In a dream last night, a woman older than I asked me, “So what do you say when someone asks you how old you are?”
“I say, ‘I’m 41.'”
“Do you?” She pressed.
Do I? I considered.
I don’t remember who the woman was, but I’ve been dreaming lately about Diane, the psychic massage therapist, and the woman in the dream resembled her. They had the same hair. This is often enough, at least in a dream.
Also there was music. An old song off a mixed tape I made once by pressing the button on the box radio in my bedroom the instant a song I liked, but didn’t own, began playing.
“Without You” could have been the song. It would have made sense, since the previous night my oldest son and I watched the reboot of National Lampoon’s Vacation and that song is on the soundtrack.
No, it was another. A B-grade memory attached to a C-grade song. No isolated scene, no captive smell, just the box radio on the lavender carpet next to the vent in my bedroom. Just that girl, just that me. I’m embarrassed for her now, but also want to hold her and place my hand on the small of her back. “A basic touch point,” Ariella called it yesterday in the library when she touched me there with the palm of her hand.
In the dream, Shoshana grabbed a tower of cassette tapes from her car and carefully balanced them between her two hands as she carried them inside to the party where I knew no one well, but everyone by-the-way.
This morning, I sense I am close to the answer, but not close enough. I understand and almost accept there will be no answer, not today, but that an answer may in fact be close.
I don’t know if I said it because of the dream or if I dreamt it because I was bound to say it later, but I said it and only after did I realize that it didn’t matter if the dream preceded the belief or the belief the dream.
* * *
What matters more than the man in the dream — a composite of men I have loved — is the woman who jumped so high as to be seen from the carved out window of the plane I was flying in.
She is not me. She was too tall to be me. And yet her hair …
What am I supposed to glean from her loose and long dirty blond hair, from the bohemian dress that floated up above her knees like a parachute each time she leapt from the valley as if the earth below was her trampoline? And what about the mountains, which were not the mountains of Denver, Colorado or the Golan Heights, mountains I have seen directly, both from above and below, but were, I am certain, the mountains of a European country, Spain or Portugal, a country in which there are less Jews than in the countries I am familiar with, countries I might even dare to call my homes?
What matters more than the man in the dream — who brought me to near tears with his collection of short stories recognizable as anecdotes from his childhood — is the woman who was sitting in the row ahead of me on the plane. She, too, saw the leaper, but she was not fazed. “I’ve seen her before,” the woman ahead of me noted. “We’re friends.”
She is not me, either. She was not Jewish enough. And she was also tall, even when seated.
Perhaps, what matters more is the man in the dream — perhaps, he is me.
* * *
Perhaps, I believed it and dreamed it both. Neither one before the other. Neither one bound to be first.
I had the dream again last night in which it’s you and me and him and her at a dinner party and the lighting is for grownups, but for some reason there are children in the room. I made meringues for the children for dessert. They came out fluffy and perfect and I wanted them to stay that way – the meringues – except, inevitably they deflated. “No matter,” my husband said in the dream. “They’re still sweet.”
The dinner party is awkward even though the lighting is good. Like the last time I dreamed us at an awkward dinner party, the lighting is mostly by candle with a touch of track over a brick mantle and the scene is set for adults, which is to say there are things nearby that may be broken.
She is in black as she always is. As for me, I picked out something new to wear just before arriving. I tried it on for my husband in the store, invited him into the dressing room. “The tag said the outfit was 3D,” I told him, but only when I take my glasses off am I able to see the shapes moving in the mirror.
I am a sucker for signs. I see evidence for action in unusual places: on the bumper sticker that says “I miss you!,” on the tractor trailer in front of me on the highway, or in that dream in which cats have snuck into my hotel room and eaten up all the free pastries left on a tray by the door, or when Nina Simone sings “For Myself” at the same time an article on the Self written by Maria Popova pops up in my feed.
This week, old houses keep popping up, too — mine and others’. In poems I haven’t written yet, but also in my waking life.
* * *
Clue #1: After my middle son finished Key to the Treasure the other day, I was certain he was going to choose Clues in the Woods because choosing Haunted House would be very unlike him — he, like I am, is scared to be scared, especially before bed.
But he chose Haunted House, and after checking in with him to make sure this was the one he wanted to read next, we began.
Clue #2: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: “Leonard had grown up in an Arts & Crafts house whose previous owner had been murdered in the front hall. The grisly history of 133 Linden Street had kept the house on the market for years.”
Clue #3: This article from December about memory and mentally mapping our homes — it showed up at the top of my Twitter feed today. More than the study results, I was struck by the dollhouse image used to illustrate the story. Dollhouses have a way of being so inviting and so terrifying at the same time. Like old hotels. Like Stephen King. I felt this way before I read The Dollhouse Murders and long before I saw The Shining.
Clue #4 is a secret. I won’t tell it, but no matter.
I haven’t figured out yet how to explain to Janice in 200 words why it feels as though I am already the winner.
This makes me sound like a narcissist and I want to sound like a dreamer. Or at least like someone who lives her life one foot atop one pole and one foot atop the other.
I want to explain to Janice that the word Maine is blue and that I love that northern state because I spent four summers at overnight camp there, three of which I spent in love and that this is a good thing, not a thing that makes me crazy, but makes me the type of person who other people — guests — will be happy to see in the morning. And anyway, my husband will be the one cooking breakfast and serving pancakes in the shapes of native birds. Once he served our dinner guests sweet potato pancakes with a dollop of wasabi sour cream that was as delicate as a meringue. I will be the one who organizes the books in the library each night. (There will be vintage National Geographic magazines and perhaps a set of Encyclopedia Brittannica, too.) I will be the one who changes the sheets. I will keep the ghosts appeased. I will invite them to have tea in the garden so they don’t frighten the guests.
* * *
I had a dollhouse once. It was this one. Not this exact one, but its doppelganger.
* * *
I still love miniatures.
I love it that my husband sneaks into the bathroom before bed to set up clever scenes with the Playmobil my daughter left behind after her bath, with the purpose of surprising me when I happen upon them before brushing my teeth.
I especially love the miniature toilet and the European style hand shower: Bathroom appliances were never furnished with the dollhouses I played with as a child.
Which brings me back to the dream of the cats eating pastries in my hotel room.
I had been in the bathroom when they snuck in. They took advantage of my uniquely human need to relieve myself in privacy.
I was angry at first, but I couldn’t blame them. After all, I had left the front door open.