Break It Open

Last night, I had a dream that I was on a train to D.C. I accidentally got off at the wrong stop (Crystal City – which as anyone who lives in D.C. will tell you, is not actually on the line to Union Station, but when have dreams ever been rational?). I had to jump back on the train and purchase another ticket for the rest of the journey. I wanted to call my dad to let him know what had happened and that I would be late to see him.

I pulled out my phone and found it was an old flip phone, the kind I would have had back in undergrad when waiting until after 9 PM to talk in order to preserve precious minutes was an actual way of life. I was flustered by how inefficient this phone was. I couldn’t navigate the contact list well and couldn’t find my dad’s number. I approached a couple on the train to use their laptop and see if I could look it up, but whoever bought my dad’s radio station had finally changed the WNMB website, and his number was gone.

Why is it that I could still recite my house phone number as a kid? Or the number for the old station in Albemarle? But in this dream, all I wanted to do was talk to my dad, and I just couldn’t remember his number. I couldn’t reach him.

I was startled awake by my alarm (iPhone, nice to see you). I sat in bed for a few minutes trying to regain my composure. It was the type of dream that leaves you unsettled and casts a shadow over the morning. Not so much a nightmare, but a reminder that dreams speak to the fragility of our emotions and old wounds.

I found myself reflecting on what this meant in the context of my life now. I often wish that I could talk to my dad to get his perspective on things, even five and a half years later. But not so much as I have over the past few weeks, and this dream reinforced the permanence of the fact that I cannot, in fact, call him.

When these subtle reminders hit me full force, I find myself turning to other ways in which I can experience the memory of my father. Music. Swinging with Ellie in the sunshine. Soul searching with good friends.

I recently finished The Bright Hour, by Nina Riggs.

“Break it open,” she writes, quoting one of her favorite authors. “Look inside, feel it, write it down.”

In recent weeks,¬† I have reached out to close friends–kindred spirits, new and old. Through our conversations, I have come to better appreciate the idea of breaking, looking, and feeling. Of reaching out, standing up, leaning on.

Riggs also writes about a trip took to Paris she took with her husband after receiving news that her breast cancer was terminal. They visit a restaurant they frequented years before as newlyweds living in the city. The walls are crumbling, cracked,  and covered with plaster. The menu has changed. The floor is worn.

But, Riggs writes, “the breakage and repair are integral to the history of the object, rather than something to disguise.”

The object, or place, or memory–recognized as a whole, appreciated for the good. And the bad. The loss, and the gain.

As I muddle through the last semester of coursework in my doctoral program, the real work is just on the horizon.

At 34, I am too young to be like the restaurant that Riggs describes, but some aspects are true. I have been broken. Plastered over, yes, but the cracks are still there. I cannot talk to my dad, no matter how many times I dream about it.

I cannot imagine at this point where life would have taken me–us–if I hadn’t been kicked in the head on June 4th, 2013.

But.

What struck me most about Riggs’ reflections of life and loss is the delicate balance between living in the moment and accepting the fact that, at the end of the day, we can only control how we ride the waves.

“I have to love these days in the same way I love any other. There might not be a ‘normal’ from here on out.”