Thursday, May 13, 2010

To sleep, perchance to dream

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream

The hospital room is narrow, more like a veterinarian's office than a surgical theater. Light pours in through a triangular skylight. There is not enough room for anything more than the single bed where my aunt lies, head bald from months of chemotherapy. There is not enough room, but still we are there, my dad and I at the foot of the bed.

He is enormous, in this moment, my father, and it is natural that we are standing there together though he has been dead 23 years. He watches his sister on the bed, her eyelids fluttering. She is only sleeping right now. The surgeon enters and the room with no room makes space for him. He is an African-American man wearing a frayed straw hat.

"Sam," I say, although I have never seen Sam.

Sam worked on my great-grandparents' farm in South Carolina. My dad and his sister played with Sam against their parents' wishes. "Sam was always good to me," my father said before he was 23 years dead. "Especially after I had polio."

Sam and my enormous dad look at each other. Sam nods, says something I don't hear, and leaves. Dad takes the anesthesia mask and places it over his sister's mouth and nose. I hadn't noticed he'd moved away from me. He is now at the head of the bed and I am now alone at the foot. My aunt's chest stops rising and falling and my enormous father becomes a young boy. His sister becomes a young girl. He runs, no limp, and she chases him, catches him, and they fall against the hospital wall which collapses into the thick woods behind their childhood home. The little girl and the little boy hold hands and skip into the woods as if they were going berry picking.

I can't move through the wall that became the woods. I am anchored in the tiny hospital room. Sam appears from  behind a tree and the little girl and the little boy run to him and he holds them and the wall becomes wall again and I can no longer see where they are, where they are going, my enormous father who has been dead 23 years, my aunt, who is, on this side of the wall, not yet dead but moving closer, and Sam, who I have never known on this side of things.

The monitor in the small hospital room beeps steadily. I am at the foot of the bed near the feet of my aunt. I touch them and they are not yet cold, but the wind is coming. I touch the wall. It does not move. My own breath comes through the earth, my feet, my belly, my lungs. My own breath, for now, still rooted on this side of the tenuous wall that holds us all.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.


Peg said...

I've been in that small hospital room right before my husband skipped through that wall and on past my vision. How beautifully you've written that experience.

Anonymous said...