Editor’s Note: A significant gap of time exists between the day when this was intended to be published and the day that it actually was. Other family events were occurring around the intended date and it didn’t feel quite right for me to put this out there into the world. Months and months and months have gone by since, and here it is. Mostly for me, but a little for you. Entirely and always for him.
“When I was a boy, after my mother died, I always tried hard to hold her in my mind as I was falling asleep so maybe I’d dream of her, only I never did. Or, rather, I dreamed of her constantly, only as absence, not presence: a breeze blowing through a just-vacated house, her handwriting on a notepad, the smell of her perfume, streets in strange lost towns where I knew she’d been walking only a moment before but had just vanished, a shadow moving away against a sunstruck wall.” – The Goldfinch
730 days without you, at the date. An eerie parallel to your age.
Dreaming of those who’ve left us behind feels very Shelleyesque, in a way. In dreams you never get the full picture of them all at once, like you do in life. Pieces get revealed bit by bit and some days I’m not sure which is which. Three already holds so much meaning for us. The number on the back of your jersey. My favorite for that very reason.
Three years since you left me. Three dreams where I got you back.
In the first, it was you and I in your car.
We were driving around the Island like we used to on any ordinary Saturday morning. You had that baggy fleece of yours zipped all the way up, the collar peeked out away from your neck. I can’t be sure if the weather was actually cold. Your calloused hands held on just barely to both sides of the steering wheel. A light grip. Every turn, I could hear the sound of your skin grating against it as you let the wheel correct itself. A beige, sweat-stained baseball cap rested comfortably on top of your head, little wisps of what remained of your dark hair combed neatly on either side. My left leg was crooked at the knee, tucked up under me in that comfortable way it always was when we drove together, resting against the middle console. The fabric of the seat was soft and warm from a sun I don’t think was actually shining. I can still feel that fabric, smell the pieces of bubble gum you kept in the cup holder, see the pill bottle full of quarters and the old green and metal tool you kept around for your hand cramps.
The skies were gray; there was a hurricane coming, but we weren’t particularly bothered. We were listening to music on the radio and looking for something, trying to find it before we had to turn home, before the storm came. I don’t remember what we were looking for. I sang along with the radio like I always did. Never self conscious. Just you and I in the car. Just you and I, like always. My most comfortable place on earth. We didn’t talk much, but I remember we were speaking words at one point when we were in a parking lot, that parking lot we’ve been to a thousand times. We discussed looking for what we were looking for, decided to go home without it, not really that disappointed. There was a feeling, a sense in the car that neither of us acknowledged. We were together. We felt safe together, we were always safe together. But the clouds made us worried for one another, each secretly wanting to turn home and thinking it was a good idea, if only for the safety of the other.
I woke grasping at the memory, scared and shocked and happy to finally see you again; the first time I got to see you again since you left.
In the second, you were a ghost.
Only Mom and I could see you, only we knew that you were there. It was a secret, she told me before you arrived. It was just for the three of us to know. We were up north somewhere, in New Hampshire I think. A friend’s dad had found me a job. It was something great and important, just like you had always wanted for me. It came with a house big enough for the whole family to come up and visit. It was near the forest. The air smelled crisp, the way you liked it. It felt like places we had all visited as a family before, those weekends away to our makeshift highlands. Everyone came to move me in. Aunts, uncles, cousins. They walked from room to room, commenting undecipherable dream comments. Undecipherable dream me nodded along to them, but only cared for seeing you. At one point Mom and I were on a loft, away from everyone else, standing there with you, the ghost you. You weren’t able to speak to us, but you could smile. You never stopped smiling. That was more than enough. I had you there, you were there. Everyone else had to leave and go back home, they’d come back to visit some time, but they’d leave. Mom told me that you were going to stay there with me, in that house near the forest. My secret, our secret. You would always stay. I’d have you back. But this time you were something different. And this time I knew.
I woke to confusion, displacement, mumbling words of comfort to ease myself back to sleep, to not think about it. The foreignness. Grasping to remember only the parts that meant you were there again.
In the third, it was terrible.
We, the family, had all taken a trip somewhere. There were trains, a lot of trains. I think we were in Massachusetts somehow, but it was different. Industrialized. There was a large station with an upstairs and a downstairs. Trains coming in and going out. A lot of different, compartmentalized terminals. We, the family, were there with you in the station, but it didn’t feel like we were there for only seeing you. It was all together. We were all there intentionally, together. There was some different purpose for why. Time went on with whatever we were doing together but then in the end we, the family, had to leave. Not you, the rest of us. You didn’t come. Turn by turn, everyone else took their time to bid you goodbye. It passed quickly. They all disappeared up the escalators, upstairs, to the platform where our train back home was set to arrive. One by one, they all disappeared up, away. Smiling and laughing. Happy to have spent the time together. We, you and I, were left. I knew. As soon as it was the two of us left there on that platform, I knew. No one knew anything before. Not even me. There was nothing to know, there was no feeling of something to know. It wasn’t until right then, that exact moment, just you and I together on that platform, me the last one left of we, the family.
I asked you to come with us. I was confused why everyone else was saying goodbye. The confusion hadn’t been there moments ago. It was sudden. We were all together, we were all going home. It was a realization, right then to me, that you weren’t. I asked you why you weren’t coming. I started to cry like I used to when I was little and someone made you leave me. Kindergarten. Vacations. Work. College. You said something to me, and oh how I wish I remembered what it was. It wasn’t many words. I think you were crying too. You wanted to come, but you knew that you couldn’t. I felt that I didn’t want to make you explain it to me, and I knew that you didn’t want to. Your eyes were different. They weren’t your eyes. They were filled with something I didn’t know, something beyond. I hadn’t noticed until just then. Maybe I hadn’t looked. Maybe the whole time it was there.
We stood there together a few moments longer, close enough for an awareness of your body, your physicality, to come through to me. I hadn’t felt that in so long. It felt so present. You felt so present. We were so close. We were there together and not like the other times, this time more. We were present. Knowing. A noise sounded from upstairs, calling for passengers to prepare for the arrival of the train. It was time for me to join we, the rest of the family. You couldn’t come. It ached you that you couldn’t come but it ached me just as bad. We knew we had no choice, almost as though we knew that I would either leave up the stairs or I would awaken. Either way, we would part. We finally embraced and I rushed away, joining the family upstairs, slinging an arm around my younger cousins as we boarded together for home, feeling something I didn’t understand how to feel, a whisper of having you back, this time more.
This one was the worst. This one felt just like the very last one. The one where I was the last one. The last one brought home to you. The last one left begging in my head at your bedside for you not to go, feeling equally like the traitor and the betrayed, while everyone else spoke words of encouragement and love. I held tightly to your hand and prayed selfishly to myself words I knew you could hear, words I knew you so desperately wanted to obey, words of pleading for you not to leave me.
I woke to the dark. This one there was no happiness at seeing you again, no confusion at your state of existence. This one I woke to our broken hearts, yours and mine.
I know that eventually you’ll come back to me again, in another land of my dreams. If soon to be once more, then all I ask is that next time you bring me your laugh.