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Sometimes, Holding On To Your Dreams Isn't All It's Cracked Up To Be

Family sometimes seem a dark and heavily material business. These people who escort you through your early life from your violent and wet beginnings grow, too. They change. They become things other than what you would have recognized at three and seven and sixteen.

the back of grandma's head

You grow and change and become things, eating up monstrous possibility, and there is just so much of that possibility for you that you maybe don't notice the slow slip of time against your grandparents' skin, how their flesh whithers against their fingerbones, how their eyes start to lose potency, how they now lean on your own mother to sort out the confusion of early senility.

It comes clearer, though, at thirty-seven, when brown patches and fine lines start appearing on your own cheeks. No one's face, not even your own, reflects the photo albums you hold in your head anymore, and curiosity takes on a morbid edge you'd almost prefer not to explore. It was this morbid curiosity that had me asking how my maternal grandparents were doing at a family supper the other night. It has been a long time since I've been home to visit.

"Your grandmother has more of those dreams now," my mother said.

My grandmother has these dreams at night, and the part of her brain that knows how to tell them apart from reality has whithered like her fingers. She believes them.

"What has she been dreaming now?" I said.

"She said that even though Hannah puts on a brave face when she visits, she knew that Hannah was very sad. Your grandmother was really upset."

"What? Why?"

"She thinks that Hannah is slowly dying. And then she asked me how your aunt and uncle were handling Hannah, because she also thinks the doctors told them Hannah was slow when she was born," she said.

"But Hannah gets nineties in school."

"I know."

"So, grandma thinks Hannah is both dying and a mentally handicapped person now?"

"Yes. I told her that Hannah is absolutely fine, but she's still worried."

I laughed. I couldn't help it. Hannah is smart, driven, musically talented, and spends an evening every week hanging out with her increasingly confused grandparents. I wondered if she knows what her grandmother thinks.

"Remember how she thinks she has a purse to give to me and feels bad because she lost it?" I said. "I'm sorry for laughing, but it's just so ridiculous."

"It's okay. I know," my mother said.

"Does she forget this stuff eventually? Or does she keep believing it?"

"She remembers."

My grandmother's waking and dream lives continue to collide. I want to believe that some of the dreams are good, but I only hear about the dreams that play out her fears and insecurities, now made real to her in waking life. Part of me hopes, and it seems strange to say so, that she experiences a disconnect from emotion now, that there is no longer much depth behind her worried hand-twisting. Otherwise, she can only lament the sadness of lost things and dying grandchildren.

Last years should be better than this, but it makes no difference. They aren't.

She is the only person I know for whom I wish no dreams at all.
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