Dreaming a reality
Six months or so after I separated from my husband, his father died. He had been ill for about 18 months with mesothelioma so his death was not unexpected. What was unexpected was being banned from his funeral by my mother in law. This man I had known for 16 years and was grandfather to my daughters. This man who I had accidentally walked in on whilst he was showering because he’d forgotten to lock the bathroom door. This man who had never said a harsh word to me. This was the man I was not allowed to say goodbye to.
My in laws were British if that helps explain some things. Ironically my new partner hails from England but his parents are so much warmer and friendlier than ‘being British’ might presume. My ex in-laws were cool and formal to begin with and things rarely changed went up from there. Both my own family and theirs had two daughters and two sons but they couldn’t have been more different. Upon arrival at my siblings’ or parents’ house, you were greeted in the driveway, escorted inside, your parcels taken from your hands to be replaced immediately by a drink and something to eat. Our impromptu drop-ins were greeted with a smile, a cup of tea and an offer to stay for a meal. I couldn’t imagine any of my family moving further than an hour’s drive from one another let alone half across the world as my in laws had done – twice.
When I left my husband, I’d not moved very far at all from the marital home. I had read research that linked close geographical proximity to the ease of separation for the children. In fact, we had even done some joint counselling when we first separated to put in place strategies for making it smooth for our young daughters. Being brutally honest, I never meant to leave my husband permanently. I wanted some space and time apart so that I could hopefully rediscover what it was about him that attracted me in the first place. Domestic routine had clouded my eyes. I wanted to date him. I longed for the simple experience of seeing him across the street and wanting to call out to him. I wanted there to be things I looked forward to tell him about my day. I wanted to be excited. I didn’t think it was too much to ask.
The small rented house I had moved into was in the next street. Without fences, the children could easily come and go between the houses. The fall of the land mean that neither house looked out directly onto the other so some privacy and distance could be had. This was the first time I’d ever rented a house in my life. I was in my early thirties and living on my own, albeit with two young children half of the time, for the very first time.
Soon I had managed to secure some part time work and as it turned out I was working the day of my father in law’s funeral. Serendipity was in my corner that day, as the carport at my new accommodation fell down crushing the unpacked boxes and detritus from moving that had been left underneath. If I wasn’t working that day then I certainly would have been home, car parked in the carport as it wasn’t as if I had anything else to attend – like say a funeral.
My two primary school aged daughters had free choice as whether or not to attend the funeral. Although it was a scheduled school day, they had been sat down and explained what was going to happen, who was going to be there and what their options were. They had been sheltered from their grand-dad’s illness until it was impossible to keep the secret any longer. We had wanted them to continue to have positive interactions with their grandfather rather than be worried about every little cough. They were both still young and this was the first death of a close family member that had really any significant impact on them.
Separating from my husband was one of the hardest things I had ever done, so this was a time of heightened stress for all of us. I endeavoured mostly just to get through each day whilst shielding from daughters from how strung out I truly felt. I wasn’t sure what normality meant anymore. I mention this because, with hindsight, I can see that small things had an amplified impact on me emotionally. The day of the funeral came and went and I did what I usually did – went about my life in a numbed state. The next day came and went, then another day and another day as they have a habit of doing.
I don’t recall precisely the first time it happened. I was most likely running errands at the local shopping strip. I was going about my business with my head down, a habit I had recently developed to avoid making eye contact which would lead to unwanted conversations. This was a dangerous place. I might run into other school mums who would adopt the concerned face whilst asking ‘how are you…really?’ nodding with their head to the side to indicate sincerity all the while hoping for some sign of a break down to gossip about later at the school gate.
Further ahead on the street, portions of beige or grey clothing and balding head were glimpsed through moving bodies. Immediately, I knew logically that it couldn’t be my father -in-law as he had been buried months before. That didn’t stop me pushing past people trying to get a closer look. If I could just get closer, then I’d know. Stepping left and right, two paces ahead, then stop, wait, now to the left. It was like playing a three dimensional game of hop-scotch to no avail. I stopped in my tracks, breathing heavily. At only five foot tall, it’s hard to locate people in a crowd and I’d lost him.
What made me think it was David? It’d odd how little can be seen of someone we know so well for us to recognise them. It’s not just what their hair colour is, or the style of clothes they wear or even their gait. I’m curious about the idea of doppelgangers. If there is someone or multiple some ones like me out there in the world, do they walk like me? Talk like me? Laugh like me? Or only look physically like me? Maybe there’s a punk me, a nerd me and a hipster me. That’s quite a comforting thought really. Seeing David’s doppelganger in the same suburbs was too coincidental surely.
This would happen a few months later and months again after that. I kept trailing the Davids I saw, going into shops I had never been into and down streets I’d never walked. I began to get used to it and no longer found it strangely confusing. I began to just smile to myself knowing that I was seeing something no one else could see. In fact, I think I began to find it mildly comforting. Maybe we don’t disappear into thin air when we die after all.
Life went on and ‘us little three family’ as I began to call us got on with things. School, work, newly formed habits of how we spent our time filled out lives. Six months down the track, we moved out of the temporary rental property and into our own proper home. I’d come to realise my pipedream of wanting to date my husband was something that only I had wanted. He didn’t want to date me. He wanted to still be married to me in the same manner it had previously been. He couldn’t see the need for change. One year on with divorce formalising things and life started to develop its own rhythm.
It was probably five or so years later than I had the dream. I have always loved my wild and crazy dreams though I’ve always felt I’m really the only one who finds them interesting. Dreams are like illnesses, few people really care enough to want to know the details.
In my dream, I was in a crowded public place. It may have been a small town festival in a park or field somewhere. It’s one of those places that feel familiar even though I can’t tell you exactly where the place is. There were many people surrounding me and him, though he was at the same time separate from them. Slowly I approached, as I had done so many times in real life, though this time I was confident it was him.
It was one of those golden autumn afternoons with the sun low in the sky. “David?” I asked as I reached out for his shoulder, though I already knew it was him. He turned to face me. The sun was behind him, its glare making it difficult to discern any facial features. I moved around so I could clearly see his face. The fading sun formed a corona around his head.
He was smiling at me with that warm smile he always had. He was looking down towards me taller than he really was in life. He didn’t say anything to me. That’s not what this dream was about. He looked the same as he always had for the 17 years that I knew him. His photo-reactive glasses half tinted in the setting sun, a small breeze lifting his comb-over in an almost comical way. His short sleeve business shirt that he wore over his white sensible singlet.
I started with what I knew I was here to say.
“David, I just want to thank you for all that you’ve done for me and my daughters. I am so glad that I had a chance to know you. You were a fabulous grandfather to the girls and they are better for knowing you. I am better for having known you. Thank you”
There. It was done. I turned and walked away. I had had my chance to say what I needed to.
I awoke with a smile on my face and a calm start to my day. Rarely did I ever wake early and refreshed in the mornings but that day I did.
Never again did I see my father in law in the street. I didn’t need to.