane as presents were placed in front of me; a place where I would wait in silence near the miniature pond in the backyard just for a water-bug to whiz by my face, the closest thing to ice-skating I had ever seen; a place where I would swing on a blue and yellow plastic seat and make up songs about my day and sing for what felt like hours as I swayed back and forth, the chilly evening rolling in over the mountains and foothills to greet me; this home was happiness, innocence, a place of purity before the rest of life came crashing down on top of me. It was the “deep breath before the plunge.” And now it was broken.
A shovel magically appeared in my hand at the very moment I wanted to smash that spider’s hairy body against the pavement; it seems my imagination was on my side. I gripped tight with both hands, and swung it up and downward over my head like a man chopping wood. The blade cut through the sticky, thin threads of web and lodged itself directly into the center of her fat body, a viscous, green substance beginning to ooze out of the cavernous trench that now lay in her abdomen at my doing, the long, spindly legs squirming and kicking the life out of themselves until they finally lay flat and unmoving. I’ll give her credit for dying so quietly. I left the shovel sticking out of her belly and motioned to my horror-stricken girlfriends to come inside with me, secretly praying to God that the roof would not collapse, nor that a second, possibly more horrifying scene awaited me.
As I gingerly pushed open the door, the soft glow of light, like from a dim lamp in the evening, pervaded the room, and the sounds of pots and pans being moved, clanged, rang in my ears while a wonderful smell wafted from what I knew was the kitchen on the other side of the wall. Once inside, the house looked exactly as it stood in my staunch memory. I swing open the iron gates installed to keep Max out of the living room, and the man himself comes to greet me tail-wagging, a goofy smile across his face, and as I bend down, lip trembling, running my fingers through his long silky coat, pressing the sides of our heads together while I scratch behind his ears, I whisper, “I’m sorry.” As I begin to survey the room, I see faces from all avenues of memory; a woman who used to be good friends with my mother’s is standing in the kitchen next to the 30-year-old son she lost to cancer, both standing over a stove brimming with steaming pots and sizzling pans; my oldest friends from preschool are sitting feet away around the antique dining set, cramming themselves next to each other, engaging in lively and animated conversation with each other; my handsome, grey-haired godfather is leaning casually against the counter as the crow’s feet around his eyes tighten with laughter at the father of a family friend, whose beautiful daughter is my age, and is standing in the corner next to the garage door chatting quietly with her equally-beautiful mother. The feelings running through me at this moment are indescribable, euphoric emotions, all with lives of their own, the vivacity of this scene breathing a thousand lifetimes. The house is filled with people, just everyone, everyone I ever knew or loved. As I’m still crouching on the floor in my beatific stupor, I feel someone wrap their arm around my shoulders and stand me up to face the entirety of the room; they begin to run fingers through my hair, prolific chills climbing my spine like a ladder with every brush of their fingertip. The thought of my own death flits through my mind. Just as the consideration that I might not have woken up this morning hits me, I am at once okay with that if this is my heaven. The fingers stop their journey through my hair, and someone bends down next to my ear, with sweet lemon on their breath, and says, “I love you.”
This line immediately throws me out of my dream-world, sucks me back through the space-time continuum, and leaves me so full of everything that was ever possible, yet emptier than the desert moon on a cold night. I wake with my heart beating frantically as if Death were creeping ever closer as I slept. And as I lay there, trying to take in and sort out all that has happened, but hasn’t really happened, the pang of embitterment and loss is felt in all corners of my body.