Living with Abandon

A man once wrote, “Nothing is as boring as other people’s dreams.” So I’ll not pester you with mine. I’ll only give a bit of context: for as long as I can remember, my nightmares have been about failing others. Someone I love needs me, and I cannot get to them to save them. (Eldest child, lots of responsibility, Virgo, blah, blah, blah.) But now my dreams have shifted. I am the one in danger. I am being tortured by an unseen man, and there is nobody to call on to save me. I awake sitting bolt upright, gasping, covered in sweat, and determined not to go back to sleep. My bedroom smells of burning hair, I feel the pile of fingernails stacked up on the bed, my arms and legs are covered in bruises and scratches.

Ho hum. Here’s the thing: when I am done with the night terrors, I realize that for the first time in my dreams I am responsible only for and to myself. No one is calling for me, and I have nobody else to count on. 

My greatest fear has always been abandonment. It doesn’t take a lot more than my one semester of Psych 101 to understand why; I suspect many people who lost a parent as a child share the same deep-down dread of being left alone. Again, how very prosaic. But this has been the year that this fear of mine jumped out of the closet and shouted “boo!” First, of course, the Big Abandon: widowhood. (Shit, I really hate that word.) That shows up in myriad ways every day: from realizing I can’t get something off the top shelf to talking out loud to myself to waking up half expecting to feel somebody else in the bed. But that’s not real abandonment, because Mike didn’t want to do it. He fought to stay with me, kept subjecting himself to horrible treatments to stay with me, kept saying he just wanted more time with me, and then he lost. That’s not abandonment, that’s surrender.

There have seemingly been other--sometimes frankly harder--abandonments this year as well, big and small. Belongings have gone missing, things I can’t find because maybe I gave them away without thinking or put them someplace odd when I wasn’t paying attention. I’ve been urged to take political action, but my motivations and passions seem to have dimmed and I just don’t have that same spirit driving me forward anymore. And people have disappeared.  While some new and wonderful friends have stepped into my life, others have stepped back; and even as I recognize that this is normal in human relationships I can't help but feel keenly aware of those who have vanished. For many small moments, I have been forsaken.

But here’s the thing: perhaps what my dreams are trying to tell me is these aren’t really abandonments either and that even when the going gets rough I'll suss out a solution on my own. Maybe these missing things don’t serve me anymore, or maybe they will be important to me again someday but just not today. Maybe these things and people that have gone astray just don’t need me in the same way they used to—I don’t have to try to save them—and I don’t need them, and so they won’t show up in my sleep to save me. And while I may suffer greatly in these dreams I do (thus far, at least) always escape, even if only by waking myself up. I may be scared to death, but I am ultimately capable.

Last night I carefully wrote out the things and people I'd lost this year, and even more importantly how that made me feel.  A sort of cri de couer, if you will. Then I went to a friend's house and I threw the lists into a bonfire.  I watched them go up in flames, and I said good-bye and made my peace. I can only hope that my nocturnal nemesis went up in smoke as well.

Maybe “abandonment” is actually just “independence” wearing an unfortunate and ugly old coat. And to that horrid man in my dreams: if you are still lurking about, be warned, I got this all on my own and you are going down.