Sometimes I wonder what you dream about now. You say you are healed and remember everything, but then you tell me that we need to do something about our house in California and that you’ll get F to sell it. We don’t own a house in California, Dad, and you and Uncle F haven’t spoken for years now.
But we did live in California, and Uncle F works in a field related to real estate, so that’s why I wonder about your dreams. Is your mind piecing things together while you sleep, only to confuse you when you wake? The mind can do that to a person. I would know.
There are two things I have dreamed about my entire life, over and over again. The first is flying. I can never control it. I dream that I float away without warning, sometimes bobbing up to the ceiling like a helium balloon, other times going right out the open door, fingers grasping for the doorframe a second too late. I float over cities and out to sea, and wonder if I’ll deflate over an island and stay there for the rest of my life, alone in the branches of the trees, watching the world go by without me.
The other dream is of you. I am always young, five maybe. J is little. We’ve just moved into a new house, and Mom and J are playing in his room. The edges of the dream are hazy, like I’m watching it all through an old camera lens. I walk through the house, but I can’t find my room. There is one for you and Mom and one for J, but where is mine?
I end up in the kitchen. All the lights are off, but I can see the wooden cabinets from where I stand, at the mouth of the hall, as the light behind me shines into the room. There is a gaping hole in the center of the floor. Our table is gone. Somehow I know that the hole leads down into the depths of the dark, to places no one wants to go. To places that no one comes back from. A monster clings to the edge of the hole. His face is slick and shiny, his skin a putrid green. He has a bulging belly and thin, bony arms, and he is waiting for me.
I don’t want to go into the kitchen, but I need to get to the other hallway, to search for my room. I try to slip past the monster by running around the edge of the kitchen, but his arms stretch long and grab hold of my ankles. Down I go, onto my stomach on the cold linoleum. He drags me back toward the hole. My fingers dig into the floor, but I’m not strong enough to stop him.
I’m going to fall down into the darkness, and I’m never going to return.
Then I see you standing in the doorway, the light from the hall splintering out around you. I lift my arms from the floor and reach for you. “Dad! Dad, help!”
You stare at me and say, “I’m not your father, Ashley.”
I wake up right as my body slips over the edge of the hole, into the darkness.
I dream this over and over throughout my childhood. Sometimes I wake in a cold sweat siting straight up in bed. Other times, I open my eyes and stare up at the ceiling, wondering if one day you will save me. Even after C is born, the dream doesn’t change. It is always the four of us. It repeats again and again, always with the same result. I don’t know how many hours I spent when I was young lying awake thinking about this dream. Too many to count. But eventually, I figured it out.
You always said the same thing right before I fell: “I’m not your father, Ashley.” For years I fretted over this, brokenhearted that you never saved me. And then I realized something. I never called you “father.” You are my dad, and even then I separated the two words from one another. You weren’t lying to me when you said, in the dream, that you weren’t my father. You’re right. You aren’t. You are my dad.
I stopped having the dream after I realized this. You never saved me from the monster because I had to save myself.
So now, instead of wondering about my dreams, I wonder about yours. What are you dreaming these days? It seems like such a silly thing to ask you, out of the blue without any context, so I never do. Also, I don’t want to upset you by implying that you don’t really remember what you think you remember. Who am I to judge the inner workings of your mind? Yes, there are things that make me think otherwise—like the house in California you insist we need to sell—but still this is not enough for me to burst your hope. You believe that you are the same as you were before, whole and well again, and in many ways you are. And in others, you are not.
Sometimes this is what dreams are made of more than anything else, the hope that we seek in our waking hours. Hope that someone we love will save us from the inner demons that plague us. Hope that we won’t float away from a home we never feel tethered tightly enough to. Hope that we are well and whole again, in spite of everything that says otherwise.
Who am I to take your hope away? Instead, let’s dream together. And when you ask me again about the house in California, I will say as I have said each time before, “I’m sure everything will be okay in the end.”