I had a dream this morning, a nightmare actually. I dreamed that it was the day you died and I was alone in your house. I’ve had this dream before, a memory that comes back to me at night sometimes. But this time I was in your old house, in the house I visited as a kid, not the house you lived in when you died. I was walking through the house, crying up the creaky stairs. In the face of such a devastating loss, I crammed myself in the little closet that used to be a telephone room and I closed the door.
Your doorbell rang and I untucked myself from the corner of the closet. Out on the front steps was a real estate agent and a family ready to look at the house. In my dream I didn’t even know the house was for sale. I explained to the agent that you had just passed away that morning and it really wasn’t a good time. The agent pushed the door open and showed the family in. The mother started asking me all these questions. I gave them a tour of your house, staggering through the rooms of memories with a lump in my throat and tears welling in my eyes.
My alarm clock sounded and I’ve never been so glad for it to go off. I woke with that lump in my throat and swallowed it back down. My pillow was wet from crying. The dream felt so real that it took me a few minutes to realize it couldn’t have been real because you haven’t lived in that house for over 20 years. I swept away the cobwebs of the dream and pulled the covers up under my chin, wiping my eyes with the sheet. I miss you so much that sometimes it’s a physical ache in my chest. This morning was one of those times.
I got up to ride my bike with Terry and Nick. A good hard ride was just what I needed. I pedaled up and across Shasta Dam, the water in the lake blue and glassy. We followed a new piece of trail and at a split I jumped on the old the river trail and Terry and Nick followed the road back home. I wanted to be by the river, to be near something beautiful. I rode fast, pushing a big gear, passing everyone I encountered.
I reached the Sundial Bridge where there was a breast cancer awareness walk. I got caught in a crowd of people dressed in pink. I felt the lump rise up from my belly and bob in my throat. I saw people walking in memory of loved ones lost and the ache stabbed at my chest.
Then I saw people walking with the word “Survivor” pinned to their shirts. There were stickers and pins and hats and everything else rightly proclaiming survivorship.
White hot envy bubbled up. And I know I shouldn’t be envious that they survived and you didn’t, but sometimes I am. Most days I think you won, Gramma, that you lived the best life of anyone I know. But some days I feel like cancer won, that it’s unfair that other people survived cancer and you didn’t. It’s the ugly part of grief, Gramma, the part I hate the most. It’s not that I wish these other people didn’t survive. It’s not that at all. It’s that I wish you were still here, too.
I tried to get out of the crowd of walkers, but no matter how many times I called out “On your left!” or “Coming through!” they didn’t move aside. The entire bridge was filled from one side to the other with walkers and survivors and pink shirts. I felt the tears pricking my eyelashes. I needed to be anywhere but there. I unclipped and walked my bike through the crowd, keeping my head down until I got to the road and onto the trail that would lead me home. I rode uphill, stomping on my pedals, crying until hot snot ran with my tears. By the time I got home I’d stopped crying, but the sadness remained.
Gramma, I don’t mind dreaming of you. In fact, I love it when you talk to me in my dreams. But this dream was different. You weren’t in it at all. And that’s what makes the sadness stay, the fact that each day I get further and further away from the life that had you in it. Sometimes that loss devastates me all over again.
Come talk to me in my sleep, Gramma. Sidle up next to me and drawl “Hi, honey. How are you?” Make me watch Jeopardy with you while we eat ice cream for dinner. Come back, for just a little bit, even if it’s only in my dreams.