Cheating Every Which Way on the Overwhelming Day

I heard the steps of my oldest son running down the hall to locate his brother.  Within minutes they were sharing secrets and suppressing giggles, trying not to wake the adults.  I rolled over and snuggled my husband, feeling content, not quite dreading having to remove myself from the warm covers to get up with the boys.  As I started to rise, my husband said “I’ll get up.”  I smiled as my head hit the pillow, luxuriating in my return to slumber.

A few hours later, I opened my eyes to the clock in disbelief.  9am.  I never sleep to 9am.  But the extra hours were not restful.  I woke multiple times from a dream.  Not the same dream.  Each time I dozed off, the story continued fresh, as if the only escape was simply to wake and enter reality.

In the dream, someone calls me on the phone to tell me my brother’s body has arrived at my mother’s house, and I need to come to bury it.  I arrive to find a black, man-sized box taped shut and leaning against the wall.  My children are playing around it, inquiring as to what sort of present could be in such a huge package. I panic and herd them out of the house.  A few minutes later, I receive another call.

“Chris is alive!  You have to come back.  He’s not dead.  He’s walking and talking, but he’s not right.  You have to come.”

I walk back to the house, but it is not Chris.  It is my father-in-law.  Something is wrong.  He can’t quite form sentences.  He’s scared and delirious.  I listen to him with intent, trying to decode what he needs.  Somehow, I decipher that he wants a banana.  I am ecstatic to relay this message to my mother-in-law and husband.  He wants a banana!  But my mother-in-law coldly replies that he doesn’t really want a banana.  She’s handed one to him multiple times and he has no idea what to do with it.  I have a moment of lucidity, where I wonder why my mother-in-law is behaving with such frigidity, since she is a very warm person.  My mind wanders back into the dream.

I retrieve a banana for my father-in-law, who knows exactly what to do- he peels it and begins eating it.  My heart swells with hope, maybe whatever ails him is subsiding.  But then he becomes deliriously entranced with a football game on the television and my hope is dashed.  I leave and head out for school, not as part of the staff, but as a student.

I am swinging on a swing set when I get another call.  Once again, the caller tells me Chris is alive and I need to come.  When I get to the house, Chris dashes out the door.  I chase him, but can never keep up.

I wake and intuit what the dream means.  I miss my brother.  I feel a bit peculiar, but not completely off kilter.  I put on a sweater and head out of the bedroom to greet my family.

As soon as I see Ben’s face, my eyes well up.  I tell him I had a really strange dream about Chris and that it has me feeling strange in turn.  He asks what the dream was about and sees I am struggling to maintain composure.  He rethinks his question and offers that I do not have to share.  I nod and walk away to pour a cup of coffee.  As I stare down into the swirls of cream mixing with coffee, the tears begin to flow. I am powerless to hold them back.

The tears are both a release and an accusation.  I have just returned from taking my boys to visit my family for Christmas.  We had an amazing time.  Every morning over breakfast, my brother fabricated tall tales that made my children roar with laughter.  My mother brought plates of food to the table, a smile on her face as she took in the scene.  I know she is in her element- the matriarch to a loud, boisterous family, cooking huge meals, making sure everyone is taken care of.  I feel good to bring that to her.  I feel good to provide it for myself.

The week is a series of great days- taking my sons and nieces to an outdoor ice skating rink; a huge family Christmas dinner; my mom making cocoa for my boys after they come back from sledding; laughing about my grandfather’s old jokes.

But every moment contains a hint of sadness.  When I watch my sons laugh at their Uncle Casey, I am reminded about their other uncle they will never know.  We drive through town, and pass the place where Chris worked sound.  One of their only memories of Chris is going to “The Black Sheep” and having him set up microphones and drums so they could rock out on stage to their favorite songs.  As we come up on the marquee, I wonder if my kids will read the sign and want to stop by.  I feel both relief and pain as we drive by without anyone uttering a word.

I can’t get over the feeling that I am cheating, purposely opposing and hurting someone with my emotions.  I had a beautiful week, a healing week.  Why am I ruining it my conjuring up memories of Chris?  Why am I able to have a beautiful week without Chris being there?  Why am I writing about this, betraying my family who did nothing but provide me with a lovely holiday?  Why can’t I seem to not write about it?  Is the narcissist in me seeking attention, or am I somehow hoping to find some sort of clarity in the continued chronicle of this experience of death?

Mostly, I think I just have to get it out, get past it.  I spent the day not focused on it, not every second.  But I snapped at my kids.  I had little patience.  The second they were in bed, I folded a load of laundry and cried.

I guess I must resign myself to even the happiest of moments being just a little bit tainted from now until my own demise.  I can’t imagine I’m ever going to not feel like he should be there.  I used to joke that I lived a charmed life because I had never been stung by a bee or broken a bone.  But real life has little to do with insect stings and the absence of casts.  We lose people we love. Then we lose people who matter, whose mere existence is impossible to separate from our own.  Life can never be the same.

It is late and I must get some sleep.  Tonight I wish for pleasant dreams.  Maybe happier ones where I get to visit with Chris, or maybe ones without Chris at all.  I hope to wake tomorrow to feeling nothing but grateful for my many beloved memories, and blessed to part of loud, boisterous family.

Because deep down, that is the absolute truth.  I am lucky to be one of six children.  To have been and still be surrounded by love.  But there is no denying the twinge.  It would be a disservice to pretend there is no void created by his absence.

Sorry, no clever closing lines.  Just a tired lady who really misses her brother.

Sweet dreams to all.

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