The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Dream Gift December 25, 2014

For the most part, my dreams aren’t that mysterious. While they take place in some fabulously surreal landscapes, the subjects are easy to recognize. My dreams are a Dadaesque montage of various and sundry events from my current life, taking place in the settings of my earlier life. Usually things happen alongside modified versions of a vast lake (Michigan), in a place under a canopy of trees (Evanston) or beside a modern city on that same lake (Chicago). My inherent nostalgic bent thrives as I sleep, and upon waking I feel a hazy sort of satisfaction to have returned ‘home’ for a visit. My dreams look backward, not forward. I see no sense in keeping a dream journal to glean hints of powerful hidden foreshadowing, because from stem to stern, I’m just not the kind of gal who thinks a whole lot about the future.

Until last night. I slept in fits and starts, due to a stubborn cold which made my breathing difficult and irregular, and as a result I was able to awaken in the midst of several dream sequences, all of which I can easily recall. And the thing that struck me, as I reviewed the scenes in my head before rising, was that they took place here. And now. And – more intriguing to me – was the fact that they were all somehow centered on the Studio. There was construction, industry, there were people working together, sharing the vision… Hammering, drilling, the smell of lumber, the sight of studs awaiting drywall… At one point I awoke in a start, yelling out loud “We must have two bathrooms!”, and found my heart pounding as I sat up in bed, still panicked that the contractors had overlooked this very important feature…. When I came to, and realized that we did have two bathrooms, I was greatly relieved. I pulled the scene back into my mind’s eye and studied it more closely. Now this was interesting; there were some design ideas there I hadn’t considered before that just might work… Merry Christmas indeed. This felt like a gift.

People may tire of my manic swings, hell, I myself can’t believe how low and high I can go in such short order, and how endlessly I can do so… But I’ve long been mulling over the idea of what’s missing in my life these days, and how I need to redefine myself and live into the future ahead. A lack of planning skills is in some way why I’m here, now, in this present funk. So I need to start envisioning how it all might look one day… Elihu will be gone into the world in too little time, and if I think I’m having an existential crisis now, just imagine how it’ll hit me then!

I know, as well as everyone does, that the main objective of life is to express love in the world, and that expression takes its form in service to others. I’m not a big fan of hard work, or methodical process, so I’ve chosen to do my part in the service sector in the guise of smiles to strangers, small talk to disenfranchised-looking folks and such. Not meaning to sound too full of my self, I do admit a certain ease when it comes to expressing compassion and connecting with people. Elihu once remarked about me that I seemed to make friends wherever I go. Yeah, kinda. But that’s easy. I kinda feel I need to step it up a bit more.

I love teaching, I love coaching kids, and it’s the best feeling in the world when they get something. Hell, I love it when my adult students get something. I have never been a particularly hard worker, so I’m keen on sharing my slacker shortcuts with anyone. If I can save anyone else from all the time spent not understanding what the hell was going on – in music, in life, in any endeavor – then I feel I’ve done something of service to my fellow humans. That’s all well and good, but somehow, I gotta cast a bigger net. But I’m so afraid. I try to identify what imaginary, invisible thing it is that holds me back. After spending the last two days reading the memoirs of three successful women writers, I can identify one thing right off the bat: I don’t have an insatiable drive for success. Seriously. I am fucking lazy. I’m not being all needlessly self-effacing here; I’ll admit that when I’m in it, I’m in it. And I can work my ass off. I can produce tangible results like crazy. I’m good at organizing, assessing and restoring visual order (when given the wide-open space and freedom from parenting duties). So yeah, I can work. But it’s private. There’s no one to judge, to witness. And like I said, I don’t experience this kind of work ethic until the place is clear of kid duty. And see, that’s one big problem. These other women did it fine with kids in the mix. Me, I just don’t get that. Plus they had spouses, boyfriends, even goddam deadlines. I do remember the adage “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”, and I can vaguely remember a time in my life when that might have been said of me, but right now, the way I feel here and now – forget it. I get panicky just trying to envision coaching a small ensemble, never mind running a series of educational programs and making sure that our 501(c)3 papers are in order. Shit. How will this work? I can’t do this. Can I?

I gotta. The key to ridding myself of panic, of that paralyzing horror, the key to wanting to wake up in the morning and not distracting myself all day long by keeping a super-tidy house and making a killer tasty supper – the key to all of this is to be of service in the world. I thrive on being a good mother, and I thrive on buoying the spirits of those who seem to have withered under the weight of it all – cuz I so get it – but I think it’s time to be brave and take on more. This cold I’m currently experiencing has done a nice job of presenting me with a swath of guilt-free down time. Time in which to read, to learn what it feels like in someone else’s head, to get a new perspective, to digest… It’s been a good couple of days. My nose is sore as hell, I can hardly hear a thing in my right ear and my eyes are still disgustingly red and watery, but it’s all good. In a way, this miserable cold has kinda been a gift.

It’s hard to imagine that my position at Waldorf is over, at my choice, and that I have no tether. With an audience to witness this internal struggle, I haven’t left myself an opportunity for escape. (Believe me, I wrestle with whether or not to even include the whole Studio story here. I am so tempted to pretend these thoughts never happened, so tempted to continue teaching, being a mother, collecting eggs, all as if nothing else mattered. Who knows, I still might do that. Just sayin.) If nothing else stands to motivate me, I must remember my father. I cannot allow this amazing gift of such a beautiful venue go to waste. If nothing else, I must continue his legacy. It’s taken a year (and even so, I’m still not completely there) to realize that I can never, ever hope to come close to doing what he did. His gift was early music, and it’s not mine. To try and continue as before is impossible. Hard as it is to come to terms with, it’s true. I can only do what I do. My gift is connecting people, uplifting people, sharing insights, being a host. So I need to follow the spirit of my gift, in whatever form it needs to manifest.

It was last year on the 27th that dad died, and a year ago January that the Studio flooded and ruined the gorgeous oak floor on which so many performances had taken place. A year since my heart was doubly broken. While I haven’t done as much as maybe I’d originally thought I would in the year since, I have to understand that this has been an important year, a necessary year. Like my cold, this stopping-in-my-tracks business of the flood, the demo and the slow start to rebuilding, this seemingly fucked up situation has actually turned to reveal itself as a gift. The gift of time for inner adjustment, the time to let go of what things were, to begin to nurture an idea of what things might yet be…

Recently, the forester called me to say they were ready to put the landing in for the logging equipment. Two years behind schedule, the logging of my family’s woods was finally scheduled to happen – which would not only put some money in the coffers to continue rebuilding, but it would, in the process, provide the Studio with its own parking lot. I can’t remember feeling as happy, joyful and hopeful in years as when he told me the news. We’re waiting on a good deep freeze to get the heavy equipment in, and because it’s been so warm and rainy lately, I almost feel as if it’ll never happen. As if the call from the forester might just have been a dream. When I get super down, I try to conjure that feeling of excitement, of progress. Not sure I’ll believe it til I see it. The drive is marked, I’ve circled the keeper trees with nylon tape, and the crew will call me when they’re on the way. I’ve been told that when it starts, it’ll happen fast. Which is good, cuz I could use some forward movement just about now.

In such unsuspecting ways do these life gifts reveal themselves. And in so many ways, this waking life itself is kinda like a dream. It meanders around new corners and pushes you into strange, unanticipated situations. And sometimes, I think, it might just be better to be surprised. Isn’t it more fun sometimes not to know what happens next? After all, it’s the element of surprise that makes it so exciting to unwrap a gift…

 

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Post Script:  Speaking of service, today I remembered Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. as I searched my shelves for some new inspirational reading. My father and he were friends at Yale, where Rev. Sloane was chaplain – the two of them also sang in the Yale Glee Club – and I had Bill’s last book “Credo” autographed one year as a Christmas gift for my father. I was fortunate to enjoy a few conversations with Reverend Sloane; at the time I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was to have spoken with him. In revisiting some YouTube videos of him recently, I have a new appreciation for the fellow. In person he was just as warm and supportive as you’d imagine him to be. Here’s a short clip of Bill receiving an honor for his service, and some of this thoughts on the state of our world…

 

Dream Gene July 23, 2014

Woke up in a sort of zombie-like state this morning. As usual, my dreams had taken me to far-off places full of fantasy, and in waking my heart sunk to remember the mundane reality I’d returned to once again. Not mundane in that it itself isn’t full of its own unique twists and turns or even challenges and new experiences, but rather mundane in the sense that the feeling is the same; my surroundings look the same as they did yesterday – and many hundreds of days before yesterday, too. The smell of my room is the same, the sounds of cars passing on the distant road, the birds, the whistling of the teapot – all of these are just the same as they have been all of my life. In short, my waking world hardly changes from day-to-day, while my dream state each night takes me to far off places and fascinating scenarios which almost always make waking a disappointing experience. How can waking life compete with a Mad Max futurescape in which handfuls of near-vacant apartment buildings with abandoned pools and gardens sit aside a vast, inland sea waiting to be explored? Or a mysterious, urgent migration to a dusty, desert country surrounded by masses of people and filled with amazing new landscapes? Just two of my several dreams last night. Just two places of the many thousands I’ve visited. I suppose I’d rather have those memories than not, it’s just that it makes coming back something of a bummer.

“You get that from your father”, my mom has always said when I begin to try to describe any one of my dreams. And it makes me smile to think of it. Yeah, my dad would be as confounded as I am when he’d vainly try to tell us about his previous night’s travels. “Oh sweetie boopis, I had a dream,” he’d start, smiling and trying my mother for an interested ear, and she’d almost always wave him off, saying “oh daddy”… Regardless, he’d make an attempt to draw us into his dreams; he’d begin to tell us bits and pieces of his recollections… He, like me, would struggle to convey the detail, the nuance, the essence of the dreams – with near fruitless results. I always felt bad for him that we couldn’t share in his visions with the enthusiasm he so desired, because I knew how he felt. Many times I’d raise my eyebrows and tilt my head in apology, telling dad that we sincerely wanted to share in his excitement, but we couldn’t possibly ever know what he’d seen. In the end we’d wind up chuckling at whatever humorous or fantastical remnants he could recall for us. Dad was a charming and funny man, and he could make just about any story, however incomplete, a delightfully entertaining little piece.

For years I’ve stated, in all sincerity, that my dreams are the better part of my life. Usually folks protest when I say this – some even seem to take offense from my remark – and they’ll remind me how much I have to be grateful for, how exciting my life here really is. I point out to them that I don’t disagree with them; I’ve had a wonderful variety of experiences in my life, and as most lives go, I’d say it was one of the more interesting ones to have lived. But still…. there is simply no way that this earth-bound life can compete, no matter how many places I visit, no matter how many lovely, serendipitous moments I experience, no matter how many delicious foods I taste or how much gorgeous music I may hear or how many beautiful pieces of art I may observe or how much exquisite weather I feel – none of it can possibly stack up to my dreams.

Usually, it’s the sense of place that strikes me first in my dreams. A landscape, the architecture, the light and mood, and mostly, the sense of space. It’s nearly impossible to describe, but my surroundings can be expansive and yet intimate at the same time. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it’s a bit like looking over a toy train set. In one glance you can see the town, the countryside beyond, you can understand the scope of the land to its horizon, and yet at the same time you can see the components that make up the town; the buildings, the cars, the signs, the tiny windows – and even the people inside the windows. You’re able to take all of it in and understand the whole scene from the minutiae to the monumental, all in one fell swoop. And it’s like that with my dreamscapes too. Often I visit a place on the edge of a large body of water. Often there are buildings, pools, gardens, pathways and plazas… I can trace the general components back to my hometown of Chicago; it seems to be the inspiration for this reoccurring theme. Lord knows I miss that lake and that city. I miss water dearly too, and so seem to make up for it in my dreams. But there are the adventures too – not always pleasant, but still compelling. Last night, for example, I suffered through a chapter of a ‘not prepared for the gig’ dream (which will no doubt have musicians smiling, this is not a phenomenon exclusive to me!) and while it was not pleasant, the feeling that was ever-present as a backdrop to the nasty situation more than made up for it. I was in a plastic, phenomenal place, and it promised to morph soon enough, taking me away and into a more agreeable situation. Truly, it’s more about that elusive feeling than the specifics. Language cannot convey this essence, this feeling. It simply can’t be shared with anyone else on the planet. Its memory can be savored, but only alone. Dreams, as transporting and restorative as they might be, remind me of how isolated each one of us truly is here on this earth. Dreams are my salvation, and sometimes my prison, too.

I have many memories of dreams that are for me as real as any memories of this world. When you get right down to it – what’s the different between one memory and the next? They are both no longer current experiences; they are simply recollections of a past experience, whether real or imagined, and they both now live solely in your memory. The dream and the ‘real world’ memories are, therefore, equally real. I have learned so much from my dreams and traveled so extensively, that knowing I can’t choose to revisit these places and circumstances again – under my direct control, that is – often gives me a profound sense of loss and sorrow. How can I hope to make anyone understand? I’ve yet to meet another person, except for my father, whose dreams were so rich and vivid and full of detail. So real. Who yearned deeply to return to these places. Whose heart broke upon waking from them.

On mornings like this, it can take me a little extra time to get going. To shake it off, to come to, to get back to the to-do list. Maybe that’s why this morning’s unfolding a little slower than usual. I’ve completed all of the domestic projects I’d intended, my garden is as finished as it’s going to be (and looking rather pretty too), my coop is doing fine, the flock is blended, my house is clean and my basement organized. With nothing pressing in on me this morning (except the Studio – but that’s a whole new chapter which requires entirely new to-do lists) I find myself rather stuck. Not a bad place to be, I guess. It’s kinda like a pause in the flow. This morning it’s taking me a little bit longer coming to terms with this reality again. A couple of phone calls have come in as I’ve been writing this, and they’ve helped pull me back into the physical world. And today I could use a little help in waking up, because the dream thing in me runs deep. After all, it’s in my genes.

 

Suddenly Sad May 20, 2014

We didn’t quite finish the Burgess Bird Book for Children tonight. Instead, we chose to save the final chapter for tomorrow. Both of us have a strange melancholy hanging about us tonight, contributed to in part perhaps by the knowledge that this will be the last time we read this book together as mother and young child. Sure, I may read it aloud to him again next year, but will it be the same? I don’t know, maybe it will be, but each of us has our doubts. Next year he will be twelve. It seems very likely this will be the last year of the truly young years. Ironic, isn’t it, that such a young child should even be aware of his own maturing, of how precious his current moments as a child may be? Ah, but then again I am his mother, and he no doubt gets some of it from me. It sometimes seems that I myself was born into a continuous state of intense introspection and mild melancholy; isn’t it natural that he might very well be wired in a similar way? Yeah, maybe it’s in his genes.

I also suspect he can read me pretty well, even though for the most part I can hide my moody predisposition from people. I kinda have to, in order to maintain appearances and keep at the everyday business of life. Yeah, for the most part I keep my mood under cover, and I can distract myself long enough to forget its persistent companionship for good stretches of time. Mostly. But apparently, not tonight. I can’t hide my mood, my unease, my sorrow; furthermore my mood seems equally natural and organic to my young son. Although we don’t say as much in so many words, we both know well: it won’t always be thus.

I set the book on the night table and then said to him “and now a kiss”, to which he cried out “No! Because ‘now a kiss’ means that you will leave. And I don’t want you to leave.” Most nights I’d have had half a prescription sleeping pill in me and would be almost out at this point, so joining him would be easy. But tonight I’m hoping to sleep without an aid – maybe even pick myself up and go do something useful while I have the window – and as I lay in bed beside Elihu, my wheels are turning to such an extent that I could swear my energy is keeping him up. He tosses, changes positions, holds Lenny his big stuffed parrot closer, he snuggles into my neck, he swings his boy arms over my shoulder. We both search for that perfect spot, but none is right. His mind is racing too, with endless, obsessive ruminations on various Pokemon characters, their powers, their abilities…. I give up and tell him I really need to go, but again he protests, and his soft cheek pressed to mine is enough to have me try again to relax, to sleep. But I cannot wind down, and I cannot soften this dull, unending sense of sorrow that hangs about me.

Tonight I’m missing my father. And I’m remembering once again that he’s not coming back. That I won’t be seeing him again. Not at least in this particular lifetime. And once again, it stings my heart to come to that same conclusion for the umpteenth time. I think about how fast my child is growing – how precious is this very night even. The contrast of my father being gone and my son yet to grow up is killing me. I feel pulled in two different emotional directions. I feel time pulling me forward, then tugging me back… I can’t count on my small child throwing his arms around my neck and begging me ‘never to leave him’ for much longer, can I? – hell, I certainly can’t count on my small child staying small. And one day, like my father, my own mother will also be gone. (Can you even imagine Grandma Nancy will ever die? I asked Elihu tonight. He answered most emphatically “No.”) One day I myself will be the ancient grandma and it will be my turn to be slow and misunderstood by my child and grandchildren. It’s all coming to me in one gut-heavy moment, and I am brimming with heartbreak. I have always been prone to such feelings, but these days they’re so much more of what they used to be.

Could be my age I guess. Or maybe our little spot back here in the woods. Living far from the road definitely does something to a person. If a person wasn’t already of a melancholic, poignant-leaning mind, they’d likely begin to form something of a more wistful, far-off attitude after living here for a while. The glow of the setting sun through the trees casts a sad, lost-to-the-world sort of feeling. The cars passing at night are altogether unaware that there’s a tiny house far down the lane with just two people dwelling within. For me in particular, the sounds of the cars on the far-off road, the scents of the seasonal blooms and the long shadows of evening send me back to my childhood. I feel the ending of another day; my mother, father and brother all just being… all just living, doing, being, all somewhere close by in the same small cottage. Doing nothing in particular that I can remember, but just existing, side by side in those tiny rooms. I remember too the quality of the light. The end of the day, a faint aftertaste of regret of a day not spent as well as it might have been; of another day gone, done, another sun now set… And the sorrowful feeling I got from it all even as a young one. It’s the same sorrowful feeling I get now. I recognize it so well. Only how did I know anything of such sadness way back then? Now I’ve earned it; now I get how it works. How did I come to feel that way as a child? I realize there’s likely still more of it to come in this life, but at the same time, I also realize all too well how little of it there is left. Hard to describe, natural to feel.

Finally, I kiss Elihu and get up to leave. He takes my hand – and kisses it. “Love you so very much” he says in a small, sleepy voice. I leave and close the door with a click, the way he always requests that I do.

It’s not just about my dad, or the setting sun, or aging, or my son’s growing up. It’s also the way things are all turning out in my family. I guess as a child I never could have guessed that one day we would be so off track, so broken and different from how we once were, years ago. I may never have paid much mental energy to envisioning the future at large, but I know I would never have guessed it to look a whole lot like it does today. Never mind my own divorce, a strange and unforseen thing unto itself, but the bizarre, dysfunctional way in which we hobble along is still hard for me understand. It’s a foreign place to find myself in, and a sad one too.

My brother is going to court tomorrow to contest our even, three-way split of the very (and I do mean very) modest sum that dad had left for we three remaining Conants. I mean, it’s virtually nothing in the bigger scheme of things. But each portion is, for Andrew and me, being of such little means, enough to help out quite a bit. It’s enough cash to get over a life hump, but not enough to sustain a person for even a year. In the recent reading of the will, Andrew learned that his equal share – of the ‘big’ estate of mom’s house and land – will come to him in monthly payments made by the executor to the Trust – that being our cousin (dad’s nephew) rather than in one lump sum. I can understand how this could piss Andrew off, but even in his illness he should be able to see that he doesn’t function in any way that demonstrates that he could handle it otherwise. Hasn’t had a job in over twenty years. Hasn’t had a girlfriend in just as long. Hasn’t made a new friend since high school. And he’s almost 50. Mom and dad knew ten years ago that he was not healthy, and they took a proactive approach to making sure he would be given his equal share by a stable, outside party. (We haven’t seen my dear cousin the executor in decades; that would show him to be a sound, objective agent for the job. Plus he manages a classical radio station in a major US market; he’s no slouch.) But Andrew is a victim of his illness, and he is unable to maintain his state assistance. He languishes in a house full of garbage and finds everyone else in the world (me at the top of the list) responsible for his inability to get a job or make  a change in his life of any kind. While it’s tempting to take it personally, I have to continually remind myself to pray for him rather than become angry with him for such crazy behavior. He feels hurt, betrayed, unsupported. It’s his illness feeling this way, not him. Never mind that all his bills are paid by mom, that I’ve made sure he has Food Stamps and heating assistance, never mind that – because illness removes all logic. I know this well from my experience with panic attacks. So I go easy on him. I get it. But still, it’s not always easy. Good Lord I’d like to pound some fucking sense into his paranoid, sick brain, but it would do more harm than good. And so we Conants wait it out. And again I remind myself: it won’t always be thus.

I’ll wait it out under cover of sleep for now. In fact I await unconsciousness with such happy anticipation. I cannot wait to fall asleep, to arrive at the fanciful and disparate situations that await me on that other side… My only respite from the relentless pace of the single mom, the planner, the feeder, the organizer, the learner of music, the transporter…. In sleep I experience things in which I can no longer take part of here in this world. I see my ex-husband fairly regularly in my dreams, my father too, as well as many friends from my previous life. Happily, in dreams I seem to live in a world that is altogether different from this one; it is an amalgamation of all of my previous, beloved or successful mini-worlds…. I play music in bands, wear beautiful costumes, engage in deep friendships and travel to so many places… In one night I may experience three or four different scenarios. Each dream becomes a new place I remember having been once upon a time; in a way, it truly becomes a new memory… At the very least, the memories of past dreams and the promise of dreams yet to come give me the motivation to get out of bed each day. This earthly life is just too heartbreaking sometimes, and so I thank God for my dream life – it’s sometimes the very thing that makes my waking life possible. Because really, doesn’t a lot of this life seem rather a waste, a bore, a drudgery to be endured? Hey, I’m always on the lookout for a good, restorative laugh, but I still can’t help but feel that this life is just one big pain in the ass, however many good laughs there may be in a day. This life is hard, unfair, complicated by the death of loved ones, and way too full of mosquitoes. Enough, already. !

Ok. Maybe not quite yet. But some days, I swear….

That wistful, sad and distant feeling hit me hard once again as I made my way through our lily of the valley patch today, picking a bouquet of my most cherished flower. (One which blooms for less than one week of the year. Talk about a setup for sorrow. !!) The scent overtook me, and I was twelve again, in love with the world, with the promise of a boy’s affection, with the promise of the world’s affection and my power to reciprocate…. Everything, absolutely everything is possible with that first, magical inhalation of the lilies of the valley… Nothing can come close to that magical May moment. Not one thing in this world. And yet, for all its promise, it carries deep within itself the very essence of melancholy. The threat of its own passing. The flowers only carry their fresh scent for a few days, and then they, like us, begin to decline. From the intoxicating promise of a magical future to come – to a rotting, mildewed scent that wonders what the hell just happened, and did that promising future ever end up really happening? Did we miss it? Was it that short, that fleeting, that we never even realized that it was on its way out?

All I know is that I need to look in on my son several times through the night as he sleeps to find the reassurance I need to be here. And during the day, if I should chance to pass him in the hall, it is my greatest treasure that he should lean over close and whisper “I love you” as he walks by. I am trying as best I can to live hard into these tiny moments. I am trying hard to soften the grip of sorrow, to let it know that I know it’s there. I know. I just don’t always need to pay attention to it. Yeah, I know that things won’t always be thus. They might be worse. Or better. Never know. Gotta hang in there until the end, and just find a way to accept the shifts as they happen. Yeah, no matter how much you know, you don’t ever know what’s coming next. What’s become suddenly sad may just as easily become suddenly serendipitous; just the right thing at the right moment. One just never knows.

Guess that’s partly what has me so sad tonite. Ya just never know what you’re about to get – or sometimes even what you’ve already got. Not at least not until it’s gone and you’ve begun to miss it. So seize it, friends. Seize it. Tell sorrow you’re sorry. This isn’t a good time… Come back later, if you must, because right now, you’ve got plans…

 

 

Dream Tears May 10, 2013

Guess I’m still workin it out. Every now and again I’ll wake up in the night, racked with sobbing. It’s the physicality of it that wakes me, and I always stop and spend a few minutes trying to piece together the events of the dream that led up to it. In the ‘beginning’, that is to say within the first few months of my ex’s news, I’d find myself waking in tears several times a week. In the years that followed, it only happened every other month or so. This past year it’s happened only a handful of times, so even in my groggy state I was rather surprised at it. Even more surprised to remember the situation surrounding it. Last night was a brand new theme; usually it was me begging him not to go, or being surprised once again at his news, but this time it was quite the opposite; I had just told Fareed I couldn’t marry him. Everything was in place for our ‘second’ marriage; somehow he’d left the anonymous other woman he’d been with, somehow things were all set to begin again. His uncle had even come to my house to discuss some plans… But I couldn’t. I remember it being the hardest decision I had ever made. In some ways I could think of no greater relief than to be reunited with this person with whom I’d shared so many years of my life. His company was agreeable, he was an intelligent person, we shared a common knowledge of things musical; there were a lot of reasons to make him the simple, easy answer for a life partner. But something in me knew, and finally I had the balls to face it. And in the eleventh hour, I informed him, his parents (and his uncle), that I was not going forward with the plans. This dream was long and involved, and as I lay there trying to calm my breathing, reconstructing the events of the dream, I surprised myself at the number of details I was able to recall. Fascinating. I had been the one to end things this time, not him. Guess deep down I needed to reclaim the power I must have felt I lost in being the partner ‘left’. The right decision, but a tough one, and it still involved enough conflict to break my heart once again.

A friend suggested on my recent birthday that I look back over my old posts so that I might fully appreciate where I am today. Sometimes – most times, I think – distance from life events is required to formulate perspective on what’s happened. Understanding and insight cannot be rushed, they are organic and need to grow and evolve before their ultimate lesson can be recognized. My friend’s idea was a good and fitting one for such a landmark birthday, and it reminded me of an experience I had back in the beginning of this blog regarding perspective… I recall writing the very first post here, entitled “Snowflakes”, and in it saying something about knowing that things had happened as they were supposed to; that my situation had actually served me well in some ways. Immediately upon writing it, it occurred to me that although I was certain it was true, it didn’t feel true yet. I wondered if I might edit it out – because honestly, my heart hadn’t caught up to the platitude. But some two and a half years later, I finally feel it. Makes me wonder how my current experiences will resonate with the me two years down the line. Funny how some things can’t be rushed. They just need to happen on their own timeline, no matter how much you wish things would hurry up and resolve themselves.

Some five years later, it comforts me to learn that my sleeping self is still tending to its healing. Woulda thought that was all history, a done deal by now. But apparently not. Guess that’s what dreams and tears are for.

 

A Million Windows December 30, 2012

When I was attending Columbia College in Chicago back in the late ’80s, I still lived with my parents in my childhood home in Wilmette, Illinois. I rode Chicago’s el train to and from school several days a week, and as I often had band practice after classes, more often than not I’d end up coming home late at night. I almost always had a window seat, and I’d lean in close to block out the reflection of the train car’s interior so that I could enjoy the scenes that passed… So many neighborhoods, so many homes, so many apartments, so many ways in which to live… I watched it all, hoping I would come to understand the world better… I tried to comprehend so many individual lives all going on at the same time. So many people tossing their keys onto the table, so many people turning on lights, checking the day’s mail, so many people tickling babies, kissing, eating, watching tv, worrying about tests or arguments or recipes or bills or job interviews, so many people newly in love, so many newly widowed… Each window offered a tiny, split-second vignette which I savored as best I could. I still have a few images locked away in my mind’s eye from that time; a room illuminated by a single light bulb and an entire family gathered beneath, a fat man brushing his teeth, a woman reading at a table, glancing up at the train…

My father understands the intrigue of a window too. We’re both the ones with the ‘dream’ gene in the family – neither mom nor Andrew seem to have dreams, much less the ability to recount them in incredible detail as both dad and I can. I wonder sometimes if the fascination with the unknown – or maybe more accurately the romance of the unknown’s potential – might not be related to this dream gene thing. I also think it’s related to a love of things miniature; of cozy, tidy tableaus. The spirit of ho train sets and doll house interiors… I can hardly drive down a street at night but be swept up in the fantasies that each house suggests; the tall windows of Saratoga’s fine Victorian homes, the lone farm house in the field, the top floor apartment on the corner building, all lit from within, all whose contents can’t quite be seen but are instead implied… It’s so compelling. All these scenes call to me, I feel as if I absolutely must know each one of them.

I do, however, realize not all people feel this way. After some twenty years of my cooing over the wonder of it all I asked my then husband (probably for the 100th time) if he didn’t just wonder who exactly lived behind all those windows? “And”, I continued, “Don’t you just wonder what they all do for a liv- “He didn’t even let me finish – but cut me off, laughing, as he answered with a loud and resolute “NO!”. I didn’t take it personally, instead I learned something from it. My partner didn’t get it, (and granted, I’d probably exceeded his patience on the subject) but I always knew that even if he didn’t get it the way I did, someone else in this big world surely did…

So now, with the world available to me in this little box, and my child once again gone away, I find myself swept out into the vast beyond as I follow trail after trail of other people’s stories… As I read page after page, connecting the dots of both the famous and the unknown, I see that there is no end to the story… (there is also no end to my fascination). The only peace I find is to accept that I just can’t get it all, I never will, and somehow, that’s ok. Kinda like a train ride, I’m only going to pass so many windows and there’s only so much time to peek inside.

There are things to be done here around the house, and it’s not always easy to rouse myself from the quest for more stories, more windows to other worlds… I have to remind myself that every train ride ends with a destination. I’ve got students to prepare for, music to learn and chicken soup to freeze. So for now, I’ll just have to mark my page and close the book.

 

Night Snack June 6, 2012

I think I’m dreaming, but I’m not quite sure… my son and I are running through the tall grass of my parent’s property in the dim light of early night, searching for the source of a skirmish we hear. A bird of ours is in distress, she is being attacked by something. He is far away from me, nearing the hen and her attacker faster than I am, and I begin to fear for his safety. ‘It can’t be any creature that would harm him’, I think as adrenaline comes over me. It looks a lost cause as I get nearer to the spot. The grass is too long to pinpoint the trouble, and it’s dark enough now that I believe our attempt to save her is lost. I am now aware that if it’s a dog moving in on her there may be more dogs closing in soon. My son himself is hardly tall enough to be spotted in the undergrowth and he seems all of a sudden vulnerable to the imaginary pack now sifting out of the woods and coming in closer. I call to him to stay back, I tell him we need to call this off. “Just come back!” I yell across the darkening field whose perimeter of forest now appears as lightless as black velvet. I feel some relief to hear his feet rustling back to me, the sound of his footsteps blending with the terrorized movements of our hen.

I now realize this is a dream, and the fearful mood dissolves just a bit, enough for me to begin to consider that I am replaying a version of what might have happened to the hen we had recently found dead in the garden. Then I begin to associate the dead carcass we’d seen in the garden with the meaty, tangy and tough strips of cured beef we like to indulge in every so often, and note how that kind of food feels as crude and real and death-like as the event that’s going on before us. As my focus now begins to turn in earnest to the idea of beef jerky, I realize that I would very much like some of that now. My dream fades a bit more; one half of me wants to remain in that dark field and finish our quest, retrieve our bird and scare off the predator, yet the other half of my mind is now seriously attached to the idea of beef jerky. I realize I’m hungry…. hey, I didn’t really have supper, did I? No, just broccoli. Man, I really do want something like that.. do we have any? Now I am indeed waking out of the dream. I am still able to shout one last thing to dream Elihu, but now I’m not sure he’s with me anymore. He’s still putting his energy into stopping the kill… so I finally leave him there, and open my eyes.

12:12 am. I smile to myself. That’s a number been in my world a long time. Got married on 12/12. And I am hungry. Salami. Got some of that. Started to buy it only recently for Elihu’s lunches. Is it enough to get me out of bed? I wonder, as I take an assessment of just how comfy I am, lying here under my warm covers rather than with cold, wet feet out in the middle of a field as I just was… Ok. Now I am awake. Yes, salami it is. And then the other half of the second-to-last sleeping pill to make sure I can truly get back to sleep.

I’m up. The salami does a good job. Not jerky, but salty, chewy. Kind of. I step outside and notice that it must be cloudy, because it sure is light out for the middle of the night. All that light from the mall, from the stores on 50 that stay lit all the time. All of it bouncing up onto the ceiling of low-lying clouds, keeping the land underneath bathed in a constant glow. Maybe something healthier to cap off this snack. A strawberry. Have one, leave two for Elihu’s lunch tomorrow. Just as I finish it, I realize I have bitten the inside of my mouth ever so slightly, and I notice the sour taste of the small cut mix with the tang of the strawberry’s last flavor. For a microsecond the two tastes are almost one. I worry it with my tongue to check how much it actually hurts. It upsets me for the briefest moment, til I remember what a familiar sensation it is. All the dozens of times throughout my life in which I’ve ever so slightly bit the inside of my cheek by mistake, the lingering salty, sour taste of an open cut left behind. I imagine myself if I were dying of some disease, thinking with nostalgia on something as preciously mundane as this, and becoming happy instead to experience it once more. Hm. One swallow of seltzer water will end this snack perfectly. Without checking the bottle, I grab it from the door of the fridge, take the top off and take a swig. It is not what I’d intended; instead it is the sickly sweet, no calorie sparkling lemonade I’d bought in anticipation of Elihu’s school chum coming over. Our seltzer water is too foreign and fancy for him, so I’d bought this. A taste of plastic hits me, and immediately I see the flourescent lights of a grungy corner garage where they sell Mountain Dew and stale candy bars.

My snack ends. So many images, all in a matter of mere seconds, wafting up from disparate corners of my memories. Waking in of itself becomes a dream. I shuffle back to my bed still going slow, energy mellow, hoping the transition back to the dream side might be more seamless than other nights. Roll into covers hardly pushed back, my body’s form still held by the pillows and blankets. Onto my right side, for I am a mostly a right side sleeper. Tuck it all in around me, and very soon am dissolving into the mysterious dimension of dreams once again.