Dreams From My Father

My dad came to me several times in the days following his death. Two of those visitations were in dreams.

In the first dream two hummingbirds flew into the enclosed porch where I was sitting with him, the room he spent most of his last 11 months in, recovering from chemo and radiation treatments, and when I put up my hand for them to land on, they instead hovered above it, boring their long, narrow beaks into the space between my first and second knuckles. I writhed with pain, inside, but didn’t flinch, holding still while they…sucked out nectar? Pollinated me?

As they flew off, I turned and thrust my wounded hand in his direction, imploring my dad to “help me, fix me, I’m hurt,” like I often did in real life. As a doctor, a veterinarian, he was who I turned to when sick or hurt, knowing his gift for healing. Especially of those who couldn’t explain what was the matter.

I looked at the sizeable hole the hummingbirds made – a small marble could have fit, yet there was no bleeding, and it was deep black, the darkest color I ever saw. The closer I peered, the more I realized I was looking into the abyss. Endless, boundless universe.

In the second dream, I was alone at my sister’s house and opened the door to let her cat out. Shortly afterwards, I saw a fox leaping gracefully across the yard, playful, yet intent. Entranced for a moment, I then suddenly remembered the cat was outside, nearby, and I rushed out the door, but couldn’t reach her fast enough. I helplessly watched as the fox grabbed her, sank its claws, and rendered her defenseless. She immediately relaxed, her body slumped and stopped struggling. It happened so fast. Alive one moment, surrendered the next.

That was 3 months ago. I haven’t dreamt since.

Until last night.

In this dream, my friends Tammy and Geof were showing me their grandfather’s house and the rural hamlet he lived in. I was looking to move and wanted to be someone’s roommate, and they thought we’d be a perfect match.

On our way there, I walked ahead of them into town, searching for something. Everything was intensely magnified. The green was greener than where I live now, the surrounding mountains were higher and more thickly forested. The few houses were old, and made of stone, just like the ones I coveted as a child and still hope to someday live in. No one was one the street at all, the townspeople all tucked inside. The scene was clean, orderly, pristine, natural, beautiful.

I walked into one of only two establishments and it was filled with kids – an ice cream shop. The brightness of overhead lights was strong and the hubbub overstimulating, so I left. I didn’t go into the other place – a serious, upscale restaurant, but I knew I would eventually – the twinkling lights on the windows highlighted the warm festivities inside. When I get settled in…

Then, feeling guilty I had rushed ahead without my friends, I walked briskly back down to the park, and found them relaxing with their grandfather and their son. We reunited.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After the first 2 dreams, I looked up Hummingbird and Fox in Ted Andrews’ book of animal totems, “Animal Speak, The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small.”

Hummingbirds represent tireless joy and the nectar of life. The most skilled flyer, they can change direction on a dime, fly thousands of miles – a seemingly impossible journey for a bird who needs to eat constantly, and are fiercely independent and revel in their freedom.

Foxes are a symbol of shapeshifting and camouflage, a sign of a new world growing and opening up, a beneficial creation in the works. They’re charming, and will distract you with jumping and leaping antics, until they pounce and capture their prize.

Now, a little back story about the small town and my friends’ role in it. Three years ago while visiting Tammy and Geof, who live in a small New England town, I listen while Geof shares some crazy thought he has that I might be happier moving out of NYC and to someplace like Vermont or Maine. I mostly ignore this idea at the time.

Months later, I’m invited to Maine, and suddenly remember Geof’s words. I rediscover Camden, where I once wanted to move, two decades earlier. It feels right this time. I pack up my life in the city, and here I am today, loving it.

Sooo…are T & G arbiters of my geography, and if so – is this about my inner landscape or the outer one? Is everything about to become more orderly and amped up?

How is my life shapeshifting? Am I about to capture my prize? Surrender to something?

Was one of my dad’s last gifts to empower me to live joyfully, on purpose, and suck from the nectar of life?

I figure my subconscious has been at work these months integrating the wisdom of my father and of the animals he tended, with my own beliefs, gut feelings from friends, and divine guidance. The unfolding ways of how I’ll live the rest of my life.

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Contemplating Suicide? Wait.

1. In the gaping sinkhole of earlier days, kicking and screaming served no discernible purpose, it only made me sink deeper, and tired from flailing and wailing, I’d give in, spent.

(Did no one hear me? ‘Cause I was making quite a ruckus.)

I lay in bed, an anesthetic veil pulled between me and all of you normal, smiley people, and I drifted, waiting to bump up against something, anything, just to be jarred. Between numbness and despair, I preferred despair. Feeling its wretched undertow was actually molten relief.

Contemplating suicide was how I nestled with that despair, after the daily masquerade of pretending ceased. It was comforting, like the activities of childhood we revisit when under pressure: coloring, doodling, stacking blocks and knocking them down, just to see them fall.

In this secret room my fantasies of escape could gently inhale, exhale. Spaciousness dwelt in macabre scenarios. Imagining how I could die was my oxygen tank and I pulled on that tank as if……….as if my life depended on it.

And it did.

I had no control in my life. Nothing happened the way I wanted it to. Hell, I didn’t even know what I wanted, other than to stop feeling this way. Helpless and victim to everyone, to all the circumstances I was born into. All I knew were puppeteers and wardens.

And then it dawned – my first moment of light – If I had the power to kill myself, then I had the power to choose not to.

Slowly, more light crept under the door, washing across the floor and up along the bedcovers.

My mind split in two. Cleaved open. I was not just suffering anymore, I was the one witnessing the suffering.

And if one of those voices had the wherewithal to choose, even if the other one couldn’t see it, then there was still a way out. All I had to do was acknowledge it. I didn’t even have to decide. Not yet.

Just knowing an option existed was the most roof-raising, holy-fucking-shit revelation I ever had.

2. I think it’s time to start throwing parties again.

Not the sophisticated dinner party variety that I’m age appropriate for, where all the guests read the same online news reports and exchange their latest restaurant and movie reviews, and flatter each other’s weight loss, but the Sunday stew pot Bacchanalias I hosted in my twenties. Disparate groups showing up at my house wondering if they got the date wrong because while, yes…there I was, who were all these people?

Gay boys dancing, pickup-driving rednecks drinking beer, long-haired metalheads surrounded by the prettiest girls, stiff brainiacs from class, and the neighbors who weren’t sure if they were more nervous about the rowdy, muscled jocks or if they might actually be having fun amidst the cornucopia of humanity.

What I mean to say is, maybe it’s time to raise the roof again and watch the festivities commence. Remind myself of all the characters I’ve cast myself as, and all these other fabulous expressions I’ve gallivanted through the seasons with.

Who can I resurrect that will be the most playful?

The giant instigator?

The sexy flirt in leather boots?

The smarty-pants?

Damn the torpedos! Someone turn up the music, will ya? And make a beer run; it’s gonna be a late one.

3. I have a box on my desk with five passports in it. Four of them are mine and one belonged to my father, who passed in November. His was issued the year we met him (technically, he’s my stepfather); he went to Germany with his mother and sister.

It used to be that when you went to Europe, you got a stamp for each country visited, and collecting these inked pages was like those old photo albums that sat on your grandparents’ coffee table – signposts of a time and place that only exists in memory. Now that we have the EU and global connectivity and paperless paper, aren’t we playing in a unified field of dreams, where everybody’s simultaneously in costume on stage and clapping from the orchestra seats?

If we’re all collective conscious-ing and retina-scanning, how will I remember what my dad looked like in 1976?

4. Recall those T-shirts from the 80’s, the ones that said in bold letters “Frankie Says Relax” and “Choose Life?”

Yeah, those.

5. This year, I’m throwing a balls-out, come-as-you-were or who-you-want to-be party and all of you and all of me are invited. Shakespeare said so.

Do you want to join me? I think it’ll be a rollicking good time.

The choice is always yours to make.

A Cyclist In Limbo

Central Park is a place in which to retreat from the craziness of the city.  There is much there to delight and rejuvenate oneself.  It is not a place you expect to see someone die.

Yesterday, while rambling around the Upper West Side of the park, I saw a middle-aged cyclist lying on his back, motionless, along one of the busy thoroughfares.  His bike was pushed haphazardly to the curb.  His eyes were closed, his skin grey and someone said he was not breathing.  Being Sunday, the park was filled with joggers, strollers, dog-walkers, and fortunately several doctors.  A few stopped as they approached the scene.  One pony-tailed woman in running shorts squatted down, put her fingers to his neck checking for a pulse, tilted her head to the side, and listened for any signs of breathing.  She began to perform CPR on him, while a woman in black sneakers phoned 911 and paced the asphalt.  A large crowd gathered along the bike path.

It took 8 minutes for an ambulance to get there and I thought how often I’d seen cars and cabs NOT pull off to the side while sirens screamed behind them.  Eight minutes are an eternity when a life is hanging in precarious balance.  No one seemed to be panicking, however, and I surmised that perhaps he was alone.  Maybe he said to his wife that morning, honey, I’m going out for a ride, I’ll meet you at Zabar’s for bagels in an hour.  And he never shows.

The ambulance arrives, and the EMTs climb out slowly, like they’re heading into the deli – no sense of urgency, but I attribute that to the CPR in progress.  He seems to be in capable hands.  The woman continues pumping the fallen man’s chest, her arms stick straight, leaning over his torso with all her weight.  Then I see him take a breath – and briefly I feel relief, until she resumes.  If she’s still working on him, does this mean that breath was involuntary, just a reflex, or is he on his way out of danger?  I wish I knew more.  A fire truck roars down the transverse, honking at the crowd to disperse, and pulls up along side the crashed bicycle.  The truck blocks my view and I leave.

Countless people die every year in New York;  that I was possibly witness to such an incident shakes me as only dying and death can do.  Split second upheaval.  Everything changes instantaneously, and not just for the victim, or the victim’s family and friends.  But all of us are affected, whether we realize it or not.  I feel duty-bound now, a social responsibility to be prepared.  What if someone’s life is at risk, and I am the only one around?

I resolve to learn CPR, first aid, the Heimlich.  I want you to do the same because we are all connected and maybe one day, my life will depend on you.

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