strange dream for strange times

I approached the airline ticket counter at least three times, holding aloft an object that looked like my cell phone only larger and encased in a heavy black canvas fabric.

The ticket agent was dressed in an ill-fitting uniform of sorts that looked like it was made from the same black canvas as my cell phone cover. She came out from behind the counter. “I wish to hell you would go ahead and buy your ticket.” She seemed exasperated, but there was an undertone of pleading.

“I have bought it. It’s on my phone . . . somewhere. I don’t know how to find it.” We stared at one another, then another passenger, a young man, walked up. “Take care of him,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

I heard her say, “No. . .” — but I was gone.


I wasn’t driving the car nor was I a passenger. But I could see and experience everything. Maybe I was the car. There’s a weird thought.

The driver was a woman of an indeterminate age, maybe 45, plump, and somehow she seemed like an English woman from a different century. Ah, I know who she was. She was the head cook in Downton Abbey. You know, the one losing her sight.

She was driving quite fast in an ordinary sedan, and turned from the typical, simple streets of Pensacola into a different world. The street was more of a wide concrete boulevard. Her foot was heavy on the accelerator. Several large, three-story homes appeared on both sides of the road, capped by what could only be called a mansion at the end. It had a circular drive. Beyond it and on either side was water. The bay, I thought. All the buildings were made from the same dusty rose-gold brick. To one side, under a bright blue awning, a table was set for eight guests, one corner of the dazzling white tablecloth flapping in the wind. No people.

“Brakes!” I thought. “Brakes!”

She continued to bear down on the great house, but at the last moment executed a turn around the circle worthy of a Formula One racer and accelerated like a bat fleeing hell in the opposite direction. It was then I noticed several cars full of grim-looking men passing us, headed toward the jumping off place.

“Faster,” I wanted to urge her. “Faster.” I felt the danger; felt her impending death.


Back at the ticket counter, the same drab woman. “You again! Why haven’t you bought your ticket yet?”


I think the thing he was most fascinated by was the bright blue, glowing geo-locator button on my jogging shoes. I mean, who wouldn’t be, right? Nice to know that even if I didn’t know where I was, theoretically somebody, somewhere did.

I had been pedaling across the curve of the earth in the middle of the night in a four-wheel type of cycle, going home to Mother. How in the world would I find her in the dark? And, oh by the way, she died in 1990 and I had never been able to find the real “her” in life and even less so in death — she was gone years before her heart stopped.

How did I get hurt and why was I at this bright outpost of an urgent care clinic? A little girl with dark hair and big glasses and bright black patent leather shoes shamelessly eavesdropped on my conversation with the young doc.

I kept asking him: who were the people who came to my house?

Dreams. Nonlinear. Nonsensical. I love them.


I waited too long to write last week’s dream. So many of the evanescent parts of it have floated away. But I am still left to wonder: why did my subconscious bring my old friend Patsy into my dreamscape?

Images from the dream are more like scenes from her real life, experiences I either saw or knew about as they were happening. So was it a dream or a series of memories?

We are sitting together on my piano bench at home, Buck and other guests milling about, visiting. Sandy is belting out an old Carol King line — pretty sure it was I feel the earth move under my feet while I accompanied her. She held a glass of wine in one hand and swore like a sailor in-between verses. Okay, so this was definitely a dream. I’ve played piano while she sang before, but it was a supper club of sweet Episcopalians and the songs were usually old Broadway or snippets from The Messiah. Sandy has a glorious contralto, the kind of singing voice I would like to have. I have near perfect pitch, but only thin squeaks come through my pipes.

I dreamed of Sandy sailing the Grand Loop with her ill husband and later hugging the shorelines and rivers of Florida when he was dying and they had to dock so he could rent a car and drive to one of several hospitals for another useless round of chemo. Maybe it wasn’t entirely useless. Maybe it bought him time. But my dream is of Sandy, nurse Sandy, giving him injections; Sandy, the game companion, her brittle bones fracturing time and time again when jarred by the sharp, hard wake of a rude boater and knocked into unforgiving surfaces. Betrayed Sandy.

Sandy’s blank look of shock when she first read her husband’s will and trust, then tears of heartbreak and later anger, as it sunk in that he put her financial well-being into a trust managed by a long-grown stepdaughter who behaved as though she had waited a long time to become Sandy’s overlord and was going to extract every ounce of suffering and pain left in this dear woman, not to mention impoverishing her in the process.

Sandy, kneeling for communion, praying at the rail, hands raised like a charismatic.

It’s been close to five years since Sandy’s husband died and her second time in hell began. But now, the lawyering is done, whatever could be salvaged has been, she lives in a sweet little house in a dear little town far from here, and has found a good life with friends and a gentle, funny man who truly adores her. I know this mingles dream and fact. But that fact is no dream, and I am grateful that the haunted look is gone from my friend’s beautiful gray-blue eyes.

dreams deferred

“Patsy” and “Doc” will have to wait. Luckily, I wrote down enough of the dreams when I first staggered out of bed yesterday morning to fix the memory in place. Buck and I spent most of yesterday preparing for and briefing some of our local officials on our property rights issue coming before the planning board February 4th. Today is for reading the fine print on some ancient scrolls (old meeting transcripts) and a luncheon of the Pensacola High School class of 1955, Buck’s graduating class and a group of folks I have come to love. I’m always the “babe” in the room because of my relative youth (only 68), but they seem to like me okay anyway. We meet at a little local Italian restaurant called Franco’s. They make a mean minestrone soup. Hang in there, Patsy and Doc. I’ll tell your story soon.

dream journal

At last. It happened last night the way it used to, way back when I was writing every day. I dreamed words, sentences, amazing images — a world. I’ve been sleeping too shallowly recently to dream at all. I’m still reeling. Still in the dream. Dreams, really. There were three, but I was only able to stagger out of bed and write and notes for two. The other, the first, is dim, fading. I doubt I can recover it. Of the two I remember, the first is “Patsy;” the second is “Doc.” I’ll post them later.

By the way, I attribute the restarting of dreams with the restarting of a daily writing practice. The words were so dry at first, like unused paint in a long-neglected tube. But they are beginning to feel a little more fluid, beginning to come from a deeper place. And now, dreams. A good and encouraging sign.

crack the dark world open

I dreamed last night of my long-dead father. One of those rare dreams I’ve learned to call a major gift.

Standing on a sidewalk at a busy intersection, I was waiting for a car or a bus or a taxi or something to take me somewhere. It was crowded. Lots of people. Many of them seemed to know me. They waved and shouted friendly greetings.

I remember adjusting the shoulder strap of my heavy bag that was filled with notebooks and sketch pads, craning my neck to look for my ride, when someone called out: “Wait! Don’t go yet. Your Daddy is coming to see you!”

My head snapped up and sure enough, a man who could not be anyone but W. T. Jones was striding through the crowded sidewalk, pulling off leather work gloves as he walked. His crack-the-dark-world-open brilliant smile went all the way to those flashing bright eyes that never left my face.

Before there was time to think or react or, thank God, wake up, I was wrapped up in those dear arms. “Baby girl!” he crooned, nearly waltzing me around, his joy my sunbeam path.

I awoke then and nearly sprang out of bed with energy and a smile, still feeling that loving affirmation from my sweet, long-missed Daddy.

In the dream, Daddy was slightly heavier than I remembered, still sun-browned with crinkles around his eyes and a light sheen of sweat as though he had just come off the construction site of one of his subdivisions in central Florida, circa 1964, the year his heart suddenly stopped.

Tough blow for a thirteen-year-old to lose her dad. My older brother was sixteen; our younger brother only nine. Mother was fragile and unbalanced. Tough all the way around. The lodge pole of our family structure was jerked away and the roof quickly fell in.

For weeks, now, I haven’t been sleeping well enough to dream, much less to remember a dream. Several hours have elapsed since the dream. I’ve walked to the gate with Lou, fed her breakfast, and brewed coffee.

Cutting strawberries and oranges for Sunday breakfast a few minutes ago, I laughed to realize I was whistling Daddy’s favorite song.

The Paisleys

“There’s a way to recognize these people,” he leaned his head forward and spoke quietly. “On the fifth day of the month, wear a  gray glove with no fingertips on your left hand and a squashed top hat all day. Be seen in public places, like a mall. Someone will approach you.”

“Maybe I’ll try that,” I said.

He leaned forward, his voice nearly a hoarse whisper. “They have a target. A couple. They call them The Paisleys.”

Thanksgiving in August

I’ve heard gratitude is an attitude. Being a glass half-full kind of person, I believe that’s generally true. But sometimes it feels more like the flood waters from a burst levee and you find yourself suddenly engulfed.

That happened to Tom and me yesterday. The  flood waters of gratitude are more like the Sea of Galilee than the tragic debacle of a New Orleans drowned in 2005 by the breaches of Hurricane Katrina. The waters of gratitude are buoyant. They lift you up.

Tom came into the kitchen earlier than usual yesterday morning.  I was doodling around, emptying the dishwasher, drinking Komodo Dragon coffee, and listening to Will Patton read James Lee Burke’s latest, the fantastic Wayfaring Stranger.  When Tom spun me around for a hug and a morning kiss, my instant inventory of flashing eyes, bright smile, and waves of energy told me he had his groove back.

This Wednesday we’ll drive back to Jacksonville for his third R-Benda cycle, so he’ll get knocked down again for a few days, but a day like yesterday will carry a person through from point of light to point of light, false dawn to true sunrise.

We live in a pine forest. Our home is in a clearing surrounded by the woods. Pretty darned incredible paradise. Yesterday’s weather looked iffy and I wanted to mow the clearing in case it rained later in the day. If we left it to grow until we returned from Mayo next Saturday, with the August heat and humidity, the grass would be halfway to my knees. So after breakfast, newly wise from my recent poison ivy experience, I put on a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, socks and jogging shoes, gloves and a Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm hat, and headed out to crank up the little John Deere.

Little John Deere

The morning wasn’t too hot. There was even a little breeze. Vigilant mocking birds kept an eye on me and a resident hawk waggled his wings overhead. About an hour later I was in the back when a movement caught my eye. It was Tom, on the ancient 60 hp Case tractor, tipping his Tilley hat and blowing me a kiss! He was bush-hogging the area between yard grass and woods where we sow wheat, oats and rye every fall for the deer, wild turkeys and migratory birds.

The (Very) Old Case Tractor

Two hours later we were done: dirty, sweaty and happy. After lunch and a shower, Tom rested in the bedroom with the latest book he’s reading, waiting for the usual afternoon “slump.” I spent some time writing and then went to the kitchen to start dinner.

He bounded into the kitchen, smiling. “All day, no slump! I expected it, but it didn’t come. The work outside felt good. There’s a lesson in that,” he said.

Our supper, coincidentally, was roast turkey breast, baked sweet potatoes, green peas and cranberry sauce. Thanksgiving in August.


“The Guy”

It’s the med techs, nurses, schedulers and physician’s assistants that make this deal a whole lot easier to swallow than it might otherwise be. They’ve got situations and issues of their own without a doubt, but you would never know it.

Take Ray. He’s the med tech at our local cancer center that takes Tom’s blood labs every two weeks and flash faxes them over to Mayo. The luck of the draw got us to Ray the first time we went in. Let’s see, that would have been June 26, just about one month ago.

Ray’s not young, not old, with blue highways of experience in his calm, dark eyes. He retired from a career in the Navy, did a high wire act in real estate before everybody crashed with or without a net, then went back to school for his med tech certificate. Ray is kind and he is careful. Checks everything twice. Gives you the feeling he knows his bit of the interlocking puzzle is a corner piece.  And he’s right. These periodic blood labs let Tom’s Mayo docs assess whether he is ready for the next treatment cycle.

Ray uses a winged infusion set , sometimes called a butterfly needle. Tom thinks of it as a dragonfly, because its proboscis dips delicately into his blood, sure and unquivering, even while it fills several vials. The technology, along with Ray’s steady hand, results in no bruising or discomfort.

After the first blood-letting, we asked Ray if he would be available to do this every time. “Sure,” he said with a smile that put lights in his eyes. “Just ask for the guy.” We must have looked confused. He waved a hand at the other blood-letting stations in two rows around the small room. Sure enough, all the other med techs were female. He’s “the guy,” and we’re grateful to have him on the team.


Solo, Solo


“Solo. Solo,” the women called in subdued, but urgent tones.

“Well, okay,” the old man said, rounding a time-softened gray fedora in his thin, elegant fingers. “I don’t know how it got to be five years from now.”  He sat on a low ottoman in the parlor room of the small community library, surrounded by four calm-faced women of indeterminate ages. A single ray of sunlight cut through the morning shadows and fell onto his scarred arm.

It was a dream. I stumbled out of bed shortly after six to my study, found a mechanical pencil stuck in an antique heavy glass “flower frog” and began to scrawl on a legal pad. Didn’t even turn on a lamp. You know how it is with dreams. Even the most vivid ones. If you can write down a scrap of it, or in a pinch say it out loud, you stand a chance of capturing an exotic bug in a bottle.

Tom came in, found me in the darkened study, standing up, scribbling furiously.  I wondered what he was doing there. This is not a man who has ever voluntarily gotten out of bed before the chickens. He moved on toward the kitchen and returned balancing half a slice of bread on a short glass of skim milk. He eyed me curiously. I mumbled something, held up my left hand in an inarticulate “wait” signal, but continued to write.

“I’m going back to bed,” he said, and was gone. Nausea, I thought. It’s still hanging on from last week’s chemo, and he’s trying to smooth it down with milk and bread and put together enough sleep from the fragmented night. Between my restless dreams and his discomfort, a solid six or seven hours of sleep is rare as precious myrrh.