I’m horribly sick right now.
Being sick means waking up with strange or horrible dreams.
This time, it is years later and my instant best friend has died. I’m thinking how horrible it is that she died so young, so soon after we met, and how I can barely recall her name and face now. But I wake up, everything is fine, nobody’s dead, and its only me who is sick.
I want to call her and make sure she really isn’t dead, but I don’t want to be served with a temporary restraining order. So I think better of it and blog where this private insanity of mine comes from.
[Two dreams of death after the jump.]
I’ve always been a “momma’s boy.” Ever since I was little my mom would, out of the blue, look down at me and say, “I love you, Terry Chay.”
And I’d look up and respond. “I love you too, ‘Mommy Chay.’”
A dream in 1997
I’m in graduate school. My parents shuttle between the home in San Diego and the one in Pittsburgh depending on the school schedule. I call the new home in San Diego, this time my father picks up the phone. We talk for a bit about stuff. Before we hang up. Dad asks, “Terry, why did you call?”
“What do you mean, Dad?”
“You never call home and this time you did.” (It was true, I never called home. My parents would always have to call me.)
I decided to fess up, “Well, to be honest I had a dream last night that Mom died. I was so shaken up that I called you.”
Then dad sighs, “Terry, the truth is, mom’s valve burst on the flight over. They’re prepping her for open heart surgery right now.”
A dream in 1999
(Part of an essay that I’ll never finish.)
It was cold, terrible January. I knew I should have called home when I got back to graduate school from Pittsburgh and D.C. but I didn’t. The heart condition that inspired my mother’s life’s work in science finally took her life later that month.
During the funeral, I got terribly sick. I was sick even a month later…
We’re in the car. All of us. Having the usual crazy discussion that used to amuse all my friends to the point that people would tell me, “your family is so cool” or “your parents are so cute when they argue”—the sort of hilarious talks you can only have when the father, when he retired, was the entire math and statistics department at Westinghouse, the mother teaches biostatistics when she isn’t doing biophysics research with her physical chemistry degree, the eldest son is an stellar labor economist who is a natural at econometrics, and me, the baby, is the black sheep—just spinning wheels in graduate school in theoretical condensed matter physics. And, we never agree on anything.
We pass by a billboard. Mom looks up from the passenger side and laughs.
“I know,” I say.
From the driver side, Dad tests us again, “Really? You guys always say that. What is Mom thinking about this time?”
I then explain that Mom is laughing about this incident… The story takes a couple minutes to recount but ends with the picture on the billboard that we both happen to see a couple miles back.
Mom taps Dad, “See! He knows! We don’t have to talk.” (We never did.)
We laugh. Mom and “her lawyer” have won the battle again. Dad says, “You act like you can tell what each other is thinking, but one day I’ll catch you talking about two different things and thinking you’re talking about the same thing.” (He knows he’ll win the war.)
And then, I realize this can’t be happening. Mom is dead. I must be dreaming. That’s when I feel the dream slipping away. I’m losing mom again. Oh God, this is terrible. Please not again!
I hold on tight and yell above the roar of impending consciousness, “Mom, I didn’t get to tell you. I love you ‘Mommy Chay.’”
And through the blackness, I hear Mom’s echo. “I know. I love you too, Terry Chay.”
I wake up and cry, but I’m happy.
This time I got to say goodbye.