Life has felt unfamiliar to me at times, the whole business of interacting with matter. I’m astonished to be moving through air. Like moving through a dream, I open doors, float through, step onto the lawn, smile at the hovering mothers, the leaf-shimmying beauties, and hear the creak of their boughs.
I’ve on-and-off thought this way since I was a child. During my twenties, in my most private moments, I’d imagine myself having one foot still in the grave.
But by the end of my thirties, I’d had a change of heart. Anything less than a full commitment became the extreme, even jinxy. I wanted to let go of childish indulgences and avoid their consequences.
But here I am, even older. I tug my bath towel off the rack, its terrycloth still damp from the last use, and think how strange and ephemeral objects are, that I have a hand and hold a towel, that I rub my hair until it’s bristly, and so on. Ad infinitum, grounded. But I do, and I did, and then dashed off to the bank and store, picked up a roast chicken, came back. I pet my dogs on their panting, furry heads. Today, I take for granted that I should move within and interact with the material world.
And yet they say—and they do a lot of sayin’—that a person cannot dream of his own death without actually dying. But they got it wrong. I did.
So let me tell you this dream I had….
He and I, we stumble into the room together. I go in first. He follows. He’s my husband. I sense a bond between us, an intimacy beyond touch. He’s tall and thin and talks animatedly as he follows me in. We are shifting wave forms over a wood floor covered with a sheet, a drop cloth.
There are others who shuffle in behind us. We’ve entered though a door. There’s the pounding of everyone’s feet on wood boards, beneath us.
A deal has been struck, lots of banter. My husband and I are right giddy-pleased with ourselves, swing our limbs freely. He snaps his fingers. We can’t stop smiling. We’re riding a high!
The weather must be warm because I’m wearing short sleeves. Down my left arm, I look—for what, a watch? I don’t know. I don’t see any of the small freckles that normally dot my skin. My arm’s thinner, and the wrist, smaller. I take these details in stride, but wonder… I convince myself I’m mistaken, even silly: my arm isn’t anything other than my arm, I say, and wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans.
I’m the only woman in the room. These men have filed in behind us, and my husband is laughing. Too happy, I suddenly think, a little nervous.
My husband, he’s leaner than I thought, and the wrong age—in his twenties. My mind keeps trying to make adjustments. The sight of his short, reddish mustache irritates me. I want to rearrange his features, adjust the placement of his eyes. Something is missing…
I shrug it off while he continues to talk shop with the men. For some reason I’m fixated on the white cleanliness of the walls; I want to touch a wall. But voices are rising behind me—voices have risen, and I feel pinpricks of sweat. Frozen in place, I tune in: their insistence pounds like a hundred moving feet!
The atmosphere has grown thick. My husband pleads: “No way, man… you can’t mean it. C’mon! No. Don’t….”
Alarmed by the urgency of his voice, I swing around and see him lunge: his long, wiry body leaps forward, but off-balance—his arms jut forward to a man who holds something in his hand. What is it? Perspective presents me a small round hole.
My legs know what’s happening before I do. I pivot to run.
My hair—blond hair?—has whipped into my face. Again, I’m facing a white wall, though now splattered with a shocking corona of red.
Remarkable how numb I feel. I touch the back of my head, place my hand to it, and feel that it’s sticky and no longer firm. My skull depresses like wet cardboard, but I hold my hand there. I believe I ought to.
The floor and me together—the floor wants me down! Oh…!
I’m awake. I shouldn’t be. I should be asleep. I’m lying on a floor, and someone is cradling me in his lap. I open my eyes. Or were they already open?
My husband has pulled me into his lap. I say his name: “Gary.”
That is not my husband’s name.
It’s okay, a voice whispers…. So little matters.
The room comes into view, and there’s a white ceiling, not quite white, and my husband, with his bushy mustache and sagging cheeks. He’s gazing down at me. He’s in so much pain. Look at his pain, I think, and then everything fades…
I feel no pain. It’s quiet. I see only brown.
He’s here, right there, I want to say, though unable to speak or see.
I wake again. And there is time for us to be together, close like this, him cradling me in his lap, in his warm arms. This is my last… it’s my last…
It’s my last moment.
And all that was wonderful in our lives together is welling over me like warm milk. I see glimpses of sunshine through tall trees and green dainty leaves, a happy, happy day. And I understand in this moment that all my days could never have been anything other than happy. I love him.
One last time. I pull back from the dimness overwhelming me. I need to tell him, I have to tell him what I see! Always tell him. But my face is heavy and stiff, hard to make the words…
“It… was all so… pretty!”
I whisper this pearl with joy swelling my heart, hoping with my last that he’s heard me—he’s right there—but my fleeting words are a pale gesture to the sweetness of life. It was silly to even try.
Oblivion descends. Alone now. I can’t tell whether I’ve shut my eyes. My man’s face hangs no more. I’m no longer a weight in anyone’s arms, for I’ve sublimated into nothingness. I see brown, only brown. Then nothing. I am done.
“It… was all so… pretty!”
In near darkness, I lay on my side, watching the outline of my husband rise and fall as he slept: his deep breaths, his clean profile. The glasses I’d missed would be on the bedside table. A tickle on my face was a tear.
I lay there, and had to catch my breath; my body felt odd, as if someone had snatched it away and given it back. My name, as I repeated it to myself, had an unfamiliar ring.
This life has its own history, and I thought about this then, saw flashes of my childhood as I lay here… but didn’t trust what I saw. It was as if I still was wearing someone else’s eyes. Life in that moment became a thing of color, dimension, and substance, distinctly finite and mysteriously unowned.
I whispered to the night: “So this is who I am now.”
Then, fitfully, I rolled over, and with a profound sigh, tried to get some sleep.