"I know I was lost for a while and you just got me back," my fluffy, white Maltese proclaimed. "But I have a Philosophy lecture to attend, and I don't want to miss it. Can I please go?"
"Well, Wookie," I answered patiently, "your eyesight is not great, so I'm afraid that you won't be able to find your way back to me. I don't want you to miss class, though. I'll take you."
And then I woke up.
Yes, I had a dream where my dog spoke. She's in my dreams often -- usually she's drowning and I have to save her. It's kind of awful, actually. But this one ended on a positive note: she was with me, she was safe, and, apparently, she was on her way to earning a degree in Philosophy. I hope she got a scholarship.
Throughout the next day, I told friends the story that had played through my subconscious during a REM cycle just so I could say the line, "And then Wookie said..."
My friend Shannon's response was the best: "What did her voice sound like?"
I didn't know, and I was devastated that I couldn't remember, just like I can't remember my father's voice anymore. I've forgotten a lot of details in my life: I have no idea where the retainer I wore in 8th grade went; I sometimes buy flowy shirts before realizing I already own the exact shirt in the same color (black, always black); I often forget why I should wish certain men lifelong impotence. But forgetting the sound and cadence of my father's voice and his laugh makes me feel truly robbed.
I very rarely have dreams where my dad appears. There have been a few very vivid ones that he's starred in, and, while I'm not sure I buy the theory that those dreams are really manifestations of his spirit visiting me, the dreams resonate powerfully. I wake up from them almost shaken, but in a poignant, visceral kind of way.
My father died when I was fourteen, and I guess that moment restructured the trajectory of my life, but I was always cognizant of not wanting to give that loss too much power. Okay, it was crushing. He died on an East Hampton beach suddenly. I was there when it happened. The haunting image of seeing his blue swim trunks on the sand as he lay there, already gone, is always in the recess of my mind, but I've done my best to close the door to that picture, and I've done it successfully enough that it's no longer quite so vivid. I've learned to catalogue and compartmentalize my own memories to protect myself from my own life.
Freud would be proud.
In the aftermath of my father's death, there were certain triggers guaranteed to send me flying into an abyss of frantic darkness. For a while, it was simply waking up. You know that moment when your eyelids flutter awake and you get acclimated to the light of the sun -- and then you remember who you are and just what has been lost and you'd give anything to be asleep again? I'd say that routine lasted from the August of his death clear through January. But after a while, waking up became about the showering, the dressing, the cursing of the early hour a teenager is asked to function. I learned to handle morning again.
Then came the sensory reminders. I couldn't listen to Thunder Road anymore without ending up in a literal fetal position, whatever I was wearing drenched in the tears racking sobs produce. It had been his favorite song. It was played at his funeral. One day while we drove home from the Hamptons, I'd asked him what the word "redemption" meant -- the word was in the song. He rewound the tape and paused it after every line as he deconstructed the song for me. He was a
professor, even in his off time.
He wore a shirt that had a quote from the song: "The door's open but the ride it ain't free." In the photographs I have of him wearing the shirt, he looks happy. He had dimples like I do.
I remember him dancing to the song in our Manhattan apartment. In the car, when the line "Roll down the windows and let the wind blow back your hair" came on, he'd hit the window button to roll those suckers down and I laughed every time. I was his best audience.
But time is a strange thing, and so is healing. I love hearing the song now. I never hear it without thinking of my father, but now I smile widely. The only time I backslide is at a Bruce show. The opening harmonica note hits me where I'm fourteen again, and I stare at the man on the stage whose words have defined nearly every stage of my life while I reflect on the man who was only given time to define the very first part.
I miss my father every single day and I often wonder what he'd think of the person I have become. I think my teaching style is similar to his: sarcastic, direct, probing. He would have enjoyed hearing me talk about my students. He would like knowing that I'm good at what I do. And he'd love that I teach Hitchcock.
When I wrote my book, I dedicated it to him. He used to tell me I had a story that I needed to tell. Turns out I've got more than one.
He celebrated my writing and my voice and my style. I'm certain that's one key reason that I loved when a man I cared about expressed similar sentiments. There's something to be said for someone appreciating your voice.
My father's own writing was spectacular in its wit and its construction. When he died, the only thing I asked for was his writing -- and it's all I received. And, for me, it was enough.
One time -- and it was recently -- I had a dream he was in, but this time he hugged me. That contact had never happened before in a dream, and it's never happened since. I felt the hug -- there was a warmth to it, and a strength. It felt tangible. It was a daddy hug, and I felt blessed.
I wish he'd visit my dreams more often, but I like to think he's busy hanging out with Clarence Clemons and Mickey Mantle in the afterlife and that he knows I'm okay without his presence.
And I am okay.
And I know what "redemption" means.
I've never forgotten.