I dreamed I pressed my hands against the wall of our bedroom and the whole house fell down. I liked that the house fell down, that I pushed over the wall like it was cardboard. I liked that everything fell apart and I was still standing, somehow.
I confess that it feels more things than I can list to have both of my parents dead and gone. My dad in September of 1988, when I was fourteen, and my mom, five months ago, in October 2019, when I was forty-five. I turned forty-six in November, my first birthday without talking to my mom. Until 2017, every year on my birthday we would talk, and she would tell me the story of my birth. In 2017, she’d started to forget things. That year, when I prompted her to tell the story, she wasn’t sure what I meant.
But remember, I said, the thunderstorm Daddy flew through to get home? That Aunt Florence was getting her car washed? That I had so much hair the nurses used me as the demonstration infant to show new mothers how to do a bath? Remember that I peed on the nurse right afterwards? With each detail, my voice cracked open wider.
Oh, she said, seeming to enjoy the story. She hadn’t forgotten she was my mother. She knew who I was and she remembered many things right up until her death. But a little over two years before it, the part of my mother who had kept meticulous track of every detail of our lives was disappearing.
I got off the phone and sobbed. It felt like something was over, like someone had died. I didn’t know the half of how it would feel when she was actually gone.
I dreamed that my mom was alive and we were cleaning out her house. She was a younger version of herself, maybe my age now. At one point in the dream, we sat next to each other. In the midst of sorting and getting rid of things, she stopped and said, “This is so hard,” and she leaned her head on my shoulder for comfort.
I confess that multiple times a day I give in to despair, for moments, sometimes hours. I check out. I don’t want to participate in decisions about dinner. I don’t want to walk into my kitchen, which may never be clean again. I don’t want to talk to anyone about what I’m feeling and risk input, when the tiniest pokes or prods, physical or emotional, can send my nervous system into a frenzy. I don’t want to be so sensitive that I can’t even hold Mike’s hand without a jolt. I don’t want the inexplicable nerve pain, numbness, swelling, tingling in my hands that moved into my body in late November and hasn’t left. I want to knead a thousand loaves of bread and see if I can get something to rise.
I dreamed someone held my face and kissed the top of my head, my third eye, my throat. So tenderly that the sheath of pain around my skin dissolved into nothing, or reassembled into wings, and I flew.
I confess that it does feel better when I do something. Go for a walk. Clean up a corner of the living room.
I also confess that finding the motivation to do that is an effort beyond what I’ve known. I’m a gal who can rally, you know? Sweep in like a tornado and clean the kitchen, the bathroom, the whole apartment in a single bound. I can power through. Power up. Wake up in the morning, leap up out of bed, and change the world by lunchtime.
Now, these usual ways of getting into motion aren’t working. My automatic pilot no longer functions. Everything is manual. Step by step. I can’t even shower in mindless bliss anymore. I must slow and consider which maneuver will aggravate symptoms. How do I get soap out of the dispenser? Will it hurt to wash my armpit like this? Lather my hair with shampoo? I must talk myself into the zing of turning off the spigot. Okay, let’s just get it over with.
I dreamed that I was floating naked in a river, in the summer, sun on my skin, my fingers trailing through the water easily, painlessly. A frog hopped onto my stomach and said nothing I expected him to. Instead, he burst into song, like Freddie Mercury on a long, clear note, ricocheting off of stadium walls.
I confess that I’m on a waiting list to see a neurologist and that even the thought of engaging with western medicine fills me with dread. The remembrance of how clinical and impersonal my other encounters have been. How once a piece of my cervix was sliced out without a kind word from the doctor slicer. Or how empty and guarded were the interactions with my dad’s doctor the morning he died.
In a hospital or medical doctor’s office, my whole person status splinters. What I know about my body, heart, and soul aren’t relevant. My witchiness, my wit, the metaphors and mantras that save me on the daily, the way I see the world and live my life, aren’t relevant, or valuable.
I confess I’m praying that I’ll get better before that appointment comes.
I dreamed that I was well. My hands free of swelling and pain jabs. The sandpaper of my fingertips smoothed back to the way they used to be. All of my rings fit again. I curled my right hand around a pen and wrote in my journal for hours. I dreamed myself opening all of the jars everywhere in the world. Sauces and salsas, jams and jellies. Here, let me, I’d say.
I dreamed I was in a sparse room by the sea for a year. A screenless window with a view of the water. Not talking to anyone, watching the waves.
I confess that for several months, I didn’t want to go to therapy, but then I desperately wanted to go to therapy and it took two more months to find someone who would be a good fit and had availability. We started last week.
My therapist uses a combo of techniques, including Feldenkrais. I knew talk therapy alone wouldn’t be enough. I needed something somatic, too. If you’ve experienced Feldenkrais, you know it’s miniscule movement, incremental adjustments and observations, mindful of the whole. No splintering required.
This week, I laid on a table in my therapist’s office and noticed my body. We started on my left foot, the farthest from my right arm, hand, chest and shoulder—the thoracic hotbed of my distress. I observed how slight movement of my left foot referred sensation up into my left hip and even shoulder. I noticed that the left side of my body felt lighter than the right, more engaged. The right side of my body feels, I said, and hesitated at the word that wanted to come out, dead.
When my therapist moved her hand to my right foot and led me in the same movements as she had on the left, I felt a small jolt in my right knee, hip, arm, shoulder.
I’m feeling a lot here, I said, as a wave of tears built in my chest, then crested in my head.
She didn’t do any more movements. She sat and I lay there for a little while. I said that it felt like what was happening on my right side, tapping into it, paying attention, was opening Pandora’s box.
She said something acknowledging all my right side has been doing to keep me safe, and that plucked a string on my heart.
I knew what she said was true. I know that my body is in full-on protection mode. Maybe guarding me from movements and actions that hurt my nerves and muscles. Or protecting my interactions by giving me some kind of physical proof of the emotional pain I feel. A Handle with Care sign around my neck. Perhaps my right side is protecting me from the truth that my mother is dead.
Dead, like that right side of me. Which isn’t really dead, but may be playing dead so it doesn’t get devoured by a predator.
I dreamed I heard an owl outside the bathroom window. An owl that wouldn’t shut up, couldn’t shut up. Hooting for her life.
I confess that full-on hopeful action is as uncomfortable to me as despair. Neither feels right, or genuine. I struggle to find anything that feels right.
I want to stop the world and get off, my mom would say after my dad died.
Since she died, I’ve felt the same. I haven’t wanted to do much of anything in public. Interactions all so fraught. Who knows what someone might say or how they might touch me that sets me off?
In the last several weeks though, something shifted. A craving rumbled in my belly for regular connection, especially out of the house. I planned weekly writing dates with Kate. I would see what else. Except that didn’t happen, couldn’t happen.
I don’t know how to describe the unique strangeness of the world itself stopping, closing down. A global snow day. Everything cancelled. No need to stop the world; it’s already in park. No need to imagine a big scary predator, not when we’ve got a big scary virus.
When I was little and got sick, my mom would set up the couch for me. Cover it with cool clean white sheets and the pillows from my bed, set up a little table with ginger ale and saltines, bring me black cherry Jell-O and chicken noodle soup. Maybe, on some level, the whole world needs to be mothered through this.
But what do we do if our mothers are dead?
I dreamed I saw an owl, but then it fell dead at my feet. Someone pointed to my right and I saw feathers, blood, flesh. Signs of a struggle.
I confess that my sisters found a present my mom had meant to give to me for my forty-sixth birthday. They mailed it to me. A tiger’s eye pendant on a silver chain. A piece of jewelry likely made from a tie tack or cufflink that belonged to my dad. My mom would do this periodically—preserving a piece of him and making of it a beautiful gift. She hadn’t done it for me in a long while.
I don’t know how to feel about the blue velvet oval box on my dresser, the dresser that used to be my dad’s before they got married. Is this my mom trying to tell me she hadn’t forgotten everything? That she’s still tracking all of the details and hasn’t missed a beat. Even death can’t stop her.
I dreamed I stopped crying and then promptly dried up. Due to too much looking back, I turned into a pillar of salt and crumbled to the ground.
I confess that one of these dreams is real and the rest I’ve made up. Or one of them is made up and the rest are real. Or all of them are true, somewhere, somewhen, somehow.
I dreamed that I was making my first confession, again and again, not to a priest, but an owl. When I was finished, the owl asked for my blessing. To my surprise, I gave it.
I confess that I’m not sure what I have to offer right now. That I’m tempted to sit, forlorn, over here in my corner, with broken heart and broken hands. After all, we’re supposed to distance; we’re supposed to isolate. But here I am, writing against all the oddities of isolation.
I confess that I know me saying “I have nothing to offer,” can also be a cop-out. Because what I know, what I’ve learned, what I feel in my heart, is that the best that any of us can offer at any given moment is showing up fully as we are. So maybe the best I can offer in this moment is to say I’ve got nothing. To open up my dysfunctional hands and say, Here you go. Here’s a big handful of spacious nothing, and be absolutely okay with it. Be present to it. I mean, me being present at all allowed all of these words to spill out.
Like in Moonstruck, when Vincent Gardenia, who plays Cher’s dad, sighs in defeat and laments, “A man understands one day that his life is built on nothing, and that’s a bad, crazy day.” And Olympia Dukakis, who plays Cher’s mom, gets deadly serious and says, “Your life is not built on nothing,” and adds, with her voice cracking open into tears, “Te amo.” I love you.
Then the whole conversation shifts; the whole mood changes. Vincent Gardenia rises out of his lament and says he loves her too. And Cher rolls her eyes.
So maybe it’s a matter of my inner dad being able to confess my despair, to say he feels like he’s got nothing, so that my inner mom can jump in and say hey, this life of yours is not nothing. This moment is not nothing. And to prove it, introduces love. Like a birthday present I didn’t expect.
And my inner Cher can sit at the table and roll her eyes, because it turns out I have an inner Cher. I have the whole fucking cast of Moonstruck in here, and it’s actually a full house. It turns out that confessions and dreams are a whole lot of something, and not nothing at all.
Maybe the walls of the house of the world are collapsing. And here we all are, with our vigorously washed, open, empty hands holding nothing that is actually something. With the chance to say I love you and change everything.
I dreamed that we all pushed our hands against the walls of the rooms where we usually are asleep, and the whole house fell down. And we liked that it all fell down, that the walls between us were no more than cardboard. We liked how everything fell apart and we were all still standing, somehow.