I seldom sleep for more than a few hours at a time. When I do sleep I have dreams so vivid I frequently ask my friends if events and conversations really happened. For instance, recently I dreamed a handsome, charming man told me I was perfect and that we loved all the same music. It seemed so real. When I woke up, Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, was standing on my ribcage and loudly demanding tuna. Our relationship is almost like being married except I understand what the cat wants.
The family plans a trek en masse to Hyannis in August for Grandpa’s birthday. He’s a dear, sweet, wonderful man who hangs up on Mom twice a day.
Mom: Take the cab when you go to the VFW Hall. The kids want you to and it’s a gift!
My mother clears her throat a lot and changes the subject when we ask what Grandpa wants for his birthday. She has been charged by him with making sure we kids and our kids don’t buy him presents; she would drop dead of shame if we showed up without them. This situation produces amusing failures. One year she told me he was growing tomatoes on his balcony so I sent him basil plants FTD. A month later, Mom walked around her dining room for half an hour holding something behind her back.
Mom: He said they were too expensive and gave them to me to take care of.
Tata: Isn’t a Basil Problem solved with melted cheese?
Okay, so I blew it. His birthday is a month and a half away and I’m engaging in Preemptive Gift Anxiety.
An aside: years ago, Mamie and I met a man who shouted “Joy!” a lot. Though we feared exuberance might lead him to sprain something, we started labelling our own reasons to be cheerful. When her control freak boss cancels a meeting we have Cancelled Meeting Joy! When extra vegetables show up with her order we have Grilled Zucchini Joy! We sure do sound organized and happy. It follows that we sometimes have Paid Bills Satisfaction, Sick Pet Sorrow and How Could He Grief. So. I have Preemptive Gift Anxiety, and back to the story we go. La:
Daria: You’re going to Cape Cod, right?
This is not a question. I am going, partly because I love Grandpa to pieces and partly because were I to not go, no one would ever find my body. Daria would see to it. That’s the way it is with us: love and death threats.
Tata: I hate going there, though. Can’t sleep in Grandma’s house.
Daria: Too many memories?
Tata: Bad, bad, bad dreams. Awful dreams. Hate that house.
Daria: Huh! [Pause.] We’ll drink!
My mother’s mother and I didn’t get along while she was alive. We argued a lot and made vicious remarks that failed to end in punchlines. Now that she’s dead, I’m convinced she wants my feet off her furniture from the afterlife or she knows I’m not contributing enough to my retirement fund. Last time I tried to stay overnight at Grandma’s house, I took two melatonin and drank two and a half bottles of red wine because someone else drank half the last bottle, and every time I closed my eyes I heard Grandma criticizing my choice of phone plans.
I didn’t sleep a wink. Maybe she was right and I couldn’t be trusted to make simple decisions like where to buy shoes, let alone know the difference between reality and dreams, a distinction philosophers have pondered for millennia.
Next time I see her, maybe I’ll ask.