My dreams, when I remember them, are usually pretty bizarre. I’m fighting giant hermit crabs or scorpions. I’m in a room where the gravity shifts from the floor to the walls and then to the ceiling. I’m in a house on fire, but then it disintegrates and I’m treading water in the middle of the ocean. I swear. It’s like a Ray Harryhausen-Fred Astaire-Steven Spielberg-Luis Bunuel film festival up in here.
So I was surprised when I realized, one night recently, that I was having a comparatively mundane dream about sitting at my grandmother’s dining room table, talking. My son and I visit my gramma every Sunday afternoon, but my son wasn’t in my dream. Instead, there was a fellow I knew from high school sitting with us. I hadn’t seen him in decades, and, honestly, as I write this, I can’t remember his name, but, even though he had aged more than 30 years, I recognized him, and, in my dream, I knew his name.
It was eerie, however, because this was the middle-aged version of a boy who had killed himself when we were in ninth grade. We weren’t friends back then. We weren’t even really acquainted in any way. I don’t think I ever spoke to him in high school. He was just a kid in one of my classes, a transfer student, as I recall, who may have been having a hard time adjusting to a new school populated with a seemingly well-knit community of disinterested teenagers.
Being a self-absorbed, insecure teenager myself, I never thought to track him down, to welcome him to his new school and to see if we might have been friends. I was always so cautious with social interaction, slow to reach out, more inclined to wait for others to come to me. Such foolishness!
This older version of my deceased former classmate recognized my regret. It had taken him many years to work through the obstacles that his death had placed in the way of our subconscious meeting, but he was finally able to integrate himself in such a way that he could reach me through my dream.
As with most dreams, I couldn’t recall how we had come to be there at that moment, but I was shocked into alertness when my gramma asked him why he had done what he had done.
My gramma, who celebrated her 97th birthday last December, recently told me that she liked being alive, that even though she deals with aches and various other difficulties associated with her age, she wants to be here as long as she can. I suppose her comment may have acted as a summoning beacon for this visitation, but the specter didn’t answer her question. He was, after all, a figment of my subconscious imagination, and I don’t guess I have the capacity, even in my wildest dreams, to foist upon my memory a revelation regarding such a deep and darkly held personal truth.
He spoke about his younger self as if he was a different person entirely. He felt sorry for that earlier, doomed version of himself and regretted that he hadn’t had the opportunity to explore his life more fully, and he was sorry for the ways that his death had hurt so many people. He had come to me, he explained, to apologize for haunting me for so long, for crossing paths with me so incidentally and for having had such a long-lasting, if subtle, effect upon my life and perspective.
And then, with tears welling up, he asked me to give back that small piece of him that he had left in me when he died. This seemed very strange to me; I always thought the spirit would want to be remembered, that even though a life may be defined by sadness or tragedy that it would want to persist in some way, to live on in the hearts of the living, but I had no reason to hold on to his memory. I really didn’t know him at all. So I gave him the thing he wanted; I let him go, to be at peace, to rest easy in his chosen oblivion.
It’s a shame, really. I could have used his help fighting those damn hermit crabs.
For further consideration: “Promethea,”a five-volume graphic novel, written by Alan Moore and originally published in 32 individual issues starting in 1999, features a heroine who derives her power from the concept of imagination and storytelling. Highly recommended. Truly brilliant stuff.