Dreams, the kind that stay with me for the first few moments after I wake, are maps. They tell me where I am. They allow me to see myself in space and time, as the crow flies, in context of my surroundings. They lead me home. They show instead of tell me, “You are here. You are right here.”
In my early thirties, when my life was upended, when my marriage disintegrated, when I ventured into single parenting, when I moved out of my house and into my parent’s house, when I reentered the work force, when I felt like a newborn baby with a whole (second) life ahead of me, and when I hunted and pecked for answers to the big questions like, What does it all mean, I dreamt a lot. Sometimes a few times a week. I had vivid, cinematic, technicolor dreams, crackling with meaning that would reveal itself soon after I woke. I’d go right to the page and record what I remembered. Pen in hand, I’d draw the map, take a step back, and see where I was in it. It felt miraculous.
A few years later the dreams stopped. My life settled into a peaceful, predictable cadence. Single parenting became my new normal. I moved out of my parent’s house into a place of my own. I fell in love. I asked big questions a lot less. Is that why the dreaming stopped? Had I outgrown the need to know where I was? Was it a good sign? I didn’t know. But I kept saying to myself, “I am here. I am right here.”
Then at forty years old I started dreaming again.
First, I dreamt I got a puppy. I hardly know why or how or where, all I know is that in Scene One of the puppy dream I was standing in my kitchen and holding a puppy, a very tiny, milk chocolaty, startlingly quiet puppy. I remember letting it fall from my arms with the other things I’d carried into the house—purse and phone and shopping bags full of groceries—like it was just another thing I’d picked up while out erranding. I set it down as absentmindedly as I do my keys, which I often find in the oddest places later. After I’d let it loose, it’s not clear how much time passed (hours? days? weeks?), but eventually it hit me. I had a puppy! A puppy I hadn’t fed, watered, pet, played with, walked, nay, even seen since the moment I let it go! I had a puppy and I had no idea where it was. Oddly, I don’t recall looking for it. Somehow I just knew it was gone. I was horrified, disturbed.
How could I have just forgotten? How could I have so utterly neglected it? Where was it? Did it escape outside, through a door I’d inadvertently left open? Oh god, I hoped it had found a way to survive! But how had I never, not once, heard it bark or cry or yelp? Had it died? If so, then where was it and shouldn’t there be an awful smell? How had this happened? The most monstrous and abusive of people managed to keep their dogs alive. Even the cruel remember their puppies!
The same night I had a second dream. About another puppy. This was one was small, but twice as big as the first—forearm-sized, instead of fist-sized—and darker. Easier to see. Easier to not lose or neglect. First thing, I sat on the couch and held that darling puppy in my hands and lifted it up into the air and cooed at it as I would a baby. Once I set it out down, I said out loud, “I need a crate.” And then I found one and put the puppy inside it, in a place where I would see it all the time. This time I was going to pay attention. This puppy would stay front and center. This puppy wouldn’t escape or die from neglect.
I forgot about both dreams, both puppies, until the next night when I dreamt about a friend of mine—who is married to a man I have known since birth, a man who has the same name as the man I love—a mirror of me, you could say. In the dream, she had miscarriages. One after another. She kept losing precious ones too. Did I know she’d been trying to get pregnant? (In real life, she wasn’t.) Then, still dreaming, I remembered the first puppy. Why all this loss? What does it all mean?
When I woke the morning after the third dream, I took to the page to find out. I wrote out all that I remembered of all the dreams and asked more questions.
I lingered at the page awhile, put my pen down, and then the miraculous happened. I saw a map. I saw myself in space and time, as the crow flies, in context of my surroundings. I saw myself standing in the middle of a big empty field, surrounded by possibility, with a small crate at my feet. On the side of the crate, it said, “You are here. You are right here.”
Hand to forehead slap, I got it. I’m the puppy. The one that disappeared and vanished. I let the first half of my life evaporate into thin air. I didn’t pay attention. I treated it as flippantly and passively as I did that first dreamt-of puppy. Flung it around like car keys I’d scramble to find later, frantic and harried. But, as in my dreams, there’s a second puppy. Still young and alive and licking my face. And I’m that puppy too.
What does it all mean? It means I’m going to keep dreaming. I’m going to keep coming home.