a season in purgatory

I have recurring dreams. Nightmares, actually. I had the one that scares me the most last night. The one I don’t talk about. The one I haven’t had in almost a year. It sits in the back of my mind waiting to pounce, to remind me it’s still there. Not done with me yet. And so, I woke at 5am this morning, bolt upright in my bed with tears streaming down my face, vomiting into my cupped hands.

Yeah, it’s just that bad.

Several weeks into my father’s limbo coma-like state and shortly after I became his legal guardian and conservator, I made two appointments. The first was with a long-term care facility in our old neighborhood, which, I won’t lie, was a fucking surreal experience I don’t ever want to fucking discuss. The other was with the palliative care team at the hospital. I felt kind of strange about the latter for several reasons. First, it seemed like I was giving up on my Dad to talk to folks about end-of-life decisions, especially during a week where my brother and I had actually gotten him awake and alert and weening off of his ventilator. We were working on getting him talking. He was giving it his all — what all he had. It seemed like we were turning the corner. On an upswing. Why would I be talking to the team that helps people die? The other issue I had is that I felt kind of silly — like I was being dramatic and alarmist. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t happening. Talk of palliative care and hospice-in-situ was for people with cancer and other terminal illnesses. For people who were really sick and dying. Not my dad. He’d just had an accident. He wasn’t that sick. Was I in for a surprise.

The meeting took place in a small conference room on my Dad’s floor. It was clean and neat and cozy. I sat at a table with two other women — the doctor who was in charge of the palliative care unit, and the unit’s care coordinator. The doctor was a small, quiet, but no nonsense Filipina in her 40s. The coordinator was a smiling, attractive blonde woman in her 30s with larger presence. A social worker by trade, she seemed custom-built to simultaneously inform and comfort. Something about her size and her face made me feel safe. Like, for the first time in longer than I could recall, I was in the room with someone who could bar the door and protect me from all the monsters on the other side who were trying to get through it and claw me to pieces. Someone who was ready, willing, and able to stand between me and It and provide some breathing space. I remember thinking that I never wanted to leave that room.

Neither woman sugar-coated anything for me. Both expressed a great deal of relief that I had initiated the meeting. Said they had been hoping and waiting for me to call on them. I was surprised. Didn’t understand. Why would they care? Why would they even notice my father’s case in that giant, seven-floor facility? My father wasn’t that sick. They opened the meeting by quickly disabusing me of that notion.

“Your father is one of the sickest people we have in this hospital. You are not overreacting.”

I was stunned. At a complete loss for words. I sat there with my mouth hanging open, incredulous. I stared at the back my hands spread palms-down on the table, thinking how ridiculous they looked, small and weak and completely futile trying to grip something solid and find some purchase as the world tilted and spun around me. Wondered why I hadn’t brought anyone with me. Why was I sitting in a meeting about ending my father’s life alone? I let their words sink in through my hard shell, my tough skin, and all the multiple protective layers I’d built beneath. I was numb — had been for ages. It made no sense. No, it made perfect sense. I knew it. Deep down, I always knew it. I knew it the moment I saw my dad’s eyes, hazel green like my own, wide with terror behind the oxygen mask while I asked him if he wanted me to consent to the ventilator and medical coma on the night of his accident. I knew it was over then. The rest was just a formality. Motions and window dressing. I had a part to play, and I played it, even though I knew the story would eventually end with me walking out of the hospital lost and empty-handed in defeat one night. It’s why I made the appointment. If I’d been in denial, I wouldn’t have made the appointment. Knew Death was stalking us. Watching. Waiting. Patiently living in the corner of my father’s hospital room, filling that chair no one ever sat in. Knew she traveled with me on the planes and laid down with me at night and slept with her limbs wrapped around my tense form only to rise with me again every morning. She was my constant companion, but I never acknowledged her. Felt her standing on the other side of my father’s hospital bed staring a hole through my head, but I couldn’t bring myself to her eyes — eyes that were my own in a face identical to mine, because, really, what other form would she take? The bitch.

My goal was to find out what options were available to make my father comfortable and maintain his dignity should the tide turn and the inevitable come to pass. What decisions could I make when the crisis wasn’t at a fever pitch and my head was relatively clear so that I wouldn’t have to try to make them on an emergency basis when everyone was a mess and Dad was already in pain. I didn’t want to wait until it was too late. I wanted to make the tough calls while in the eye of the storm, so that all I had to do was lash myself to the mast once the world started ending and ignore the sirens’ call to take useless and selfish heroic measures long after we’d crossed the Rubicon. Once everything was in place, I had only to stick to my guns and see it through. Sounds simple, right? Ha.

Along with all the other paperwork I was offered to review and sign, the women gave me a small booklet called Gone From My Sight. It had a blue cover with a simple illustration of a ship that made me think of some Columbus Day coloring sheet of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria I had done in the first or second grade. It seemed harmless and friendly enough and even though the cover clearly explained that the booklet was about dying, I wasn’t really prepared for what was inside this little manual on the feeding and watering and general care of the soon-to-be-dead. For the fact that once I had seen what was inside it, I couldn’t unsee it. That there was to be a me before I read it and a me after and that once I had the knowledge about how death worked that it would always be with me. That I would always know how to wield it — and expertise and a skill I didn’t want. For the news that death was a process. That, unlike we see on TV or in the movies, we are often dead long before we are dead. That, for people in circumstances like my father, dying takes days or even weeks. We move into a middle space where we are neither here nor there and straddle the two worlds for a piece of time even though the living fail to see it. I wanted to think that my dad waking from his coma and breathing and talking on his own was his will to live. It wasn’t. It was his death rally. For some of the dying, the rally lasts minutes or hours. For my father, it was a week. When I left him, I took the energy that fed the rally with me, and the balance between the two worlds finally tipped. He started to spend more and more time with Death, and less and less with me. She stayed in his room, in that chair whispering to him, keeping watch, inviting him to leave me and come with her. And he did.

The last time I heard my father’s voice was on the phone a few days before he died. I was driving to spend the evening with a friend and called the hospital. He had been too out of it to talk earlier in the day, and I thought I would give him another try. He was awake, but his breathing was labored, and he was difficult to understand. He also didn’t make much sense, as he wasn’t really in this world anymore. He spoke like someone slipping into sleep and talking to me from a dream even as he fought to stay awake. As my car climbed the overpass onto the north-bound Interstate, the post-rainstorm sunset sky an eerie purple and gold above me, his voice suddenly and clearly made sense again. Though breathy and labored, he was Dad again, just for a moment, as he said his last words to me:

“I sure wish you were here with me, Beej. I sure wish you were here…”

“I know, Daddy. I’m coming. Hang in there, and I’ll be in there in another week. I’m so sorry I had to leave, but I’m going to get back as soon as I can. I promise.”

“I sure wish you were here.”

“I know, Dad. I love you.”

And that was it. He slipped into unconsciousness while we were on the phone and the nurse took it from him and hung up. He never woke or spoke to anyone else again. Death had won. He wasn’t yet gone from my sight. But he was gone. I would have to catch a plane and take an ax to his moorings 48 hours later in order to let him fully go — to release us both from the purgatory grip that kept him out of his heaven and prevented me from passing through hell to where my waiting life wasn’t done with me yet on the horizon.

And so, the dream. The horrible, horrible dream shaken loose by recent unrelated, but traumatic events in my life. In it, I’m driving across the country from west to east. Driving from my home to the hospital, and I have my father with me, only he’s not really my father. He’s my father’s partly-dead, partly-dying body in his green hospital gown that gives him no warmth or modesty. He is cold. His skin is heavy and waxen and gray. His lifeless fish-like eyes are neither open nor closed, and his mouth gapes. He doesn’t so much breathe as air escapes him. He smells like the grave, and he’s heavy. His limbs are lifeless and inexplicably long — so much longer than my small body can wrangle with any grace. We are alone in the car — the old copper Plymouth Fury we had back in the 70s and nicknamed The Bad Penny. No other family with us. I am the only driver. The trip takes forever, and I have to keep stopping repeatedly at shitty motels where I drag him into the room myself, trying to keep him covered with the gown, trying not to bang and bruise his skin, trying to keep his body intact. Afraid that parts will stop falling off of my decaying, zombie father. The motels rooms are where it gets worse, because once I prop him up on his bed, he starts talking. Words somehow come out of his lifeless, sagging face, and they never stop. I never lay down on the other bed. Just sit helpless and trapped in the hard desk chair with my head in my hands and listen and listen and listen to the nonsense he spews while I try not to look at him. Words that don’t fit together. Other languages. Demands for things like water and food — meals he wants that he cannot eat and that I cannot give him. It’s horrifying and awful and every time I stop at a motel, I think about leaving him behind. Bolting from the room and gunning the engine and racing into the sunrise and leaving him abandoned to rot. That’s the part that’s truly horrific. That’s that part where I sit up in my bed and vomit into my hands. The part where I want to escape the gruesome specter of my dying/dead father that in no way resembles my Dad.

These things do not help the situation:

First, I still have my father’s ashes. My family needs to get it together to take him home to Chicago and scatter them. They spent a year with my mother, and now they’ve spent a year with me. They’re in a black box on the black shelves in my bedroom. At the foot of my bed. Where I sleep. Where I dream.

The other is the suitcase. Throughout my father’s time in the hospital, I kept a carry-on suitcase packed at all times. I was constantly on and off planes, so it never made sense to unpack it. At this point, it’s mostly empty, but not completely, and it’s still sitting in my bedroom next to the dresser. I have long-since retired and replaced it, as it was baggage, both literally and figuratively, that I no longer wanted to carry around with me. And yet, I still do. I think I will unpack the damn thing completely and throw it away today — along with a lot of other things.

Problem is, I know what’s inside that bag waiting for me. The little blue booklet with the ship on the cover. I know that opening the bag means seeing it again. I know it will break me. I know it will remind me that I’m already broken. That no matter how I have glued myself back together in the past two years, the cracks are there. I’m an irreparably insane person who dreams of taking her dead father’s corpse on a cross-country road trip and then throws up her dinner in bed. I’m not right. I’m never going to be. I’ll spend the day haunted with my chest hurting and my heart pounding in my throat, and tonight I’ll spend the evening alone with a bottle of red getting blind drunk to make it better. And that’s just how it is.

It’s not the dying that bothers me. Death is a friend. It’s the middle ground. It’s the process. The everything that came before it. The run-up. The knowledge that it was all rigged from the jump and that I was forced to witness the horror anyway. That I still have to witness it from time to time behind my eyelids at night. The knowledge that that’s probably not going to stop. Ever.

And so, I will do what I can to take solace from the poem in that little blue book sitting in the suitcase in my bedroom. Waiting for me. Haunting me like an old friend. The vision of the two worlds that I choose to believe, that best illustrates my real, waking relationship with Death:

“I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!”

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she comes!”

And that is dying.”



and have you set me free, or will i wake up in the morning to find out it’s been a bad dream?

i’m sick. i ache head to toe. i’m weak and exhausted. i was hoping it was just a cold, but it’s seeming more sinister. glands are all swollen. i barely made it through my day today. fought to stay awake on the drive home, my body wracked with chills.  coughed and sneezed. nose bled. got through the door. struggled to kick off my boots without bothering to bang the snow from them. stripped my layers of wool and down and denim leaving them to drop in a trail across the floor through the house until i made it to my bed in my tank and panties. cranked up the heated mattress pad. crawled under the covers as the winter twilight darkened the room and slept for four hours.

i woke with my lower body on fire. my hips and legs throbbed and burned. even the soft flannel sheets brushing against them as i shifted under the covers made my nerves stand on end and scream. my throat burned. my head throbbed. thirst consumed me, but the bottle on my bedside table was empty, and I was too chilled, hurting, and tired to move out of the bed and do anything about it. i rolled over and dialed up my brother to complain about my predicament good-naturedly, hoping that my silly whining would wake me. it didn’t.

i managed to crawl out of bed to get some water and a thermometer. took my temperature. 101.5 degrees. no wonder i felt like shit. i had a million and two things to do, but decided “fuck it” and crawled back under the covers and fell immediately back to sleep.

you came to me in my fever dream. it wasn’t a dream so much, as a memory. a memory of the time i got the flu when we were together. i had a fever then, too, only it was higher. you were worried because i was too sick to worry. i was burning up. made no sense. the semester hadn’t started yet, and so i had nowhere to be except in bed, and that’s where you found me. i complained that morning that i wasn’t feeling well. i didn’t answer your texts in the afternoon. you came home early from your shift and called my name as you came through the front door. i heard you, but didn’t have the strength to respond. you looked through the apartment until your eyes fell on me curled up in a ball in bed, covers all kicked off onto the floor. one touch of my skin made you want to take me to the emergency room. i fought you. refused. you promised you’d be able to get me seen quickly — no sitting in hard chairs under the bright fluorescents in the waiting room. still. no. no way. not leaving this bed. you threatened. reminded me that you were easily twice my size. that you’d pick me up and put me in the truck and take me and i wouldn’t have anything to say about it. i didn’t stand a chance against your strength on my best day. what was i going to do to stop you in my weakened state? i begged you. i cried. you relented. shushed me softly as you ran your hands through my sweaty, tangled hair. comforting me, but looking helpless. deep brown eyes filled with concern as you stared intently at my flushed face and glassed-over eyes in the late day sun that streamed in from the patio through the curtains over the sliding glass door. i couldn’t focus on anything. i passed out.

you left me to sleep. went and got soup. made it and a sandwich. brought it to me in bed. i struggled to come to surface to consciousness. wouldn’t sit up. wouldn’t eat. couldn’t keep down water. my fever reached 102. your medical training made you pack me with ice under my arms and behind my neck. it felt like murder and didn’t touch the fever. you called your mother. she was a pediatrician and saw kids with raging temperatures all the time. she told you to get me up and in a cold shower immediately, which you did. you propped me up against the bathroom wall and tugged my clothes off under the bright, unforgiving lights. held my arms out away from my sides and let your gaze travel over my body, taking its time over my breasts, neck, throat. eyes mixed with worry and a tinge of lust took in the fever’s rash on my flesh. my own eyes caught our reflections in the mirror over your shoulder. my head lolled limply on my neck as i stood under your inspection. my knees buckled slightly. you paused for a moment. took in the situation, considered the options, then stripped yourself down and stood in the tub with me. holding me under the icy cold water with your arms around my waist as i moaned and cursed your name the best i could with sounds that were largely indecipherable. the water was so cold. my skin shrieked as it hit me. shrieked as you toweled me dry and combed out my hair. god, it hurt. every part of me was sensitive and on fire. you dressed me tenderly, like you were dressing a little girl. put your scrubs shirt on me, still warm from being on your body all day and filled with the smell of you. pulled some clean underpants out of the dryer and knelt in front of me and held them out so i could steady myself with my hands on your shoulders and step carefully into them. wrapped my hair in a dry towel and put me back into bed still slightly damp.  i immediately succumbed to sleep in the dark, my teeth chattering.

i woke some time later to find you kneeling next to my bed under the light on the dresser working the IV you had gone to the hospital and borrowed? stolen? from your friends in emergency into the back of my left hand. i didn’t ask. didn’t say anything. i just looked at you. fought to keep my eyes open and looking into yours. you taped down the IV, started the drip, and the cool saline flooded my veins, making me feel like ice from the inside out. i winced. you kissed me. i protested, said you’d catch it. you told me you didn’t care. told me you loved me. cursed my stubborn streak and the fact that you gave into it. turned off the light and crawled into the bed next to me. i was sprawled sideways across the mattress, leaving no room for your giant frame. you didn’t move me. just curled up into the curves of my body on top of the covers and laid your head against my stomach. burrowed under my breasts like you liked to do. sighed into the heat coming off of my limp body. rising and falling with my ragged breaths and coughs. i fell asleep with my IV hand hanging off the edge of my bed and my other hand resting deep in your thick, black head of soft hair, still slightly damp from the shower. drifted off into fevered oblivion mumbling delirium as you held me tight. let the healing saline course through me.

i woke tonight in my bed alone. midnight on the clock. exhausted, weak, and dry. head still on fire, but the rest of me cool, the bed soaked with the sweat from my fever break. i struggled upright and assessed the damage. stripped the bed. pushed everything into the washing machine. rinsed away the dream with a shower and three advil. made a sandwich and a glass of juice. wished i had you here to do it all for me. i don’t know if your memory helped me break the fever or not, but i swear i can feel a bruise on the back of my hand where the IV was.

sour girl

She was a happy girl when she left me.

I dream vividly. It runs in the family. My paternal grandmother was an avid dream journaler her entire adult life. She always kept a notebook next to her bed, and she would wake from her dreams and roll over in the night and immediately write them down when they ended. I used to love to read her scribbles. I wish I’d pocketed one of her notebooks when we packed up her place in Chicago. I found similar notes in my Dad’s papers after he died, too. Scraps of paper mixed in with his bills and other effects. He’d journal in prose. It was amazing.

Grandma was also a lucid dreamer, a skill she taught both my father and me. I havent been using it for the past year or so, though, either out of sudden onset impotence or choice. I think I am electing to check my free will at the door when I punch my card at night lately. My brain works all day. Why work while I slumber, too? Then again, I seem to be the Sandman’s bitch these days, so the illusion of any control would be a laughable prospect anyway. When I do dream, though, they’re doozies, and the dreams that stay with me all day are truly annoying.

Last night’s was a winner. It seemed to last all night. I was attending a friend’s wedding, only it wasn’t her as I know her now, it was the college version of her. Or as I would imagine her in college, as we didn’t go to school together, and I didn’t know her then. The odd thing is that the action took place in the early 90s — my college years, not hers. She’s younger than I am. I pulled her into my timeline. So, really, it was the college version of me. Or the early grad school version, to be more specific. If you really want to split hairs, it was 1994. The year I lived in that apartment on the second floor on the corner of Main and Port Republic with Mike. The year we went to the bars every night and hustled pool to pay our rent and had music playing in the background constantly. The year that he was still there. The year I didn’t get on the plane to meet him in Greece.

The dream was beautifully lit. Sunset cinematography that gave it a mood of magical realism. Gabriel Garcia Marquez in deep golds, bronzes, and purples. Seemed fitting to me for many reasons, all of them my own. My friend’s wedding was elaborate. We’re talking Kardashian expensive, only classy. The ceremony itself was religious and someplace huge that was most definitely not a church. I never saw that part. I was there. I looked right at it. I just didn’t see it. None of this fit my friend. Her family is not wealthy. She is not religious, and certainly not Christian. And even if she could afford a big, elaborate wedding, it would be the last thing she would ever want. In fact, she had a very simple civil ceremony when she did marry in real life. A marriage I either admire tremendously or that makes me utterly sad. I haven’t decided which. I haven’t given it much thought, to be honest.

After the ceremony, I noticed a huge sign on the wall reminding the guests that they were to have RSVP’d separately to the reception at her parents’ stately mansion by a specific date. As I stood there reading it, I realized I had failed to follow those instructions because I never received them. The bride walked by and asked me what was wrong. I told her. She smiled and said, “No worries. What’s another $100 plate of food for my parents? Come on.” And then she took my hand, which is weird, because we never touch. This stands out, because my friends and I are usually very physically affectionate with one another, but when she touched me in the dream, I realized tht I couldn’t remember a single instance of her flesh ever touching mine. It didn’t feel comfortable in the dream. It was cold and hard and threatening, and I wanted to flinch and pull my hand out of hers immediately, but she held me tight, her silvery wedding gown shining in the sunset. The sun reflected from her dress into my eyes, blinding me. At that same moment, another friend appeared — this one definitely too young to be at university with me in 1994. Oddly enough, both of them are related to the same place and period in my life, but have never met. Friend #2 lurched up out of the darkeness of the pew behind me, and grabbed my other hand. She begged me not to go, tried to pull me down into the pew with her. This friend has never been married — never had a relationship of any kind — and seemed desperate to keep me from following the bride. I remember thinking that neither woman belonged there in 1994 with me. I remember thinking that it was a bad sign. I remember wondering how I knew what year it was. I remember thinking that neither woman had an agenda in my best interest.

I don’t know if I let go of my second friend’s hand or if the bride won the tug-of-war, but the next thing I know, I’m climbing up a long, wide, winding stone staircase with her. When we reached the top, the reception was spread out over a huge, sweeping terrace on a mountainside in front of a large, modern glass house overlooking the Tuscan countryside below. The bride handed me a flute of champagne but never let go of my hand. She was no longer my friend. She was The Bride, and she had me in a vice grip. It was sinister. We stood there watching the sun set. At that point, I looked down and realized I wasn’t wearing anything, which didn’t bother me so much as confused me. It was at that point, that The Bride said, “so glad you could come,” and violently pushed me over the terrace railing and off the cliff below.

When I landed, I was on a city street in front of a theater box office at night. My left side was killing me, but I didn’t seem to be injured or bleeding. The girl in the booth was glad to see me and said that “they” were all waiting for me inside. She printed out a discounted ticket and explained that she wasn’t charging me full price because the show had already started without me. I walked through the doors to an enormous red theater with the seats filled to sold-out capacity with people I know. Hundreds of people from all parts of my life. Stone Temple Pilot’s “Sour Girl” blared overhead. I couldn’t tell where the music was coming from. It was just everywhere. I looked down and found myself wrapped in a white cotton bed sheet. It was wound around me tight like a shroud and tucked under my arms. I was still naked beneath it. Halfway down the aisle, there he stood in a tuxedo with a red rose in his lapel. His dark hair slicked back from his handsome face. He hadn’t aged a day, and neither had I. At that moment, I realized that I was at my own wedding. That had been the point of the whole dream. The tug-of-war, the climb, the push from the cliff. He smiled at me and reached his hand out for mine. I was wrapped too tight in the sheet and couldn’t move. Didn’t want to. Was too terrified.

And then I woke up.

I haven’t been able to shake the images and the feeling of the dream all day. Haven’t been able to shake “Sour Girl” from my head, either. In an effort to exorcise it from my brain, I logged onto Spotify to listen to it and found, to my surprise, that I’d already done so in the night. I had added it and a plethora of other favorite Grunge hits to my playlist somwhere around 4am. I had been busy building a 90s nostalgia soundtrack in my sleep. I have no idea why. I have no idea where any of this comes from. I have no idea what this means. Probably nothing. I have no point. No punchy ending. This is just a dream journal. I just want to wake up.

revisions to a dream

Despite everything that’s happened, I’m ok. Except on the days when I’m not. Yesterday was one of those days, because I woke up my kitchen at 3:30 am the night before with a knife in my hand.

I’m not sleeping. It’s been going on for a while. Reached a fever pitch around Christmas. I’m living on roughly 4-5 hours of sleep a night. Truth be told, I feel pretty amazing; it’s a bit of a high, really. I’ve got dark circles under my red eyes, and I look a little wan, though. My memory is muddled and dull, and my concentration is poor some days. The problem now is not so much insomnia as sleepwalking, which is how I ended up at the counter in the middle of the night making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This is the third time I’ve gotten up in the night and made a sandwich in the past ten days. I don’t know what else I’m doing when I walk, but I find uneaten sandwiches just sitting on the counter in the morning. I don’t know why I am doing something so weird. This was the first time I woke up mid-spread.

First, let me just say that PTSD is a bitch. I’m more and more convinced that, while you can glue your psyche back together, you don’t get the same shape you were before. You have some pieces missing, and a few of the seams never really mend. Some of the cracks just get a tenuous scab on them, at best, and sometimes I apparently pick them off in the night. Can’t leave well enough alone, really. While I feel whole and healed during the day most of the time, my nights are still spent processing. It’s a pretty decent improvement, though, and I don’t complain. Can’t let perfect be the enemy of the good now, can we?

And so, despite how well and happy I feel and appear to be doing in the cold light of day, my mind isn’t done with me. The walking and the dreams are its way of scratching at the walls and whispering, “hey. psst. we’re still in here. it’s all still in here…just waiting. waiting for its chance to spring through the door, teeth bared for your throat, the moment you crack it open a little to see what’s in here, we’re coming for you.” Joke’s on you, though, mind. I know what’s in there, and no fucking way in hell am I even putting my hand on the knob. I hear you knocking. I don’t fucking care. I’m not the least bit curious what you have in there with you. I’ve already seen it in all its glory and horror. It’s why I put it in there. I put it away. Life without possibility for parole. You can push the door open a little in the night and give me a terrible glimpse, if you want, but that’s all your getting before I slam it shut and hope I take a paw off in the process. Make sure you get a good wiff of the fresh air out here when you do it, because you’re going to need that to sustain you in the dark and the dank.

I have had three recurring dreams that pop up from time to time (albeit less and less) since everything happened with Dad. The first, is the constant reliving of his last day over and over again in excruciating and very realistic detail. It could be worse, since, in the end, he had a much better death than I ever expected for him and a much better death than most of us could hope for. He was at peace, out of pain, largely free of the machines, and surrounded by his family through every minute until the last. He passed over with our words of love in his ears. The second dream is the crashing airplane dream. That one doesn’t visit often anymore, but when it does, whoa nelly. The third one…well, I’m not ready to talk about that one yet. Not sure if I ever will be. I haven’t had it in at least six months, and just suffice it to say that it involves a cross-country road trip, a series of shitty motel rooms, and comatose, dying father who at times isn’t really alive anymore when he talks to me and asks me for things. It’s the one that wakes me up drenched and screaming.

When I woke up in the kitchen, I woke in the middle of the “last day” dream. One minute, I was in the hospital room, the next I was in my kitchen. That day was the longest day of my life. It went on for weeks and everything happened in slow motion link and interminable free fall into the inevitable. I remember every single fucking minute of it. Every conversation, every glance at the clock, who sat where when and who did what. It’s like my mind knew it was crucial to stay on the edge of its seat taking notes for each and every second of it. It absorbed it all with thirst and gusto. It was also a good day in that I was in control. I was able to make sure my father had a soft landing counting his breaths and steadily and methodically pumping him full of higher and higher doses of morphine thirty minutes at a time. Every horrible and mericful decision was mine, and I was calmer than I had been in months, because it was finally happening. Death and I were shaking hands, and I was just her instrument. I didn’t have to fight anymore. I had lost, and I knew it. There was peace in defeat. All I had to do was gut it out and hold up my end of the bargain, and we could all go home — including Dad. I didn’t have to keep him tied to the bed anymore. I was setting him free little by little every time I said “yes” to more narcotics on the hour and half hour. I was the boss. I could stay the course. I could do it. Even though it was Dad’s day of dying, the day swirled around me and no one could stop what I was doing, what was happening. I was the one making the calls. It was my reckoning, and I made damn sure that no one would have to answer for it but me.

Each time I have the dream, I go through the same motions and emotions. The day is the same. I do the same things. I make the same decisions, give the same ascents. Mom and brother are at my side and at Dad’s, supporting us both in their own gentle and careful ways. Mom is coping, surprised at her own mourning, but is mostly concerned about me. Brother is constantly next to me, never more than an arm’s reach away. As he had for months, he props me up with his astonishingly light touch of love and laughter and special ability to bring appropriately tender levity to every situation. I’m collapsing into a singularity at never stronger at the same time. I am iron and will and swirling wind and grief and pain and hate and love. Mostly love. I’m the boxer on the ropes in the tenth round begging my trainer to just cut me and send me back into the ring. No towels today. Dad is doing is part to put on his coat, tip his hat, and quietly walking out the door. Everything is very peaceful and bathed in light. Reliving it is not a bad thing. It always sends me reeling for a day or two, but it’s more of a disorienting shift in time than anything else. I can smell the scent of hospital soap and the latex-free gloves I wore constantly in my nose the rest of the day after I have one of these dreams.  It stays with me for a while, and, for the most part, I’m kind of used to it.

This dream was different, though. I just suddenly came into being in my kitchen, knife in hand, standing over the sandwich, ready to slice it into triangles, with an epic and dizzying case of emotional whiplash and sharp, searing pain straight through my abdomen as though I had been stabbed with something large and on fire. I had suffered a literal punch to the gut. My heart was racing. I couldn’t breathe. Hot tears stung my face. I had materialized out of my bed consumed with the most intense feelings of rage and panic and grief possible rushing up at me all at once with blazing speed. It was then that I realized that the dream had been different — this time I hadn’t been me in the dream. This time I had experienced it as my brother. Like some bad sci-fi movie, we had swapped bodies for the day, and I was trapped in his skin with my eyes open and forced to watch. I went through the day from his point of view walking his walk and feeling his feelings. I won’t even go into what that was like and why. His relationship with our father was very much like mine and very different all at once. While I love my father desperately and miss him terribly, he was incredibly difficult for us both, and coming to terms was a challenge. It was not a challenge my brother had fully met before Dad’s death. His private thoughts and emotions are his own, and I cannot begin to speculate what they are in the light of day, much less if my dream interpretation was correct. Suffice it to say that it was an unpleasant experience I do not wish to have again, not only for the disorienting perspective and oh so fresh dose of horror that I had long since declawed and digested, but because in the dream I lacked the control to which I had become accustomed. I did not like my new role, and I have a new appreciation and empathy for the others in the room with me that day not only for how they felt, but for how they saw me and watched what I was doing. The outside looking in view of that was not pretty.

I do not know why my mind went there. I do not know how it did it. I stood there at the counter, staring at the knife, at the sandwich, at the back of my hands that I know as well as I have come to know the dream as it usually comes to me. I felt betrayed. I felt numb. I felt nauseous. I turned 180 degrees, leaned over the sink and threw up onto the dinner dishes soaking in it.

I don’t remember going back to bed, but I did manage to sleep somehow. I woke up a few hours later exhausted, haunted, cranky, and claustrophobic. The walls all felt too close and the ceiling too low. Profound grief, rage, and panic stayed with me. Adrenaline coursed through me even as I already felt tired from the crash of its after effects. I was dizzy and sad. I felt like I’d been in a fight all night. I didn’t want to do anything except roll over onto my side, pull of the covers, and stay in bed all day. Instead, I pulled myself together and into the shower, packed the dog into the car and hauled ass toward the black and white Rockies Mountains shrouded in steel grey clouds at 80 mph with the windows down in the cold and the pounding heart-like beat of Radiohead’s “Up on the Ladder” blasting on repeat on the car stereo. I couldn’t get away fast enough.  It helped. It helped immensely.

I do not mind the dreams so much…when they are my dreams. I do not know what kind of trick it was pulling, but the beast I shut up in my mind got me good. It reminded me that I still have the wolf at the door. That I’m not — and possibly never will be — out of the woods. That’s ok. That’s the price I pay for it all. For living through it even when the worst has happened. I just wish I had some marks on the outside to remind me of the marks on the inside so I don’t get blindsided by it all. Mostly, though, I just hope it doesn’t happen again. Even more than that, I pray that it doesn’t happen again from the perspective of anyone else in that room that day. Living it through my brother’s point of view was a cake walk compared to what it would be like from my mother’s or (gulp) my father’s perspective. I’m not sure either of those wouldn’t crack me in half regardless of how strong and healed I am…or think I am.

In the meantime, I am going to rely on the sanity of daylight and take something to help me sleep at night. And the next time, I’m going to eat that fucking sandwich.