He’s still laughing at me. And it still hurts.
I went to bed last night with a pounding headache. And, like often happens, I had trouble falling asleep. Thinking about Don. Missing him deeply. Questioning the validity of just feeling his presence earlier in the evening. Filling my head up with endless thoughts about life and death and love. At some point, I did fall asleep, and Don came back to me again in my sleep. Some would call it a dream. Some would say it’s more than that. I will never know for sure how to define these things, I can only tell you what I felt, and what happened. This is the dream that transpired:
I’m feeling lonely and alone, which are two seperate things, so I decide to go see a movie and get out of the apartment for awhile. I walk down the streets of my new neighborhood in Forest Hills to the theatre. It is fall. It is crisp. The air and the avenues are filled with life and energy and couples walking hand in hand. They are happy and laughing and oblivious that it could all be taken away for no reason. I want to murder each and every one of them. There are people everywhere. All around me.
I walk up to the ticket booth and say: “One ticket please for a movie.” I actually say that in the dream. One ticket please for a movie. No idea what movie I’m about to see in my land of slumber. I guess it’s not important. Suddenly, to the right of me, there is a voice. It is my husband. He pulls out his wallet and says to the ticket guy: “Make that two tickets for a movie. Can I sit with you, Boo?”
I don’t answer. I just stare at his face. I look into his deep blue eyes that I fell in love with all those years ago, and I swim in them. I marinate in them, trying to memorize their shape and their beauty. I’m aware that I’m dreaming, and that it won’t last forever, so I try to slow it down. I want to stop time and just stand there with him in that cold, crisp autumn air that we both loved so much. Finally, after five minutes or an hour, I speak. “Is it really you?” My eyes are already tearing up, and he just got here. “It’s really me, Boo. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a date night. Just you and me. Come on. Let’s go inside and watch the movie.”
He takes my hand, and I sigh as his familiar, strong fingertips interlock with mine. We float hand in hand into the theatre. All of the people, the crowds, the couples that were there when I arrived – are gone. Nobody is inside this movie. It is just us, and it is mesmorizing. It’s a miracle. We sit down toward the back of the theatre, and he hands me some popcorn that appears out of thin air. A large beverage sits in the cup holder, waiting.
Neither of us looks at the movie screen. We are fixated on each other, and on this time we have together.
I start spilling out anything and everything to him. I feel like he has been gone for 900 years and there are so many things to say. I can’t choose, so I say it all: “I moved out of our apartment, Boo. I left New Jersey, and Im in New York and it’s so nice and I should be happy, but I dont know how to be without you. Everything I do now is without you here on earth and I don’t know how to give any of it meaning anymore. I feel like Im pretending when I’m with people, and lonely as hell when I’m not with people. Everything in between feels like a migraine. I’m so tired.”
“I know, Boo. You’re doing so well. I’m so proud of you. It kills me to see you in this kind of pain, but it also means you are processing things. You’re not running away from any of it. You are getting through this. One awful second at a time.” His eyes are tearing up. Mine are crying buckets.
“Why are we at a movie theatre?” I ask him. “And where did all the people go that were outside?”
“Because you came to this theatre the other night by yourself and it made you sad, so I wanted to replace that memory with this one. So now when you come back to the movies alone, you can think about this night instead of that night, okay?” He puts his arm around me and scratches my back like he used to do. “Scratch, scratch, scratch” he says in his silly voice as his hand moves up and down my back. I can’t stop staring at him.
“But this isn’t a memory. It’s just a dream. None of it is real, right?”
“Does it feel like it’s real?”
“Yes. You feel real right now, and my heart is pounding, and I love you.”
“Then it’s real. Popcorn?” He pops giant handfuls of popcorn into his mouth and eats them way too fast, just like he used to do at home.
“Slow down, Boo. You’ll choke and I won’t know how to save you.” I used to always say this to him, but it made much more sense when he was alive.
“I’m dead, Boo.” He gives me his best deadpan, smart-ass reply. “Choking is no longer an issue.” He hands me the drink and I sip it. Root beer. His favorite.
“So can I ask you stuff? What’s it like where you are now? Are you energy? Are you an Angel? What happens to us? Do you miss me?” I start crying again. I don’t ever want to let go or leave this movie theatre with the non-movie, or leave this dream or this vision or this thing that is happening.
He holds me tight. “If I told you any of that stuff, I’d have to kill you.” He cackles at his own joke.
I’m still crying. I pick up the popcorn tub and throw it on the floor like a child. “It’s not funny!” I yell at him for the first time ever, and my tears won’t stop now. “None of this is funny to me. You don’t have to be down here and suffer this pain and this agony and this fear. You don’t have to walk around with a huge chunk of your soul missing. You don’t have to face the rest of your life and sickness and old age and other people you love dying – without the person you were supposed to be with forever! You get to be a spirit and dance on clouds and make cameo appearances and fly around the atmosphere like fuckin’ Tinkerbell, while I have to sit here and be madly in love with a dead guy who I can only feel for a few seconds in my dreams. It’s not fucking funny, and I wish you would kill me, because that would mean this pain would finally end and I could just be with you all the time forever. I hate you.”
I am sobbing into his Yankee t-shirt now. Hyperventilating. He holds onto me tight until I can breathe again. He looks into my eyes. He says these next words with extreme importance. He isn’t laughing anymore. “This is why we are in the theatre alone, Boo. So you can breakdown in private. It’s just you and me. Outside these doors, the people and the happy couples and holidays and love and life are all there. They are all there waiting. Someday, Boo, you will want to be there too. Right now, you are living, but someday, you will want to live again. I promise. I would never lie to you. I love you. Go at your own pace. Take all the time you need. I will be here for as long as you need. I am dead, but I am not gone. Our love is never gone. You need to carry me with you everywhere you go. Trust that it’s real. Believe it, and I will be there with you. I know it’s not the same, and I know it sucks, but it is real. Don’t ever let go, Boo. Remember what we wrote in our vows?”
“That’s right. Not ’til death do us part. Until forever. And that is how long I’ll be with you. When my heart stopped, it traveled into yours, Boo. My heart is your heart. Your heart is mine. Until forever.”
There is a pause. “How come you were never this romantic when you were alive? Suddenly you’re Robert Frost now. Holy Shit!” I’m laughing again, and so is he. “Not romantic? What are you talkin’ about? I uprooted my entire life to that goddamn shit-hole New Jersey so I could be with you. That’s romantic.” He shakes his head and smiles.
“Movie’s over, Boo.” He starts to get up, and takes my hand to help me up too. “What movie?” I say sarcastically. “We didn’t see anything!”
“Sure we did. We saw a lot. It just wasn’t on the movie screen. It was real.”
We walk hand in hand outside of the movie theatre and into the large hallway. We stand underneath a sign that reads, in big red letters, EXIT. This is the end of our date. Our time. Our dream. Our whatever. It’s time to go now, or time to wake up, and as usual, I am dreading that moment when I am forced to return to the harsh reality of him being gone.
He reads my heart and he says: “Stop thinking about it, Boo. You’re going to wake up and start questioning and doubting everything all over again. Just stop. Believe. Trust me. Our time on earth together is done, but our relationship is never over. Not ever. It’s just different. You always used to say that marriage is like a secret. The greatest secret between two people that nobody else will ever truly know about. Well, now we have a new secret. You and me. Now we have this. I’m not going to say goodbye, because it’s never goodbye. It’s until next time. Until forever.”
He gives me a kiss that I feel in my toes. I would give up everything to feel it again. He starts to slowly walk away. Once he is a good distance from me, he turns around and yells out: “By the way, tell Johnycakes that if I ever catch him at Camden Yards waving around one of those stupid orange rags and rootin’ for the damn Orioles, there’s gonna be some serious Hell to pay. Asshat.” I laugh out loud hearing him use one of his favorite insult terms again. Asshat.
I don’t remember this dream ending. I don’t know how it ended, and maybe that’s how it was designed. No ending. No end. Just me standing underneath that EXIT sign. Not yet ready to want to live life.
Not ready to face the people. Not wanting to go outside. Just staying right there. In that place. In that hallway. In that dream that wasn’t a dream. Just taking in the profound words that my beautiful, dead husband said to me, and letting them sink in. Letting the magic seep into my bones. Like when you see a really good movie with someone. One of those films that make you think and feel. Make you wonder. So you just stay there and watch the credits roll – and you revel in the tiny miracle that just occured on that big screen in front of you. Was it art? A dream? An escape? Or was it real?
Who cares? Let’s just stay here and be perfectly still, so we can remain inside of our secret, for just a little bit longer.