This is a dream. The way I used to dream. The way I probably always dream. Like an alternate life. Like reality. There are so many connections that even as I write, I lose the thread of the dream at times. But I always come back to it.
I woke up at 4, checked the clock, was very happy I had slept for 6 hours straight, and resolved to get back to sleep for at least another hour. When I woke up after the dream, it was 5:30.
I just woke up from a lovely dream of David, of New York, of that time just after we came back from Italy. We loved Italy but we came home and recognized that New York City was our home. We were infatuated with our city, our circle of friends, our plans. I was just pregnant with the child that I would lose in three months. David was accepted to the Columbia Writing Program for graduate school. This after he set his heart on Yale, was accepted to Iowa and wait listed at Columbia. The dream time borrows from time over a number of months. Soon after we returned from Italy which seems to be the time of the dream, the school decisions came in. We were not happily infatuated with the city. David was mourning the loss of his dream of Yale. Iowa seemed like the only option. We planned a summer trip out there to scope things out. I don’t remember when the Columbia acceptance came -- before or after our Iowa trip which was so awful.
We had planned to be in Iowa for an entire week, but left just after the Fourth of July. Four days in the midwest. We hated it. Iowa City was flat, dry, dusty, and deserted in the summer. There seemed to be a bar on every corner, no work available for me at all, ugly apartments. The head of the writer’s lab entertained us in his large restored victorian house which sat in what I recognize now as the historical district of the town. And it seemed like a town, not a city at all. Oh, we were such snobs! He was gracious, but not kind. We told him how we would need work out there to live, and he told us that there wasn’t really anything much. The bars were no place for me -- I was pregnant at the time -- but that seemed like such a definitive statement. All my non-theater work at the time was waiting table. He sneered at the prospect of waiting table. This was the summer that I decided to wear all white all summer, like an updated version of something from a victorian movie. My body was rapidly changing due to pregnancy -- Cheshire, this time -- nothing fit and so I bought cheap painter’s pants and skirts and tee shirts. All white to walk around the city in. The head of the Iowa Writer’s Lab said something sarcastic, I thought it was mean, about my white clothes. What I remember now is his asking if I was a nurse, and wasn’t it impractical to wear white in the City. Was it just his tone? He did not like New York. Did he say more?
On the Fourth of July, we went to the fire works in a flat open field that was called a park. We sat on the grass, not having a blanket to put on the ground. It was a bit wet. We saw families, a number of Amish families. They all seemed to us at the time insular and without need of any outsiders. I think now that our observation from that time was accurate in that breaking into the Indianapolis “society” was very hard for us. Everyone seemed to have friends since childhood, everyone had a family there, everyone was friendly but not everyone was open to the deep abiding friendship that seemed so easy in the City. Now, I think that the deep but quick friendships of our City time was more a product of our late 20’s, early 30’s than the place. We did not know that then.
We were miserable that Fourth of July. What seemed like a good idea -- grad school in the midwest -- was turning out to be a disaster. David’s best option for a job there was driving a truck when he was not in school. Affordable housing was going to be a cheap looking-new apartment on the outskirts of an ugly town, far away from campus. We did not have a car at the time and there was no way we were going to survive without one. We would be carless for another three years and pretty happily so.
We watched fireworks, sitting on damp ground as fog rolled in. By the end of the show, it was hard to see the bursts of light, hard to remember where the rented car was parked, and eerie being around people who were not at all friendly in their self-containment. The next morning, I think it was the next morning, it could have been that night, we made the decision that we couldn’t live there. We cancelled a few appointments to see apartments and interview for jobs and if I remember correctly, have another meal with the department head, and left.
But that was reality. In this dream, it was the time before I was pregnant with Cheshire, after David had been accepted to Columbia, but when we had just gotten back from Italy. We were walking around infatuated with the City.
We were seeing each other after a long time apart. I could presume that it was the time before we were married just after our last breakup, but at some point walking around, I thought our separation was much longer than the few months of that breakup, more like years, more like now.
We held hands the way new lovers hold hands. In pockets, walking through tight crowds, and when inconvenient. Holding hands when any established couple would let go. We were claiming each other. We talked as we walked, and I cannot remember a thing of what we said. It was all very real. How I miss that kind of talking, the kind of talking that goes on for years without end.
We had been apart and now we were together. I had moments of knowing that the apart was David’s death, but I was not surprised that we could be together again. At times there was a child with us. Cheshire, I think, but this was not the real Cheshire and we were not acting like real parents. This was the image of a child who darted in and around the crowd as we walked, who stopped in stores and who caught up with us at the corner. None of this was my experience of parenting. This was the dream of parenting of those who are childless. And the scene was about us, about David and I.
We walked under bridges and through the park -- Central or Prospect. A park with hills and flower beds and benches. We were on crowded streets looking at restaurant menus. We stopped to look at some art installation that was sort of a dark phone booth and we stood very close in that dark space without kissing. We were drunk on the City and on each other. Our conversation came around to what I was doing these days. I tried to explain how I was going through all of our belongings and remembering so much of our lives. I wanted to tell him what all those things were seducing me to feel. I tried to tell him that I was having a hard time separating our love from the results of our love, our life from our decisions about life, the feelings that began the life from the process of living. I was having a hard time finding the words. Finally, I said that I am not sure whether I am in love with you or whether you are just all my happiness. David laughed at me, and didn’t say, but in the moment I knew that it didn’t matter which. What is the difference?
By this time, or better, the scene shifted the way scenes shift in dreams. We were suddenly in a bedroom of a rather ugly apartment that we might have been moving into. There was a bed in the middle of the room, linoleum on the floor, the walls painted that off white that landlords always use, the sheets on the bed were very white. Windows were big and old with peeling wooden sashes. We were undressed and ready to go to bed and make love. And then a child, about five years old, and alternately Cheshire and Julia, although five year old Julia did not have enough English or enough maturity to voice what the dream child voiced, complained that we were moving around too much in bed. Her presence did not bother us in the least -- which is surprising as I type this. We were always very careful to keep our private lives private and would have moved to another bed if a child was in bed with us and we wanted to make love. The child -- now more Cheshire than Julia -- moved to my big blue chair that I bought for our Washington Blvd. house and which Cheshire has now. It was/is a great chair to sleep in and it was better that the child was going to sleep in the chair and leaving us alone. I realized again that David was naked. I must have been as well. I was between white sheets. His body was lovely, probably his body when he was in his 30’s. Maybe collectively our best physical time ever. I was engaged in kissing David’s elbow -- he had very nice elbow -- and appreciating his naked body. I was in bed and he was getting into bed. He settled into my arms with his arms around me. I was very happy. I didn’t make note of the happiness then. I do now and it reminds me that I told David how happy I was in Madison, being Julia’s mother, being a stay-at-home mom. Now, I would add to that few years in Madison that the happiness came from him, from us being together. There were just a few weeks, after the transplant, when summer was dawning, when the gardens looked good, when we were outside filling a plastic blow up pool that I bought thinking that it would be fun for Julia when we could not go to the Goodman pool because of her therapy or David’s doctor appointments. It was a very short time of relief, of feeling that we could move our lives from fear and anxiousness back to something that felt like normal life.
In the dream, we were not even close enough long enough to kiss when the child, who was not Julia, shrieked that there was a bug in the bed. Now, she and an old friend, Marcia Blank -- who was not in our lives when Cheshire was born, let along when Julia came home -- were in a bed next to ours, and they were making all sorts of noise that there was a bug in their bed. David told them to take care of it, that it was probably from someone’s bag, brought in from the moving (this idea came and went without explanation). Julia complained that the bug was very big and I glanced over and indeed it was a water bug, one of the incredibly disgusting things that makes the back of my knees scared. It fluttered its wings and got a few inches off the mattress. Yes, it was scary. I don’t think I even asked or thought to ask David to get up and take care of it. In all of our life together, it was always him who would get up for such a thing. At first it was gallantry, it was him as a male taking charge. Later, it came to be his job and I always felt vaguely guilty for not at least volunteering to get up. But I did not ask, he did not move. I just got up and went to the bathroom to get a kleenex to catch and kill the bug. And as I was getting the kleenex, I thought that I would not have done this task when David was alive.
And then I woke up and let the memory of the dream wash over me. I made the connections that I just wrote about and realized that I was not going back to sleep.
Did I love him or was he merely all my happiness?
I read what I’ve written. I cry a bit, just tears, not sobs. I am sad. I have an acceptance growing that what was cannot again be. I am very grateful for the dream. I don’t push away the confusion of feelings. I know how happy I was for so much of the time. I am scared that I will never again have happiness. I am sure that I will have tomorrow.