I had another Bruce dream on Wednesday night. Number one hundred ninety or so, I think? (Let’s see…thirty eight years times five or six a year…)
It wasn’t unexpected, given all the Bruce-centered writing I’ve done the last six months as I slowly write a memoir. But like most of the other Bruce dreams, this one left me with an emotional hangover. The difference this time, though, is that I have more to say about them than I have in other blogs and writings. Maybe (maybe?) I understand them a bit better or at least in a different context.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Bruce dreams, they started several months after he died in a train crash, and they often follow a pattern: I’m living my life as it is at the time and I find out he is still alive. I can see him, but he can’t see me and I can’t reach him. For example, in one dream, his brother’s wife told me he was living in a nursing home and that he was blind and learning to speak again. I asked her if he remembered me and she said yes, that he’d asked about me and was wondering where I was. I could feel in my sleep how excited I was to hold him and talk to him again. Then, when I got to the nursing home, I could only see him from behind a window. He was alone, sitting in a wheelchair and dressed in the same red flannel shirt he wore in this photo. I don’t know why I couldn’t get around the window, but no matter how hard I pounded on the glass, I couldn’t get his attention. He thought I’d abandoned him, and I felt a deepening earnestness and anxiety. Mad with anguish, I started crying for real, and I woke up exhausted and my pillow was soaked in tears.
Not every Bruce dream is that difficult. Several years ago I was able to employ lucid dreaming and change the outcome. It started with the same premise: I can’t talk to Bruce after I learn he is alive. But in that dream, I consciously realized what was happening and I forced myself to change the ending. He was in our kitchen, taking something out of the oven. I told myself to go into the kitchen and I did. I jumped on his back (like I used to) and kissed him and told him how much I missed him. He laughed and hugged me and said he missed me, too. I woke up feeling good instead of sad and drained.
Psychologists have told me it’s because I never saw Bruce dead that I have these dreams. They also attribute the dreams to the way I internalized his death. I was nineteen years old and had just had a baby. Apparently, like an old photograph, my brain hangs on to the way my hormones and emotions responded to his death, suspending them in midair like nothing changed in subsequent years.
The only way I know how to live with Bruce dreams is to live with Bruce dreams, and that’s not easy at 2 a.m. when you’re half awake and emotionally gullible. When the dark side of your brain comes out in the middle of the night, logic and proportion (to quote Jefferson Airplane) fall sloppy dead and they break loose from their chains. You can get up and get a drink of water, that’s true, but sometimes when you go back to sleep, the dream keeps going and becomes even more convoluted. What do you do then?
During this last Bruce dream, I woke up in the still early morning and I thought about it as best I could – the details and how I felt – yet part of me was still in that dream, and in that dream, Bruce wasn’t sure he wanted to get married. He didn’t seem happy to be with me. How do you convince yourself, when you’re lying in the dark, heart beating wildly, that these dreams are just your insecurities finding their way out?
Writing about him several times a week for the last six months has brought up all kinds of thoughts I haven’t thought in years, but obviously they’re still there in the back of my mind. They’re like a wall of post office boxes, each with their own combination: two clicks left, four right, one left…
I can only understand the dreams as an extension of grief; part of all the things we try to process someone’s death. Only, we can’t do it all at once, or even in a few weeks, months or years. When you’ve loved someone, spent a good amount of time with them, and suddenly they’re gone and you never get to see them again, you wonder, “What did I do to make them leave?”
Even though they didn’t leave on purpose, you still wonder.
You can never unknow someone, even if you really want to. And so you live with them. Bruce – all of him: from the day we met to the day he died – including his love, his skin, his near-bald head – is as much a part of my life as my own skin and love and children. He’s constantly in my life, and so will be the dreams.
As hard as they are sometimes.