I’ve been dreaming about my grandfather, as of late. This is odd. I don’t normally dream of dead relatives. In fact, I don’t think I ever have. Usually my dreams are all related to my day-to-day life. If I have spent the afternoon with a particular friend, say, then I may dream about them that night. Maybe it is just a recap of what we did, or maybe that friend and I are hunting an alligator, because my dreams don’t always make sense. But my grandfather, this is new, and stress related, I think.

Normally my stress dreams take me back to my serving days. I will dream, for instance, that I am back working at Ruby Tuesday. It is a Friday night, we are short-staffed, and there is a line of guests out the door. I am assigned to “The Pit” and am triple or quadruple seated. I can’t find a pen, so I am taking orders by memory. I have one over-cooked steak, three wrong drinks, two people yelling at me, and no one can run my food that is dying in the window. The hostess just keeps seating my section. I put in a large order for cheese fries and am told that we are out of French fries. Out of French fries?! How is that possible?! Then I wake up sweaty and cold. Yelling something to the manager, who barely knows how to do my job, and slapping my husband’s arm because I think he is the soda machine and it’s sticking again. Oh, stress.

But the dreams about my grandfathers are different.

They are calming, in a way. He is in his wheelchair, the same one he spent the last few years of his life in. We are at our small, three-bedroom apartment, where we lived together. He is in the middle of the living room, his back to the sofa where my mom is sitting while she talks on the phone. I have a small red balloon and I am tossing it at him. He is using his one good arm, the one good arm not taken by Cancer, to bounce the balloon into the air every time I send it over to him. My sister Belinda is there, somewhere, in a Bon Jovi knit sweater and chubby cheeks plastered with blush. I smile at my Grandpa, he smiles back his toothless grin. I tell him not to let the balloon touch the ground. I am very afraid he will forget and let the balloon touch the ground. The balloon gets dangerously close to the ground, and then I wake up.

This is a true to life. This was a scene from my childhood. For a short time in the early 1980s, my grandfather was my best friend, and we played this balloon game every day. In my waking life I know how this dream ends. In my waking life the truth of the events unfold around me like a string of never-ending photos falling from one small wallet. In my waking life I know that the next day my grandpa shouts from his bedroom in the middle of the night. I know that my mother rushes me to the neighbor’s house. I know that I watch the police car pull up first, then the ambulance. I know that by the time the firetruck is there, the news is grim. I know that my grandpa dies in our small, three-bedroom apartment, where we lived together. But in my dreams I wake up before the balloon hits the ground.

Howe and Lydia Shanks, my grandparents. Many moons before I knew him.


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