This weekend I dreamed I was talking to my dead sister.
It was raining, and I had just learned I probably had COVID-19, and she and I were watching fireworks in a massive crowd, in the front row of a natural amphitheater of grassy steppes over a roiling river. The river was flooding, cutting off a highway, and one by one, cars revved their engines, zoomed forward, and plunged into the flood. They bobbed on the water, and teams of people reached out with ropes to pull the floating cars across the road, and onto a waiting platform.
A yard ahead of us, chunks of soil and grass crumbled, dropping in muddy chunks into the torrent below.
“I shouldn’t be here,” I told her. “Mike has COVID, and…”
“But you haven’t had a positive test yet, right?” she asked. And I knew I shouldn’t be there, with so many people, sitting in the rain and watching the fireworks. But in the logic of dreams, I also knew we were perfectly safe on a crumbling slope of dirt, above a deluge of cars and filth and debris, and I shouldn’t leave her. I had a limited chance to speak with her. It was more important to stay.
Only I lived in the house at the top of the hill, and it would only take me a few minutes to run home for a mask and come back, and she would be easy to find. We were in the front row, over the churning water. I told her I would find her. She took a drag on her cigarette and nodded. She told me she wasn’t going anywhere and began to talk as though I hadn’t just announced I was stepping away.
She said something so her, so passively wise, something that could apply to many situations, a little droll but so profound and I thought to myself, “Don’t go, remember what she’s saying…”
But I was coughing, and weak and knew I should get my mask, and whatever she told me vanished as I scrambled up the muddy slope. The gathered crowd ooh-ed and aah-ed as explosions sounded in the sky, and the cars beneath continued plummeting into the water.
I threw open the door and ran into an old Victorian mansion full of tiny labyrinthine rooms lit by the yellow glow of sconces on the walls. Mike was there, in a bookshelf-lined parlor, in a hospital bed outside the kitchen door, having tested positive for COVID-19 but fine to appearances. Both hands gestured effortlessly.
“You can’t go back,” he told me. “You know you’re sick. You’re sicker than me. And even if you haven’t had a test, you can’t go back there.”
“But Shana’s waiting,” I said.
He was rational and right, and his voice was joined by the chorus of my in-laws and daughters, telling me to stay and play games and have a cup of hot tea, and the rain pounded harder at the windows.
There were fireworks in the distance and Shana was waiting for me, but she was used to me disappointing her, and I told myself she would be fine, but I didn’t believe it. I wanted to go back to her. I couldn’t remember what she had said to me as I left.
I woke up, the sun barely breaking the horizon, and in my first second of consciousness knew I had missed maybe my last chance to speak with my sister again, even if it was a dream, and went back to sleep in the hope I could find her and she could say something else, and I could hear her voice and see her smile.
When I woke up again I had had no more dreams. My head was as stuffy as though I’d spent those hours crying, and as I blew my nose, my heart broke. I couldn’t smell her, a mix of Brittany Spears perfume and clove cigarettes, but I could swear I smelled the petrichor, the mud, the gunpowder and ozone in the air, the mahogany of the house on the hill.
And if I had asked myself in the dream why it was so important to stay with her, it was that I knew she was gone. Deep down, when I couldn’t smell her, I knew she was a ghost.
And I am haunted by the things we never got to say.
*In case it wasn’t clear, nobody here has coronavirus.
Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences in the Trump Era is out now!
You can read more about losing my sister treatment here: An Unfiltered and Exhausted Reflection on My Recently Deceased Sister
Read my most recent post here: Restlessness and Radiation in the Rain
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