Most of the time in recent years, when I dream about my mom, I wake up feeling soothed, comforted, and safe. It's something I treasure—as though I went to sleep and got to talk to her again, even if just for a moment. I feel like she came to visit me. It's not enough, by any means, but when nothing can ever be enough, it's something.
Unfortunately, I also have a recurring nightmare about my mom. And that was the dream I had last night. Maybe it's not even really a nightmare. But it's a nightmare to me, and here's why: In my dream, my mom is back. In fact, she was never really dead, not really. This whole time, she was just gone, away, where we couldn't reach her. When I ask her what happened, she won't tell me, and she's not sorry. She's matter-of-fact: "I was gone, but I'm here now, Alison. Why are you being such a baby?"
That's what she said last night, anyway. For some reason, in the dream, I was standing in the kitchen of my grandparents' old farmhouse. The kitchen looked exactly how it looked when I was a kid. I didn't know why we were over at Grandma and Grandpa Hamm's house, but they weren't there, and Mom had decided to stay there, because she refused to come back home with us. After she asked me why I was being such a baby, she walked out of the kitchen and seemingly disappeared in the blackness of another room.
At that, I jerked awake and stared at the ceiling, terrified. I didn't want to fall back asleep, because I knew she wouldn't be there anymore. I couldn't bear to be awake. I walked into the kitchen and squinted so the numbers on the oven clock would come to focus.
What did it all mean? Did it mean anything at all? I gulped down some water and went back to bed, only to have a series of different, equally weird dreams in which my mother stubbornly refused to make an appearance.
I woke up and felt utterly lost. And that was basically how I felt the entire day. I couldn’t quite shake that discarded, lonely sort of feeling I had felt in the dream when my mom told me to stop being such a baby. It was similar to how I felt as a kid after she’d say, chidingly, “You’re so sensitive!”
Okay, Mom. I get it.
But do you? I kept hearing her annoyingly ask back inside my head.
The whole thing was making my head hurt. I felt nuts. I wondered if anyone could tell.
It wasn’t until right as I left work, as I pushed through the revolving door and stepped outside, that I finally shook the feeling. It was sunny. It was warm. Who knew? I’d been trapped in my windowless cubicle of doom all day. I had no idea.
I crossed the street and stared up at the beautiful Chicago buildings. The tulips were blooming in the flowerbeds—vivid, purple and orange, one of my favorite color combinations. The wind was blowing, but it felt warm. Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s sang in my ears.
Then, right as I was walking past the typical after-work crowd waiting at the bus stop, a gust of wind hit me, blowing my skirt straight up in the air. I couldn’t help it: I laughed out loud to myself as I pulled it back down as quickly as I could. A woman walking in my direction raised her eyebrows at me like I was a basket case. But all I could do was keep smiling, because I swear, I heard my mom laughing. Her big, shrieking laugh, the one usually reserved for phone calls with her sisters.
I felt happy the rest of the walk, even as I continued to hold on to my skirt for dear life. I thought of, for probably the millionth time, this particular day Mom and I were shopping in Target. We were getting all my college and dorm necessities, and she was going wildly overboard, bossing me around from her throne on the motorized scooter she'd had to start using in recent months when we went shopping.
We’d already had one rather embarrassing argument when we were in Best Buy earlier that afternoon, and she was getting on my damn nerves.
I kept telling her, “I don’t have to get all of this right now, Mom,” but she wanted nothing to do with it. She just kept zooming around the aisles on her scooter, bossing me around, not caring at all the way everyone stared. Every time she went in reverse, the scooter made a loud, obnoxious, “BEEP...BEEP...BEEP,” drawing even more stares in our direction. Kids were fascinated by the oxygen cords dangling from her nose. Adults often stared in a slightly confused looking haze, probably wondering why this seemingly healthy woman was on oxygen, using the old people scooter.
I wanted to kill them all for staring. I wanted to kill her. She had a reason for everything she told me to grab and throw in my cart. And I found every reason annoying. (I don’t know why, really. I was 18. Gimme a break.)
At one point, I wandered away from her. When I came back to her, she was standing up, holding on to a small, red cooler. She saw me walk up the aisle, grinned, held up the cooler for me to see, and said what was quite possibly the most hilarious sentence to ever come out of my Grammar-guru, English-teaching mother’s mouth:
“I gotta get me one of them coolers!”
Both of our mouths dropped open at the same time. We looked at each other, and busted out laughing. We couldn’t stop. Shrieking with laughter in the aisle of Target, we kept repeating, “I gotta get me one of them coolers!” We were hysterical. I clutched my side, bending over, laughing. Mom fell back into her scooter seat, wiping tears from her eyes and adjusting her oxygen.
A couple of other customers peered around the aisle at us, probably wondering who the lunatics were, or probably assuming it was a pair of obnoxious teenagers. But no, it was just one obnoxious teenager and her sick mother, laughing hysterically together.
I didn’t care anymore that people stared. I didn’t care that the reason she needed a cooler was because she always had to have ice packs to put with her IV medication. I didn’t care that the reason she was getting on my nerves so much is because we both knew it might be the last time we ever went shopping together. (It was.)
We laughed and had a great time the rest of the day.
I don’t know why my skirt blowing up in the air today made me think of this, but I’m glad it did. It didn’t matter anymore that I’d had the upsetting dream about her. It didn’t matter that at least once a week, every week, as I walk from work to the train in downtown Chicago, I think about how my mom enthusiastically promised to me when I was 18: “After I get my transplant, we’ll go to Chicago, just the two of us, and walk and go shopping downtown!”
She never got her transplant. We never went to Chicago, just the two of us. But that didn’t matter when I thought about it today. Because after all, she’s with me every day. It’s not in the way I wanted, but she’s there. And today, as I walked down the street, the sun shining and great music blaring through my headphones, she was not only with me, she was laughing with me, nudging me in the ribs, and reminding me:
“Wake up! You’re alive!”