beyond reason and dreams

I dreamt of him the other night, the friend we lost last August. I could feel his strong body standing close to mine, could see the anguish in his brown eyes. In the dream, he hadn't died yet, but we all knew this was his plan; we all knew he had made up his mind and there was nothing anyone could do. In life, I wish I'd known how deep his anguish went.

With his dream-time coming to a close, I wanted every minute of him to be mine. But I knew there were others who felt the same, and I knew also that he needed space to himself, this friend-brother-son of ours. And so, after embracing, he kissed me and I released him to say goodbye to the others he loved. As I rode the streetcar to downtown San Francisco (I dream of that fair city almost nightly), I saw him riding inside a trolley headed in the opposite direction. Looking quite young again, his face thin and clean-shaven, his small ears and nose holding dark-framed spectacles, he was alone and weeping, his face buried in his palms. I understood then how hard his life had become.

Later in the dream we were together again for one final moment. I held him as if he were my child, then kissed his chest where in life a gorgeous tattoo had arced. The tattoo, a quote from Voltaire's Candide, had read, in French:

All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

But in my dream, his tattoo had vanished, revealing a smooth, blank expanse of skin, the one he had been born with. That was the last I saw of my friend-brother-son; he had said goodbye to me in dream-person.

I awoke melancholic, and yet yearning to go back to sleep and dream of him again. In dreams, we see people who aren't reachable, can hear and touch them. I understood how selfish I was to be glad to see him alive again, knowing that he suffered, and yet it pains me to think he's not out there living the life in which he seemed to revel.

While seated at a cafe later that morning, Michael and I saw Hector, one favorite of his former photo students who have kept in touch in recent years. As Hector approached me from behind, I watched Michael's happy surprise. I remained in my seat and leaned into Hector while he slung his arm around my shoulder. Resting my head against his side felt safe, familiar, like it did when I had embraced my friend-brother-son in the dream that morning, and in real life.

Later, I recounted my dream to Michael, told him how sad it made me and how much I missed our dear person. As I described my dream, Michael's eyes turned pink, and watered. Between us, Calvin was up to his usual antics—drooling, fidgeting, cackling. Watching Calvin, I pondered why a boy like him—intellectually and physically disabled, legally blind, incontinent, nonverbal, epileptic, autistic—goes on living with so little tangible purpose, goes on making me sometimes resent him, making me sometimes wish I were free of him, while another life, one with so much genius, vibrancy and potential ends so tragically early.

But then I remember the phenomenal essay, A Life Beyond Reasonwritten by my friend Chris Gabbard about his son, August, who was not too unlike Calvin. At the end of the piece, Gabbard, who has just written a memoir with the selfsame title, describes his son:

August ... is the most amazing and wonderful thing that has ever happened to me, for he has allowed me an additional opportunity to profoundly love another human being.

August died a few years later when he was just fourteen.

Having reread the essay, pausing on that last paragraph, I reconsider the despair Calvin often brings, and the grief I feel from having lost my hurting friend-brother-son to suicide. And instead of feeling sorry for myself, I feel grateful for having been able to know and love them deeply, and to have had the chance to tell them as much, in person and in dreams, past and yet to come.

Photo by Michael Kolster

1 comment: