The autocrat of dreams

Someone got brave today and asked the question that I think has been on the minds of most of my friends lately: "How are you, Amy? Not how you say you are, but how you really are."

Asking such a question to someone who has recently lost a family member is an inherently risky action. There's no way of determining in advance which person you're talking to: the friend who is bravely wandering through her days, or the friend who has decided that this whole bravery and wandering thing is for the birds (and who is looking for an excuse to cry).If you reach the former, you'll get a cautiously-optimistic answer: "I'm fine."
If you reach the latter, you'll get a cautious answer: "I'm fine."

The difference is in the tone of voice.

I'm obsessed with the idea of finding the exact word to convey not just the denotation of feeling but the connotations as well. It came to me today, just as Andrew said it might—while doing something silly and mundane, like doing the dishes.

The right word is "haunted."

It conveys the impression of a life lived, but in shared space with shadow and ghost. It conveys the slow slippage of time between 'passing on' and 'moving on.' Most of all, it conveys the understanding that while life goes on under the auspices of day, the darkness and silence of night obey the edicts of an unkindly autocrat of dreams.

'Haunted' aptly described my feelings upon calling my mother this weekend, reaching the answering machine, and hearing my father's recorded voice requesting that I leave a message. Or receiving a sympathy card in the mail. Or finding the program from his funeral in my papers from Arkansas.

'Haunted' best describes the fact that I lie down to sleep every night, knowing that I may awaken in the morning with no remembrance of my dreams. Alternately, I know that I may jolt awake in the single-digit dark hours with a sense of immediate terror that has no name and no cause.

If anything, I am haunted by my own sense of loss, and that feeling of loss expresses itself most vividly behind closed eyelids.

Last night I awakened at four a.m. with an eye-opening surge of dread—in the half-sensical logic of dreams, I knew that someone was gone, but I couldn't remember who or what. I lay in bed, staring blankly through the bluish moonlight, and listened. Jeff's breathing, calm and regular, by my side, assured me that he was still there.

With consciousness came the memories—the memories that are often little better, little more sensical, than the formless foreboding of dreams. I knew who was gone. I knew when. I knew how.

But I didn't—and still don't—understand why.

Until I find an answer, or reconcile myself to truly believing that there is no answer to find, I doubt that last night's nightmares will be the last of the series.


This entry brought tears to my eyes. I'd say I know how you feel but I don't know how I feel.