The following is an account of a series of dreams, strange in their nature, and thus only that. However, dreams seem to offer insight and sometimes an uncanny meditation on life and death. In 2009, I lost my mother to genetic breast cancer, after 7 years of fighting. I’ve had many, rather mundane, dreams with her…but nothing quite like this.
By Sara Aranda
She’s been bathing. This time in the downstairs bath of my childhood home. I ate bacon as we chatted. It seemed to be life, as I was lucidly feeling the weight of myself in such a small room. My feet touched each other as I sat on them, kneeling beside the tub. The water was gray but she was beautiful. I knew better. I knew that I was dreaming, even asked her if I was, though she didn’t seem to think so. It was as if she was unaware that I was dreaming. But I was certain that she understood that she was dead. So I asked her a question, something to do with why or what it’s like to die relatively young.
“It’s the middle way for the long way through,” she answered.
It astounded me and made sense then, so I had the urge to write it down. I suddenly had a pen and a piece of cardboard in my hands so I scribbled her words in dark ink. She then asked if she could keep it. “Well, I’ll write it down for you too,” I giggled and began, but fumbled with the severing pieces of cardboard that were now shrinking squares.
I knew the dream would end soon, so I told her I missed her again, as my previous dream I was an emotional mess seeing her sitting, naked and hairless, on the floor in the upstairs master bath. I was leaning in towards her head now, as she rested it against the white wall. Her eyes looked empty in an automated nod, black and deep, but then something seemed to rise within her human shell and well her up with emotion and motherly instinct. Brown-eyed and lonely, she embraced me with her breastless nakedness; the water in the tub sloshed…and then I was back in my childhood bedroom, just upstairs, eyeing the yellow dresser and desk, the bunk bed and sunny window covered in vines, accepting that it really was all a dream. But I was ecstatic with proof that she was real, whole and conscious still, for her quote was written in my flowery, red notebook…
Then I really woke up, the words she spoke fading in my head as I looked about the pop-up tent, dead of night in the wind of the Las Vegas desert. I have to write them down, I thought, multiple times on the edge of sleep. I repeated them hoping I’d remember in the morning, but the writer in me spoke sternly, Sara, you’ve tried that before and you never remember. Write this down now. So I reached for what I knew I had access to, my phone, and typed this partially out. I brooded, now wide awake, the light of the screen drilling daylight into my eyes. I tried to break apart the pieces and analyze what things I could. In both dreams, I was in queue to bathe next. I even asked for permission in the first dream regarding use of her shower. She was bathing and I was waiting in this Purgatory-like state of cleansing. I had my own soaps and a change of clothing ready and set aside.
This terrified me as I realized a potential interpretation. Am I to follow the same path, where I die in my 40’s and by the same genetic mutation? Then reside in this strange dreamy afterlife unlike that which is promised by religion, quiet and filtered with tungsten lighting. It reminded me of the movie Waking Life.
But then I eased my heart. I am, in the end, the master of my life and I’d rather not self-manifest this proverbial insight. My aunt also passed in her early 40’s by the same genetic fault, so I want nothing but to die old and outlive the generation of women directly before me. I want to create masterpieces and give a full life of love and adventure not only to myself but to my husband. Granted, I may very well still develop breast or ovarian cancer, my odds are 80% (I inherited the damaged gene). My hope is to obviously survive it, with future medicine…
Then I think of David Roberts and how his writing is considered ever more raw and inventive now that he has cancer. Is it necessary and poetic to follow suit? In some morbid way, I am attracted to that. I want to know what my mother went through and what is on the other side. Then I think of Patrick, even look over to his dark sleeping eyelashes; and family, they most certainly see me, and my sister, as a beacon of feminine hope for surviving till old age.
But when I dream my mother next, I will ask her where she is, and what it’s like. I want to be a student and learn from her what she is seemingly willing to share. I hope to channel that mind-state as much as I can. She knows it all now, I imagine. She knew it before she actually died when she weakly penned “I know” on paper days before fluid-filled lungs took her final breath. To know truly, however, is to die, isn’t it?
But if there is no afterlife then there never is a moment of truly knowing. And thus, she only really knew that she was simply dying. She is nothing but mixed memory and transfiguration in my lucid dream state, and the answers I seek, yes, will only be provided by the creativity of my own limited brain; a bleak and tormenting reality that may very well be. A mother in dream is better than naught—I’ll take it.
A third dream came, third night, but it was very brief. Again, in this childhood home of mine, she was laying on the couch in the open, vaulted living room. Twilight waned beyond the grassy hills through the glass sliding door. She was bundled up in warm clothing, a beanie, and tucked beneath a gray fleece blanket ready for deep sleep. I approached her and noticed little trinkets and memorabilia on the coffee table. Miniature crosses in gold and silver and portraits of angels shone against the paleness of my own hands. I had a small picture of myself as a child and I offered it to her, “Please take this with you, too,” I said gently.
Then I asked if she still believed in God, pointing to all the Christian motifs. She seemed to be holding onto things from her human life. But in life, she believed in reincarnation and a Universe of energy and laws of attraction more than the Christian God we all were originally raised to believe. So I was confused by the presence of crosses. She was suddenly now a ghostly figure in the air, but I did not find it odd that she was floating. Her response was lighthearted.
“I think I do still believe in God, but I guess we’ll find out.”
I was amazed to learn that she didn’t know yet. But her mood was more chipper and she was ready for the next step, whatever that was.
The dream ended. I woke the next morning to the sandy campground Patrick and I were still residing in, the red desert walls as painterly as before. Time passed, weeks. I have not dreamt of her again. But dreams of her always come and go in clusters. There will be large gaps of nothing, then she’ll suddenly appear over several nights. We would go shopping or hang out in this childhood home, prep for a party or something I don’t remember now. She was always fully dressed in her typical sweaters with long, straight hair. I would wake in good feeling, remember her at her best—her reality calm and full of everyday things, and occasionally I would dream that she came back from the dead, healthy and ready for round two.
I truly wonder why these last three dreams were strikingly different, and if I will conjure her in such a way again. But the beauty of it all is that these experiences are truly mine – mine to see and feel, to interpret and savor. It is possible my brain came up with a way to finally send her off into pleasantry, to help ease the emotional, mournful platform I’ve been holding her for seven and a half years. Sure, an underlying truth is that I fear following the same path and my mind is, of course, no stranger to these anxieties, however subconscious. I definitely fear premature death. I fear never understanding the truth. But the truth in this sense, I believe, is not really my place to know yet. Patience and time will tell it best; confidence in my own decisions and trust in the energy of this mystifying Universe; love from family and my devoted husband. This will all compile into a life well lived. And that is all I can do, isn’t it? Live. Write it down. Love and cherish the mother of my dreams. But all I really have to do is look in the mirror and there she is, a strange and deep transcendence of identity and love.