For the first time in years, I’ve been having nightmares. Last night, I dreamt about my brother, who lay bloated and dying in a hospital bed. I stood at a distance, watching him suffer, and was consoled by another version of the same brother, who was well. This brother told me it was diabetes, which had progressed too far. All the while, a machine dispensed pain medication in steady, beeping doses.
I had a similar dream in Vancouver, in which I was present at my brother’s funeral. Again, I was at a distance, this time because I was the funeral director. I wanted desperately to approach the casket, to see him and to say goodbye, but I couldn’t leave my post at the back of the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my mother, who once worked as a cleaning lady, sweeping the floors. My father was absent.
It hasn’t been an easy autumn. I can feel myself churning, but not like I usually do. This ferment goes right to the core, to those rancid depths that are such an awful cliché. Still, the questions circle like gulls: What’s good? What’s necessary? What is possible? Then, inevitably, the worst of them: How fucked up am I?
Needing someone, I called my father tonight. We talked about the weather and the price of cigarettes, then he felt compelled to tell me that he didn’t think I would ever finish my PhD. Instantly, I hated him, for this and for every wound before it. For the Christmas presents he refused to open, year after year, as my brother and I waited expectantly. For the report cards he ignored, drawling, “So what? You always get As.” For not taking my brother to the hospital when he asked to be taken there, and for abandoning him when he was too sick to go. For not leaving my mother until it was far too late.
I realize that I’m tired of forgiving him for everything he could have done differently, but chose not to. He didn’t have to say it out loud.