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. Open doors, float through them, step onto the lawn, smile at all 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 fancied myself having one foot still in the grave.
But by the end of my thirties, I’d had a change of heart: Life and living had emerged more distinct and precious, deserving more from me than puny half-measures. Anything less was the extreme, even jinxy. I wanted to let go of childish notions and avoid their consequences.
But here I am, older, and I tug my bath towel off the rack, the terrycloth still damp from the last use, and think how strange and ephemeral a thing is, that I have a hand and hold a towel, that I rub my hair until it’s bristly, and so on. But I do, and I did, and then dashed off to the bank, picked up a roast chicken for dinner, came back. At the front door, I pet my dogs on their panting little heads. Today I take it 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 her own death without dying. Unless the statement was intended to be figurative, they got it wrong. Because I did.
So let me tell you this dream I had….
We stumble into the room together; I go in first. then my husband. I know he is my husband; I sense a bond and intimacy. He is tall and thin and talking animatedly as he follows me into the white room. We are shifting wave forms over a wood floor covered with a sheet, a drop cloth.
Others shuffle in behind us. We’ve entered though the door: There’s the pounding of everyone’s feet on the boards beneath us.
The deal has been struck with lots of banter. My husband and I, we are pleased with ourselves and can’t stop smiling; we’re riding a high!
The weather must be warm, because I wear short sleeves. Down the left arm, I look–for what, a watch? I don’t see any of the small freckles normally dotting my skin. My arm is thinner, and the wrist, smaller. I take these details in stride. I convince myself I’m mistaken, even silly to have expected my arm to be anything other than my arm, and wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans.
I’m the only woman in the room. The men have filed in behind us, and my husband is laughing, too happy, I think. A little nervous.
My husband, he’s leaner than I thought, and the wrong age—in his twenties. The sight of his short, reddish mustache irritates me. But I love him. Still, I want to rearrange his features somehow, 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. But I hear their voices rising behind me. My mind registers that voices have risen, and tuning in, their insistence pounds like a hundred moving feet.
The atmosphere has grown thick. My husband is pleading: “No… don’t….”
Alarmed by the urgency of his voice, I swing around and see him lunge: His long, wiry body leaps forward, off-balance–his arms jut towards a man who holds something in his hand. What is it? Perspective presents me with a small round hole.
My legs know what’s happening before reason does. I pivot to run.
My hair—blonde hair?—has whipped into my face, and I’m again facing the white wall, but it has been splattered with a shocking corona of red.
It’s remarkable how numb I feel. I believe the red is bad. I reach for the back of my head, place my hand to it, and feel that it’s sticky and no longer firm. It collapses like wet cardboard, but I hold my hand there. I think I ought to.
The floor and me together, the floor wants me down! Oh….
I’m awake. 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 returns to view, and there’s the white ceiling, and my husband, with his mustache and sagging cheeks. He’s gazing down at me. He’s in 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.
I wake again, and there is time for us to be together, close like this, him cradling me in his lap, his warm arms. It’s my last…
Its my last moment.
And all that was wonderful in our lives is welling over me like warm loving milk. I see glimpses of sunshine through tall trees and their green dainty leaves, a happy, happy day. And I know in this moment that my days could never have been anything other than happy days. I love him.
One last time, I pull back from the dimness claiming me. I need to tell him, I have to tell him what I see. Always tell him. But my face is heavy, hard to make the words….
“It… was all so… pretty!”
I whisper this pearl with joy swelling my heart, hoping at my last that he’s heard me–he’s right there–but my fleeting words are such a pale gesture to the sweetness of life. It was silly to try.
Oblivion descends. Alone now, I can’t tell whether I’ve shut my eyes, but my man’s face hangs no more. I’m no longer a weight in his arms, for I’ve sublimated into nothingness. I see brown, only brown, then nothing. I am done.
I lay in the bedroom In near darkness, on my side, watching the outline of my husband as he slept next to me, his deep breaths, his clean profile–the glasses were on the bedside table. My cheek was wet with tears. My mind reeled from adrenaline.
As I lay there catching my breath, my chest felt odd, as if someone had snatched this body away and given it back. I knew my name, but it had an unfamiliar ring.
This life had its own history and childhood, and I remembered them, saw flashes of my story as I lay there… but didn’t trust it. It was as if I still wore someone else’s eyes. Life in that moment became a thing of color, dimension, and substance distinctly finite and mysteriously unowned.