I have been having nightmares lately – though I’m not sure they can truly be considered that. What do you call a dream that only becomes a nightmare after you wake up?
In some of the dreams my sister and I are teenagers again. We ride in my car, her in the passenger seat and me behind the wheel, like all those fresh mornings when I drove her to middle school and then continue to my high school. Those mornings, we would listen to CDs on my car’s player and drink coffee from thermoses. I taught her about Smashing Pumpkins, Modest Mouse, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. She never ate breakfast but I did – a blueberry muffin, a bagel with cream cheese, a peanut butter sandwich. That was when I was seventeen and ran cross country and didn’t fear carbs.
Sometimes she would be late getting out the door, scrambling to zip her Jansport backpack or applying more black eyeliner or arguing with my parents. She didn’t like school. She didn’t like anything. She was thirteen and temperamental and lost between child and adult. But still, I knew her.
In other dreams, she’s her stunning adult self, with thick auburn hair and a dimpled smile and a dancer’s body. She’s twenty-five and bubbly and kind. People want to be near her, to be her. She’s the friend you anchor to. She’s the friend you have inside jokes and nicknames with and smear mud on your face and take a picture together.
These dreams are tinged with a hazy sadness. Sometimes I ask her why. Why did you kill yourself? I don’t understand. She never gives me a direct answer; she’ll shrug, her gaze not meeting my eyes, because what answer am I looking for? She will smile and touch my arm and say, “I’m still here.”
That’s when the relief comes. She’s still here – death isn’t final. She’s different but I can accept that. My grief has been such a waste of energy; my sister is dead but all dead means is that our existence is a little different, a little less tangible, a little more uncertain. She can probably come for Christmas, she tells me. Good, I think, I can’t stand another year of pervasive tension, of palpable loss, of strange feelings and profound heartache that won’t be mentioned at the dinner table. A weight lifts off my shoulders. She’s still here.
The nightmare starts when I wake up. The possibility of seeing her again vanishes. She won’t come for Christmas; it will be just like last year, and the year before, and all the Christmases to come will be stripped of their pure, light joy. She’s dead, she killed herself, my mind repeats until my body and heart remember.
Tonight, before I go to bed, I place an amethyst crystal under my pillow. It feels silly, but I like the idea of bright, healing energy near my head as I sleep. Maybe it will soften the space between dreams and consciousness. When I wake up, I feel rested and peaceful. It might have been the crystal, or the eight hours of sleep, or the feeling of waking up on a Sunday morning. Whatever it is, today doesn’t feel like a nightmare.