Another nightmare. This time we were setting up a Christmas tree and afterwards I held her but she kept squirming to break away and kept looking elsewhere, and then in one abrupt move she was gone, the tree was smashed and distorted, bent like the aftermath of a hurricane, and she was nowhere to be found.
I stood alone in the bleak, gray room, perplexed, the phrase repeating in my head, “Why didn’t she even say goodbye? Couldn’t she have at least said goodbye?” It was the lack of closure that hurt most and I woke up with that searing, gut-wrenching pain again that I hadn’t felt since the last dream several weeks or months ago. I didn’t want to ever feel the depth of that hurt again.
The night before the dream I drove back to my apartment from a young adults group meeting and a song on my iPhone triggered a specific, painful and confusing era in my life. Quickly I skipped over it so I didn’t have to listen, but the memories gushed forth onto my windshield.
I was back in Princeton, a now condemned city I’d feel ill-at-ease to visit again. I was parked on the same street I always parked on, two blocks from the library where I’d often work from on the second floor next to the giant windows overlooking Witherspoon Street. I remembered the phone calls and interviews, meeting her for dinners and ice cream. I recalled the one time I met her for coffee where she didn’t ask me what the job interview was for that I had come from. I always took it as part of her introverted and shy personality around me, but perhaps it was something else.
When will the processing stop? It’s not as often, but every now and then a dream or a song sets it off again. I remembered changing out of my suit in my car that I felt I was living out of; trying to run my business on the go while simultaneously seeking to lock down a more stable job not only for my own well-being but because I wanted to be closer to her, both geographically and financially. I remembered stopping to sit on a bench (our bench) and texting her to tell her I was there, asking if she wanted to meet for dinner or a drink. I remembered her reply clearly. She was cozy at home and didn’t feel like coming out. She was polite about it. In that moment I couldn’t help but remember a time several months earlier where she would’ve dropped everything to come see me, where she wouldn’t have missed out on being with me for the world. And as I grew closer and more in love, she grew further apart, until I was no longer worth the effort.
She did not know it but I remember how low my heart sank that night. I’d hoped she’d come out, express interest in my job interview, ask me something, fantasize with me about the future, but her future was already made up in her mind, and I was no longer a priority and soon, would no longer be a part of it.
I grabbed a sandwich and coffee and ate by myself on the bench, watching the people around me, feeling an impending heaviness. It’s strange how one small, quiet town in the woods with a sprawling elite campus and for a short while played the role of the country’s capital, can encompass my very best and very worst memories all at once.
In the midst of turmoil, in the dark valleys of life, we don’t see the view from above or at the mountaintop. Only in retrospect can we get a clearer view. In the midst of tribulation, we ask, “Why am I feeling this way? Why is nothing working out for me?” And yet all along something bigger is being formed and worked out.
It wasn’t raining but I clicked the windshield wiper fluid anyway and gave the glass a clean swipe. The memories faded, my forward view was a clear open road.