Even in Dreams She Leaves Me Every Time

How do we let go of the ones we’re not ready to lose?

  • "I thought I'd found a clever way around this ending, and yet we're barreling toward the moment that always leaves me smeared and choking on my pillow."
    Illustration by Liana Finck

“Sorry, doll. I was just finishing my program.” My grandmother snaps off her TV set, which has been blaring Let’s Make a Deal at a volume for which hearing aids are not required. We’ve assumed our usual places in the set piece of her rent-controlled apartment, Grandmom curled into the pale blue La-Z-Boy my uncles bought her after her bypass, me perched on the 40-year-old, butt-punched couch cushions with the velveteen flowers I used to flick my fingertips across for the softness. The dusty olive carpet spools out between us, a sea of thumbprint-like whorls.

This is the good part.

Grandmom has just tilted her wide, freckled face my way. The TV has swirled down to a single colored dot behind her head and her hazel eyes go big and bright as headlights trained on me behind glasses printed with the afterimage of her thumbs; I’ve just arrived here in her living room and I have not yet told my grandmother that she is dead.

But it’s coming. That part’s as sure a thing as my next breath. My grandmother died just before I was ready, this is my recurring dream, and this is the rule: I don’t get to see her face for more than a minute before I have to break the spell of reunion. It’s a bittersweet proximity, this teasing glance in which we are near enough to graze the soft fuzz of each other’s cheeks, but we cannot touch.

Grandmom leans forward, as if to pull the lever at the side of her chair, as if to launch her little, hunched body into the kitchen to find me food. I know there’s nothing in the fridge but half a tub of sour cream (full fat, even though she shouldn’t) and a blood-purple bottle of Manischewitz borscht. I know there’s a tin of mandelbrot she keeps specifically for me next to the containers marked Flour and Sugar.

This is a woman who woke from a coma when she heard me, standing by her hospital bed, utter the words “I’m hungry.” She could almost pull it off. Waking from the dead.

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