November 21st, 2012
A few days ago I was walking around in my house and a memory came back to me with such swiftness and ferocity that I literally stumbled. The funny thing is, it’s not that this was my first time remembering this old dream. It was just my first time actually connecting it with reality.
The dream was a recurring one that I used to have constantly when I was approximately 4 years old. I’m not sure at what point it stopped, but I remember having it several times, and I remember the incredible well of fear that it inspired in that 4-year old girl.
Like most of my dreams of terror from that age, the dream was simple. Its very simplicity was what made it frightening, that and of course the fact of having it over, and over…and over…
In the dream, I am standing in front of a brownstone, one we used to live in on the Upper West Side when I was little. The sidewalk, from my 4-year old perspective, is very wide.
The brownstone is in the middle of the block. I stand there alone and looking towards the corner, I see my mother.
She stands there, wearing a floor-length black coat with a hood, fitted through the bodice, while the waist flares out to create a graceful skirt around the legs. The cuffs and hood are edged in black fur. The coat is stunning, and its style, my 4-year old perspective and my mother’s straight back and proud carriage make my mother appear statuesque and regal.
My mother also looks beautiful. Her hair is pulled back into a bun that sits on top of her head. The entire look is one of severe but cold beauty. What happens next does nothing to diminish that.
I see her and she is already looking at me. I begin running to her. I do not yell out to her, for I know she has seen me, and I know she sees me coming. I race towards the corner, my 4-year old chubby legs carrying me all too slowly. People pass in front of me, blocking my line of sight for a second here and there, but when they pass, I see she is still there, looking at me.
I am afraid, something prescient in me is very very afraid. She is not crouched down with open arms awaiting my final burst into her arms. Her hand is not held out, beckoning me lovingly. She is just…standing there, and she is…smiling. I see the smile, my eyes are locked on that smile, but it makes me cold with fear, because it is not the smile of a mother happy to see her child. It is the smile of someone who does not like you, the smile of someone who is about to do something wicked, a cold smile, an…evil smile. It is a smile that, on any face but my mother’s, would make me stop short and perhaps, perhaps, I would even…run. Away from that smile and all the cruelty it promises.
And still, I run to her. For where else am I to go? She is my mother, and if I see her on the street, it means I was lost and have now been found. I am running to my rightful place, with my mommy. I am running to the one person I love more than anyone in the world. Even as I run, her smile fills me with dread, but I am 4 years old. What else am I to do but run and hope that when I arrive, that smile will be a silly mistake, the result of my imagination gone into overdrive? What else am I to do but hope that when I reach her, that cold smile will suddenly fill with sunlight and finally, finally, reach her icy black eyes?
So I run and run, and the crowds of people making their way across the street continue to block my vision so that I see sporadic glimpses of her, almost like freeze frames from a photo. As I get close, one final bustle of crowd activity obscures my view right up until I reach the corner, and I arrive there breathless and looking frantically…
And she is gone.
I look down the sidewalk around the corner. She is not there.
I look back to see if she could have passed me.
She has not.
I stand on the corner frantically looking in every direction, eyes open wide in fear, chest beginning to heave in panic, and my heart begins to beat in that terror that every child feels when first realizing that they have somehow become…lost.
Except this feels worse, because I was not lost. I was not a child daydreaming as I walked away while my mother spoke to the neighbor. I was not chasing a butterfly with no care to where its wings beckoned me.
I was running TO MY MOTHER. And she had smiled that sinister smile as she saw me approaching, a smile that told me that when I arrived…she would not be there. Intentionally, deliberately, purposely, she WOULD NOT BE THERE. And I would be there vulnerable, confused and utterly alone.
I had this dream when I was 4 years old.
When I first told my mother about this dream, she hugged me and rocked me and told me that it would never be so, she would NEVER go away from me, certainly not with that sinister intent, not of her own volition, it would never ever ever happen.
And yet the dream persisted for a time, and I would wake up, nervously looking around until my eyes rested on her.
I was doing laundry a few days ago and this dream literally slammed into me with such impact that I stumbled and then stopped as my mind fast forwarded through the dream. I dropped the clothes, my hands going to my heart, my mouth open in a mimicry of Munch’s The Scream.
It had taken decades, to be sure, but…it had come true, hadn’t it. Coldly, cruelly, lovelessly, she had turned away from me…and disappeared.
It hurt the woman of 35 no less than it did the child of 4.
It hurts today still.
My birthday is coming. She will not call. She will not write. She will not acknowledge my existence. I will be 43, on the outside a woman who is now a mother herself, inside, on that day especially, a 4-year old still, who feels bewildered, confused, lost and unloved.
Perhaps this prescient dream and its coming to fruition were what compelled me to look my children in the eye and remind them when THEY were small that MOMMY ALWAYS COMES BACK. MOMMY ALWAYS COMES BACK, I told them, they could repeat it like a fucking mantra until I arrived, because nothing short of DEATH would stop me from coming back to them wherever they were, to pick them up and hug them and kiss them and hold them and reassure them that they were secure and loved.
Because I know what it’s like when your mommy doesn’t come back, oh, I know all too well what it is to have that ghostly apparition of dread take on the flesh of reality, to know that Mommy did NOT come back, not because she couldn’t…
but because she didn’t want to.