Two nights ago, I fell into a nightmare that I could not shake out of. I was in a museum, though it looked an awful lot like an aquarium combined with Wakulla Springs. There were boardwalks in some places, plexiglass in others. The glass had never been cleaned. The whole place was a disease just looking for a dirty community in 1818. My entire family was moving through the exhibits at different paces. My parents and Jenna were just up ahead of me and I was supposedly bringing up the rear. I don’t know what happened, but I lost Jenna. She vanished around a corner and was gone. I ran forward, running through room after room, but no Jenna. I ran backward, hoping to pass her along the way. Still no Jenna. I was completely panicked at this point. For some reason, my last hope of finding her was in the final room following a series of connected rooms. It was a long, narrow stretch with orange shag carpet and dirty windows. I zipped from one person to another, hoping to lay eyes on the kid who belonged to me. I was ready to give up in despair when my mom wandered up. She was walking on her own and carrying herself with confidence. It was the mom of Before. Not After. And though she didn’t know where Jenna was and hadn’t seen her, I felt instantly and infinitely better just having her stand there with me.
I hadn’t seen her in so long.
At this point in the dream, I was tied up in a knot thick enough to stow a tall ship. I wanted out of the dream. I was becoming aware that I was indeed dreaming and that if I would only wake up, Jenna would be asleep in her bed down the hall. Everything would be okay again.
Everything except one.
Waking up meant I had to stop talking to my mother. To get Jenna back, I had to let my mother go. I can’t tell you how hard this decision was. It is the first dream I’ve had of her where I could hear her voice. The first dream she was on her feet, advising me. Interacting with me. The first dream where she was really her.
She didn’t realize how torn I was or that she herself had been missing for such a long time. She was only interested in helping me find Jenna. Where had I looked already? When had I last seen her? What was she wearing? Did she have her ipod and did this place have wifi?
“You go forward and look that direction,” she offered. “I’ll backtrack and see if I can find her back there.”
OK. We made a plan. It was a workable plan. I turned to run in the direction my mother had laid out, but stopped and looked at her one last time.
“I have to go, Mom,” I said. I knew something she didn’t. “Thank you for helping.”
She nodded and retreated and I watched her go. In that instant, just as I found my daughter, I lost my mom again. And I woke up with that feeling burned into me like a scar that comes from grabbing something hot because you want it badly enough to take the risk.
All these months I have hoped I would eventually forget the mother that disease stripped away and twisted up and handed back to me as a person I didn’t recognize. I have hoped to see her again as she was. And though it wasn’t the stuff of a Ron Howard movie, it was something.
It was something.
Next time I hope to see her in a lush garden or on the banks of the Hillsborough. Or better yet, smack in the middle of Manhattan. And I hope there are no lost children or windows of germy plexiglass. But I’ll be honest—I’ll take her however she comes.
It was good to see her again.
For now, I gotta go. I have 2 homework assignments and an elementary school yearbook to finish.
P.S. Just kidding.