My mind staggers, trying to wake itself. I blink again and again and try to catch my breath. Again, I find myself sifting reality from dream rubble.
Enough, already, Mind.
“What’s the worst nightmare you ever had?” S asks me the other night, at bedtime.
I contemplate her question. “That a hard one. I used to dream over and over of losing people I loved, chasing after them in dreams—”
I stop myself.
She gives me a quizzical look. “And?”
“The worst nightmares are when you wake up and realize that it’s already happened. That the people you love are already long gone.”
She nods. This seems to make sense to her.
I would have told you there was no way in hell he and I could have become strangers like we are. He is long gone, in every way.
Now my nightmares are without hope that I will catch up to anyone. In my dreams, I don’t bother to go looking for help, for the people I think should be there.
The latest nightmares: I am completely on my own, searching for a home. I am not homeless, but I am without home. I have something less than home: home-less.
Last night, another one: I was living in a one-room, drafty shack. Haunted. I tried to go about my business, ignoring the ghosts around me. A broken carousel horse, old electronics, missing pieces to objects I no longer owned or could find—all of this detritus surrounded me. Without warning, the owner of the shack demanded I leave immediately.
I owned nearly nothing of worth in the dream, not unlike real life. I had no children, no spouse, no true allies. There was nowhere to go. Random passersby on the wooded street outside were sympathetic to a point, but my life was not their life. They would head up their driveways, close their doors, know that they were home, and soon forget about the mournful woman down the road.
The dream was steeped in despair, in unacknowledged loss. Futility. Defeat. Home was something others had. When I wake up, I realize I still believe this. Some part of me still believes this. I don’t know how to shake it.
I live in the same house I lived in during my marriage, but it will not belong to me for more than a few years. It does not belong to me completely anyway—only in part. The house has not felt like a home since he left, although I try to do what I can to warm it up for the girls, to feign coziness. We live in a struggling rural town on the edge of an affluent college town. The girls are scholarship kids, and go to school with children from very wealthy families. Playdates in million-dollar homes. Kitchen renovations worth more than my house. Well-stocked separate playrooms. Ski vacations and tropical vacations.
We get hand-me-down clothing from these families, and we are grateful for the donations. My blog readers and my family try to help us. We are on public assistance. I take as little as I can from others and from the system. I try to remind myself that people want to help, that the system is in place for people like us. Still, on raw days, I cringe. I don’t know if people understand how bad off we are, and I am not sure I want them to know. The details are complicated and confusing. The details make me feel sick. The details are not the sort of thing one brings up in polite conversation.
In my mind, I think I can hear people asking: Seriously? Still? She should be better now. It should all be better now.
I try not to think about what might have happened, if we could have worked things out, if it had to be like this, if it will always be like this.
This, too, is an exercise in futility, but of the waking mind.
“Are we poor?” the girls ask me from time to time. I have to say no to many, many things. They watch me fret in the grocery store. I know that in spite of my good intentions they are already worried about money, already feel guilty about asking for new books, or the latest fashion.
“We’re not as poor as some people, but we’re definitely not rich,” I usually say.
“DEFINITELY NOT,” adds S. “DEFINITELY NOT RICH.” Her sister nods in assent.
I press my fingers to my lips, hard.
The fall is my season of dread. It will blossom into full-blown panic when winter hits.
I choke when I must order thermal curtains because some of the windows no longer close. I actually gag as I enter my credit card number. But I don’t know what else I can do. Already, the fall nights have a bite.
I have become the master of the quick and dirty fix. The floorboards in the living room are so thin, you can peer through the cracks into the stone cellar. Insulation? Not a possibility, financially. Wall-to-wall? Nope. So I found a $97 8′ x 12′ rug to cover some of the floor, and put an old but clean 5′ x 8′ rug on top of that. To say it is cold in the winter, in this hundred-year-old New England millhouse, is an understatement. By January, we resort to living upstairs most of the time until spring. Thank God for the physics of heat rising.
Heat escapes; cold permeates. This is also true for my heart since the divorce. It is hard to keep it warm, keep it heated, trust that warmth will stay. That I will be able to afford the warmth. I no longer believe that I will find a warm place and warm people, not for keeps.
Cold seeps in too easily. The recurring nightmares leave me vulnerable and shaken. They strip me of my hope for something, someone, someday, that feels like home.
In the daytime, I try to cobble those hopes back together, shake off the dreams.
But night always returns, with its nightmares and its taunts.