That Helen – she was quite the dreamer, and quite frankly, there wasn’t a much more for her to do. She was settled in the world, her goals in life fulfilled long ago. She was old and yet mostly content except for when her back acted up, and on those days she stretched and touched her toes until she felt the aches and pains tremble and release. She lived comfortably in the old farmhouse on the hill, warm in the winter and cool in the spring. No, Helen wasn’t a dreamer in the sense that she desired more out of life. She was a champion dreamer in her sleep.
It was true. While most of Helen’s friends had trouble remembering even one dream per week, each night Helen had four or five – in living color, as they say – vivid and real. At one point years ago she set a pad of paper and a pen on her small nightstand intent on writing each one down but it became bothersome quickly and she soon gave up. Instead, over her morning Earl Grey, Helen would sift through each night’s dream, cataloging them in the genre in which they seemed to fit: insecurity dreams, dream-visits, and the love dream. Oh, there were others; others that were indefinable and muddled – the dreams that made no sense at all to Helen no matter how long she struggled over them. Those dreams were like the paintings by Picasso or a Tim Burton film – confusing, annoying and somewhat disturbing. She pushed them away easily and with her force – a pin to their balloon – they deflated.
Mostly she had the other three type of dreams these days. She thought it was funny she would still have insecurity dreams – those where you find yourself at school in your underwear or discover that you’d been fired from your job. Helen figured that those types of dreams should be long gone. She hadn’t been in any type of school for over 60 years, and as for a job, her days at the checkout counter at the grocery store had ended when she turned 70. Her supervisor had said it wasn’t about her age but if she was honest with herself, she’d have to admit that she had slowed down by then. The new cashiers seemed to race their customers through the lines like NASCAR drivers but Helen’s scanner beeped at a slower, more unhurried pace. She was the Barry Manilow to the new cashier’s Red Hot Chili Peppers – and yes, she knew who they were thankyouverymuch. She preferred the slower melody but she knew from the looks of some of her customers, ‘they didn’t. “Will you hurry up!’ was right on the tip of their tongues. When Mr. Marshall installed the automatic checkouts to further speed up the tempo – poof – she was no longer needed.
But that was 12 years ago and as time went by her dreams about work had mostly disappeared.
Helen savored what she defined as her visit-dreams. She could never quite be sure if she was completely sleeping when they occurred or if perhaps, a loved one had descended from heaven to visit her in the night. She didn’t much care one way or another. She was just happy to see her family again. Many of these dream-visits were from her beloved father who would appear to her in his work boots outside the old tract home where she was born. He had been dead more than 30 years but each time she saw him in a visit-dream she would gasp with joy, so happy to see his familiar face, that square jaw, that sparkle in his still stunning blue eyes. Her mother visited her less often in her dreams and Helen figured it was because she was so young when her mother had died – only five – and the impression made on her in life wasn’t as significant. She’d had step-mother from the age of seven until mid-life but she found she never dreamed of Stella. Stella had been a perfectly fine step-mother and Helen wasn’t sure why she didn’t dream of her but figured it had to do with a sense of guilt she’d feel if she dreamed of her step-mother more than her own mother. At 82-years-old, Helen didn’t ponder this too much. It would have just been a waste of time and what would have been the point?
Some of her favorite dreams were the wonderful visit-dreams from the twins. Jimmy and Ron, eight years older than her and inseparable, had taught her how to fix cars and swing a baseball bat and smoke a cigar. She thought they must have truly wished she had been born a boy and had spent the first ten years of her life trying to convert her to one. She didn’t mind. She had the great fun with them every day and it was clear they adored her. Jimmy and Ron were her best friends and she missed them so vastly sometimes that she felt her heart cave into her chest and didn’t know if she’d ever be able to rescue it again. They had lived well into old age and had been gone for only two years – Ron dying a mere three months before Jimmy. Since then Helen had awoken each morning with a dull ache in her chest and had to remind herself that neither brother would be visiting her that day. Once she was up and had brewed her tea, though, she always made sure to flip a cheery salute to the heavens, calling out ‘Good Morning!’ to each brother.
Last night Helen had her singular dream about love, or rather about a long-lost love, that is. Her visitor in this dream had been her one true soul mate in her life. She could say that now with certainty and also without guilt or shame. At 82 she understood life almost better than she wanted to and one of the things she understood was that love was love. It was grand, it was messy, it was epic, and if it was in your heart, there really wasn’t a good way to get rid of it. Besides, who wants to eliminate love? It seemed to be the only thing that made sense in the world.
Helen had lost her husband long ago. He was a wonderful man and together they had created their own love and a good life. She had been one of the lucky ones, and she knew it, but even so, he wasn’t the one she dreamed of when she dreamed of love. It was Joseph Randolph, the man she had met in her twenties when she was too young or too torn apart or too-something to realize he was the one. She hadn’t seen him since before 9-11, randomly running into him at an old folks’ card party at the town hall back in 2000. They had chatted for a moment but Joseph had been called over to a table and she’d left soon after. When he came to her in her dreams, now, she felt giddy and young. Something lifted from her soul in those dreams; something heavy that had been with her forever, and when that happened, she could breathe in a way she never could before. Whenever she woke from that dream her first moment was tinged with sadness and regret for not following the path with Joseph, but soon the happiness of being with him, even in dreamland, spun through her and the rest of the day was peaceful and light.
And so it goes each night when Helen switches off the cigar lamp next to her bed, and the old farmhouse where she’s lived forever becomes still, she knows not what she’lldream of. But like an ongoing overture both fresh and familiar, she’s sure she’ll drift somewhere interesting, living life in her dreams, wherever it takes her, whoever guides her there, softly and surely like the melody of a sweet song.