I had a dream last night. It was a pretty cool dream. At first, I’d hoped it would be a flying dream. Because I’ve always wanted to have a flying dream. I hear they’re great. But alas, I never get those.
Oh, I’ve had lots of falling dreams. And I’ve been eaten by lots of alligators. I’ve also frequently been found standing in front of my third-grade class wearing nothing but goosebumps. But flying? Never happens.
In the dream I saw you. You were tall, lanky, with auburn hair, wearing the same shirt you died in—blue with a green stripe. Your same shoes, too. Old school Nikes.
It was bizarre seeing you in such an outdated outfit. When you died, those clothes were the apex of high fashion. Today you look more like Forrest Gump.
I’d never been to a universe like the one in my dream. Where was I? There was nothing but grass and sky for miles. The pasture was rich ochre, the sky was French Ultramarine Blue. It was like a Monet, only without the haystacks.
I was starting to get the sense that wherever this place was it was more ancient than the young place I came from.
When you noticed me you didn’t do much. You didn’t even move. You just waited. But eventually you recognized me because you started waving. And it wasn’t a small wave, either. It was a big, huge, country-come-to-town wave.
I started jogging toward you. I immediately forgot about trying to play it cool. I was sprinting.
And mini flashbacks kept coming to me. Even in this virgin land of grass and sky, I still felt a twinge of pain when I thought of you. I was unprepared to feel pain here. The Gaithers never covered any of this in the manual.
I was remembering things like the time when I was a boy and I overheard the county deputy tell Mama that your body was unidentifiable because of the way you died, and how the county had to use your dental records to identify you.
Then, I remembered the family gathering in the living room to break the news of your death to everyone. And I remember my reaction. I wanted to run. I wanted to move my legs. It was purely an animal thing. I can’t explain it. I needed to fire up my quadriceps, and feel some cold air in my chest.
So I raced for the front door. I tossed up the latches. But my family pinned me down and kept saying, “Ssssshhhhhh,” like I’d suddenly become like a crazy person.
But I wasn’t crazy. I was just a little boy. Although the two aren’t so different.
But anyway, I got over you. I went on to live a full life without you. I missed you, sure. But many times I didn’t even think about you. I got married. Finished school. I had fun. I’ve been to Disney World twice. Dollywood once. I’ve had back surgery, a tonsilectomy, various colonoscopy exams, etc. Believe me, I get around.
But I’d pretty much given up on ever seeing you again. No offense. I still love you, but you’d become a piece of my imagination. Your face had disappeared and your voice had been wholly forgotten. Sometimes I even forgot the color of your eyes.
But in this dream it was like you never really died at all. Somehow I caught a glimpse of the life you’d been leading up here in the clouds. And I could tell that you had lived a rich, full life in this new place. Maybe even ten full lives. Fifty lives. Hundreds. I don’t know.
You were happy up here. Here you had your own place, lots of friends, hobbies, weekly choir practice, all-you-can-eat catfish, endless sunshine, a backyard as big as a continent, wild horses, free-range dinosaurs, mastodons, no cable TV news, limitless Snickers bars, and of course, Elvis lived right up the street.
I don’t know how I knew all this, but somehow I did. That’s how dreams work, I guess.
I don’t mean to get melodramatic here, but when I finally reached your arms, you wrapped them around me and it was the best feeling ever. You held me the way you used to do when I was your boy.
I felt the same emotions I had that one time I turned a double play on first base. You threw your hat onto the ground, kicked your leg in the air, and shouted, “Weeeeeeee doggy!” just like Jed Clampett.
Or the time we hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail together and stood on an overlook to see an infinity of pine-covered mountains. You started singing a song from “Oklahoma” like a big goofball.
My dream felt just like those times.
You squeezed me until my back hurt. And I squeezed harder. All of a sudden I could smell your hair. And the scent from your shirt. I saw the color of your eyes. The dimple in your chin that you never could quite shave. The skin tag on your left eyelid. The coarse texture of your hair. You came back to me. I remembered every centimeter of you.
Then you wiped tears from my eyes, took my hand and, without waiting for me to speak, we leapt straight upward into the air. Like birds. Like two sparrows who had both been through a lot, but still survived.
And I had my first flying dream.