Certain dreams seem universally to plague my friends—dreams of falling, of having to return to high school (the horror!), of having to take a college exam in a class to which one has neglected to show up all semester.
I had another recurring but pleasant dream as a young child: I would go down to the basement and discover secret rooms. One day there might be a candy store tucked behind a sliding panel above the bookcase, or shelves full of glorious colorful art supplies. Another day I might find my own book store hidden down there, with pillows where I could recline in peace and read. (As I have mentioned, I come from a lengthening line of proud nerds.)
I dreamed last night that a very healthy Jim and I had discovered an extra two flights upstairs in our house, with many secret rooms. Somehow these had escaped our notice during all our years in the house. We went up together and found a strangely modern, pristine, and curiously painted extra two floors.
Notwithstanding author Michael Chabon’s recent diatribe against sharing dreams–which he derided as “the Sea Monkeys of consciousness” and seems to think of as the crude flotsam of legitimate, waking thoughts–I don’t think it unreasonable to examine some of them to try to eke out what one might be missing in the noise of a day.
(With all due respect, if one is going to express one’s thoughts in a public forum, then is it necessarily more worthy–or less egocentric–to share only sensible, coherent, edited waking thoughts with those who drop by your little corner of the internet or the world?)
In my dream Jim was in good health, and teasing me. My dream Jim thought these additional rooms quickly would be staked out by me to squirrel away more books and fabric, and every piece of paper to which our children had once touched a crayon, paintbrush, or writing implement.
In this dream, Jim was not the only one restored to good health and vigor. Our house was overflowing. Many of our friends were walking around downstairs as if inspecting the house; our friend with dreadful back pain had his former gait and pain-free stance, and my parents were more nimble than they’ve been in years.
The children were joking, as if unseen burdens had been revoked—or perhaps hadn’t yet been visited upon them.
Reality poked in obliquely at first, and my dream self became a bit confused and wary: Jim was telling me I could rent out these newly discovered floors while I sought a new home. Why would I want to do that? Why would we need to move now?
As most of my dreams are, in retrospect this one was fairly transparent. I had recently written about vintage physics professors moving up one floor closer to God. Presto: my dream featured white stairways leading up. I have been engaged for months in the emotionally tumultuous work of sorting out what to keep and what to donate when we move, relegating some things to deep storage. Moving, and all of its attendant complications, has been very much on my waking mind.
I do not doubt that some processing goes on when the brain is at rest—perhaps particularly when the brain is at rest as little as mine is.
One thing I realized from this dream is that although I miss Jim’s presence more than I can bear, from the depth of his loss I also somehow now more deeply appreciate ordinary extraordinary things: a comparatively pain-free day for someone with a chronic illness or condition, visits from friends and family, laughter from my children. These things have been there all along, but I didn’t see them as clearly; sometimes they were tucked away from my conscious thoughts.
As preoccupied as I remain with this overwhelming loss, I think I also pay more attention to what remains (the beautiful and the terrible)–from other people and their losses to the blossoming plants and bright pink sunrises and sunsets I might have ignored while tending to the beagles, rushing people to school or re-reading the mac & cheese instructions for the 700th time (for a person with an unusual memory, I am unable to recall concrete instructions). And I am so very grateful for all the people who take care of me—even when they don’t know they’re doing it.