Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bad Dreams

Hi, my love,

I was going to tell you about our camping trip--and I will, I promise--but first I need to check with you about something.

I just awoke from two different bad dreams. Fortunately for you, I don't remember the first one. But the second was one of those that leaves a really bad feeling, the kind that lingers all day as the vague feeling that you've forgotten something terrible that's happened and are just about to remember.

In my dream, you were still sick, and very, very thin. You were mysteriously and not entirely happily outliving your prognosis; no one could tell why, or how long it might last.* You were telling me that while I was working, you had developed a new life, with new friends, and that you were going to leave me. I was angry. I was hurt. I begged you to tell me it wasn't true--that you loved our life together as much as I did. [For some reason, in that strange counter-logic of dreams, we were having this conversation in three different locations: a bedroom we never actually had; a gigantic thrift store in which our conversation was periodically interrupted by my selection of a tchotchke; and the front seat of your car. These locations appeared and disappeared throughout the conversation, as happens in dreams. There was also a period where we were driving through the thrift store in the car, while people pilfered things from our open trunk, but that seems beside the point, and it's too hard to explain the logistics of a dream.] But you insisted that you had new friends now--including a single mother named, as I recall, "Tanya." And that you had been living a whole separate life--nothing illicit, but unknown to me. I couldn't believe that after all our work to save you (even though, in the dream, you were less "saved" than enduring a kind of perpetual-cancer state), you were telling me that you didn't love me, and that only now could you tell me. And that you would be moving out, eventually. And that you had purchased a small white VW beetle (the old kind). [It was this last part that really got me; you loved those cars. It made the rest of the dream seem more real.]

And now I'm awake, and feeling shaky and doubtful, and wishing you were here to help me realize it was just a dream.

I find myself doubting my version of our life together, now that it exists only in my memory and in the sound-bytes I trot out for my friends: "My husband used to.... He was....He liked....He once said...." I feel responsible for keeping you around and on people's minds, as if that could give your life more meaning. (Presumptuous of me. You gave your life plenty of meaning). But I feel less and less sure of myself as the keeper of your flame. Did it all mean what I think it did? Why is it left to me to tell your story? And what if I get it wrong?

You did love me, right? And our life together, short as it was?

Please tell me this is all just a bad dream.

I love you,

your wife

*For some reason, almost all of my dreams about you take place in this not-quite-happy imagined future, with you in this not-really-cured state.

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Low-rent Theology

This morning, over breakfast (cantaloupe and sourdough toast for her, cottage cheese with incredible peaches for me):

Daughter: Mama, I think Papa is still at the doctor. (This is frequently her opening line when she wants to discuss him, death, and what it all means.)

Dorcasina: No, sweetie. You know Papa's not still at the doctor. You know that Papa died, and we don't ever get to see him again.

Daughter: Well, maybe he is in heaven!
Now, all the grief folks warned me NOT to tell her that Papa was "looking down" on her from heaven; they said that feeling of being watched by a dead person can be creepy...duh. So I've been pretty theologically noncommital about Papa's afterlife whereabouts, except that Snickollet and I just know that our husbands are hanging out together, and have probably hooked up with Badger's beloved Mr. Badger on occasion for some deeply existential talks, or to make farting armpit noises.

Dorcasina, tentatively: ....well, maybe. What is heaven?

Daughter, cheerfully matter of fact: It's a big room where he can talk to other died [sic] people. And maybe play with toys.

Dorcasina (thinks): Yeah, I bet he'd like that...

Dorcasina: Uh huh. Who told you about heaven?

Daughter: Mrs. Teacher Lady! She said my papa is in heaven! And that he is happy!
Mrs. Teacher Lady is my daughter's primary teacher--which in Montessori world means that they are about to start their third year together. She has been unfailingly loving, supportive, and thoughtful in helping both my daughter and me. She's very active in her church, and makes private references to her faith. So I'm actually really okay with her providing what to her probably feels like a very neutral bit of information. She definitely doesn't proselytize, but she does feel that her beliefs are a big part of her life, and she's made that pretty clear in private conversations. I don't share most of her beliefs, but I really like her and trust her to keep the details of her theology to herself. I have also talked to her about my own spiritual beliefs, so I can see why she thought this would be okay to say to my daughter. And she's right. It is okay. My liberal/academic/secular/knee-jerk self immediately wonders "is this appropriate?" But in this case, it's just fine.

Dorcasina: Well, he probably misses us very much. But we want him to be happy, even though we miss him. Maybe heaven is like a park, so he can go outside?

Daughter: Yes! With other died [sic] people. Mama, can I have another piece of toast?

I wish I had a video of this for those folks who want to really know what it's like to be a widow and a single mom.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Turn about is fair play

Since I spend much of my time bitching about my in-laws, and what a disappointment they are to me, it seems only fair to report that last weekend we saw most of my husband's family, and for the first time since shortly after his death, I was not left with a big hard knot in my throat. On Saturday, M-i-L and one set of aunt-uncle-cousin-cousin arrived to take my daughter to the zoo. I am not a big fan of zoos--in fact, I hate them; even the nicest ones seem sort of awful, and always have at least some poor creatures languishing in small, dirty cement cages. So I got to stay home and do NOTHING while they toured the zoo. Then I met everyone for a late lunch, at which no one said a nasty, critical, or evangelical word. I still think one of my nephews is a proper turd--always demand a snack, never says thank you, and invariably has to announce that the snacks at my house (granola bars, crackers, pretzels, fruit bars, fruit, dried fruit) is "Weird" because I don't keep soft drinks or store-bought cookies around. (I eat such crap; frequently. But I am very good about giving my beloved child relatively healthful options).

But this is a happy story.

After the lunch, they departed....taking my daughter with them for an overnight at Grandma's. Yep. I had a Saturday night off, while my daughter had a sleepover with her girl cousin (exactly one year older). They played in the hose. Grandpa read them books (cute photos). They visited an organic farm and got purple carrots and cantaloupe. They baked and decorated sugar cookies.

I went to dinner at a lovely, simple, bistro-type restaurant in Previous City with a colleague. We had a cocktail. We had corn chowder with vaguely Middle-Eastern flavors. We had creme brulee that melted on the tongue. We had wine.

The next morning, I read the entire Sunday paper without a piping little voice asking, "Are you done yet, Mama?" every 17.5 seconds.

I was terribly lonely for my little girl. I loved being lonely for her.

I drove to in-laws' house on Sunday evening, after a quick stop at the nearby Giganta-Mall for jeans (I was, miraculously, successful. I have two new pairs, and they are different. Woo Hoo). We visited a bit (in-laws have been gone since June 1 for an annual trek), and had dinner with the other S-i-L (her little girl was the cousin who shared the slumber party. If you are keeping track, the other one is known as The Fundie and this one is Ms. Bossypants.) We had a very nice conversation, joined together to tease my F-i-L for a bit, and talked, a bit excessively, about real estate markets (in this family, "How're your finances?" appears to be a code for "I care about you and want to know how you are, but that would be too personal, so let's talk in abstracts about our financial growth.")

Anyway, it was nothing special. Just an ordinary weekend

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Voice from the Back Seat, Part II

Context: If you have a little girl or know a little girl, and she does not already own Fancy Nancy, you must add it to her collection. It's a charming story about the perils of being "fancy" in a humdrum world.

Cuteness: Today, my daughter insisted on being "fancy" for school. "Fancy" in today's iteration consisted of a bright print dress, a clear plastic necklace that looks remarkably like those banana candy necklaces* that were popular in my childhood, a giant yellow bow in her hair, circa 1911, and her sparkly red shoes that can be called "ruby slippers" but must never be described as "Dorothy's."

As she alit from the car, she announced, "I'm the fanciest. I love to be fancy. It has been my lifelong dream to be fancy." Lifelong. As in, from ages 3 3/4 to 4 1/2. She kills me. And no, I have no idea where she gets this stuff.

* Who knew that there was a "retro candy" site online? I'm not really surprised, but now I have a wicked craving for an Abba Zabba. Or a Bit'o'Honey. Or maybe just some Bottle Caps, followed by an elegant candy cigarette. It's good to achieve an age where one's peers are economically solvent enough to make the obscure items from one's childhood "collectible," rather than just obsolete!