Today I dreamed of him.
It happened during those moments when I am neither in deep sleep nor fully awake – I call it the twilight zone. Many creative ideas come to me when I am in that frontier between sleep and wakefulness, but then, if this was a dream – and it was – I must have dozed, for how could I otherwise explain those vivid, too real images that crossed my mind?
I almost never dream; or, as experts say, I must dream like everybody else, but I rarely remember having dreamed at all. Why on Earth did I all of a sudden dream of him, of us both? The only explanation has to do with my recent diving into my “treasure boxes”, looking for old papers and photos, and coming across a photograph of us both, taken more than forty years ago on a spring day, so unlike this one that it almost makes me cry. It was sunny and warm; today it’s stormy out there, a grey, dark day with little light, water pouring down from the skies as if it wanted to wash this world out of every dirt, war, famine, disease – if only it could. Back then there was no worry, no anxiety, only life at its best, we were in love and felt immortal. And our smile was captured forever by the camera, a smile that will outlast us, to the day when someone finds those old boxes full of papers and throws them in the thrash because they no longer stir any memories.
In my dream it was dark. Somehow, I know it was winter, because it was an early evening. I don’t know how we had found each other after so many years, or which year it was – I only know nobody had a mask on, so it must have been back in the days of the old world, the one we have lost. We sat outside, on a terrace near Avenida de Roma, one of our favourite places of long ago, but we weren’t cold.
He had looked for me, I think, or maybe we met by accident; still, I somehow knew he wanted to be with me on his return after so many years away. On the other hand, he looked drawn, mysterious, uncomfortable. I wanted us to share things about our past, what had happened during these years apart; I told him about me, my children, my divorce (you came to my wedding, remember? As I to yours), my career… as for him, he kept quiet, saying very little about how his job made him travel the world; he admitted he had come to see his family. When I mentioned having heard his father had passed away, there were tears in his eyes, and I changed the subject.
Suddenly we were walking down the street, as if he were taking me to my old home – like he used to. So strange again, because I haven’t lived there for decades. Still, we walked in silence, and when we got to the huge square, near the public garden where our happy photo was taken, we stopped at a red light and he said:
“I have a daughter.”
I froze. A mutual friend had told he had no children.
“Yes,” he said, expressionless, as if he were talking about the weather. “She’s six years old.” He took out his phone and showed me a photo of a beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed little girl. Thoughts crossed my mind at unimaginable speed. Such a blonde girl? Must have taken to him, as his wife was dark, with a gipsy look about her. But then… six years old? Impossible, his wife must be sixty by now… he seemed to read my mind.
“It’s not her daughter. We divorced long ago. I met this girl – much younger woman, in fact – when I was living in New York.”
I recovered my wits. Nothing out of the ordinary, after all. Simply what so many men do when they reach a certain age and want to recover their lost youth. They find a younger woman and, for a while, live that illusion, only to wake up to the hard reality, sooner or later, that youth is something that is hopelessly gone, forever, never to return. Just like Henry VIII, I thought, whose marriage in his forties to a young girl of seventeen left him with a bitter taste in his mouth – and the girl, Catherine Howard, without her head.
“So,” I said, half joking, “you are quite brave, beginning a family in your fifties.” If I were truthful, I would say crazy, but I didn’t want to get nasty. “Will you be going home soon?”
He did it again.
“It depends… on when the baby is born.”
Again, this was unexpected.
“Baby… what baby?” I asked.
“She’s having another baby these days,” he explained.
Now you’re really crazy, having a baby at sixty, I thought. But, again, kept my thoughts to myself.
“I say, she must be mad at you for having travelled at this time, and not being with her while she’s having your baby,” I said, reproachfully. “I know I would”, I added with a smile, trying to make it sound lighter.
Even in the dark of the street, he gave me a forlorn look, and replied:
“You know nothing about this. We are not together anymore.”
I looked at him in disbelief and saw a hard look on his face, as if he were the owner of absolute truth and I had committed some sort of perjury. I was suddenly reminded – I wonder why – of the last verses in the lyrics of “Hotel California”, that, no matter how wonderful the music, leave you with a taste of terror in your mouth, when the singer realizes he will never be able to leave that place.
I looked at him again, my old sweetheart, then my friend, then nothing for so many years, and saw his distorted face. I was about to shout when I realized he was disappearing from my sight; we were both vanishing and then I was no longer there with him, on that square by the garden where we had spent such happy, sunlit moments. I was back in my bed, the rain hitting the window and the wind howling like the beast in “Hotel California”.
I wanted to know more. I turned and tried to fall asleep again, but in the end this never works. You cannot go back to a dream, as you cannot go back to the past. After a while, I gave up, and went over the dream again in my mind, trying to make any sense out of it. I didn’t.
What a strange dream, I concluded, and woke up to yet another dull, grey, rainy day. So unlike the carefree, happy, sunlit days of the past, it might be in another world, another universe.