I saw my daughter in a dream last night, only I don’t have a daughter. I don’t have any children at all, in fact. But I saw her nonetheless. Without question, that was her (she, I know). I wish I’d been able to see her face—she couldn’t have been more than five. What a time five is.
She was with me, so I guess I saw both of us, though I was within myself, so far as I could tell, and we were in a grocery store, a dim and grayish establishment, as if most of its lighting were natural but also refracted or filtered, coming through big windows at the front and fading toward the back where electric light took over, doing its best, like in an old supermarket or neighborhood grocery in a mature part of town, not one of our megastores or even one of our mini-megastores with their safely stylized décor and great fluorescence. It reminds me now of Marullo’s in The Winter of Our Discontent, a bit like that, for those of you who’ve been there, mixed with the country “supermarket” I visited with my dad and his family some years ago in Amish Pennsylvania, a modest, spare, and agreeable place only tenebrously concerned with the times. They sold fresh milk and butter and eggs and meat, I think, and my dad thought this spectacular, Mr. Let’s-Get-Off-The-Grid.
In a store like this my daughter and I—how strange it is to say that—had just emerged from an aisle with a silver shopping cart of the sort you’d find in such a place—heavy, with a cracked plastic handlebar cover (blue, I believe) and wobbly front wheel. We were turning an arcing left onto the main thoroughfare at the front of the store behind the cash registers, presumably on our way to check out, or leave, because the cart was empty. The checkout area was murky and vague, a dark mass like low mountains at dusk, or an intentionally oversimplified stage prop meant to help establish just a hint of setting without being a distraction or busying things up too much.
She was beside me, to my right, and a little behind, the little one, lagging, or dawdling, or being quietly ornery—I’m not sure. Maybe all, considering she was mine. Whatever it was, I picked her up and placed her directly in front of me, between me and cart, barely breaking my slow stride as I did so, just reached over, scooped her up, and set her down. And she immediately carried on, no fuss, no theatrics, no words, not even so much as a glance. I had righted her course and she instinctively accepted the adjustment. My sweet little robot.
In the split half-second as I began to bring myself back upright after setting her down, one of those tiny in-between spans of time that are so often thrown away by the events they link together unless imbued with surprise magnitude by their very ordinariness, their plain, beautiful absolutism, my eyes settled on that black-brown wild, loosely curly hair, falling down over those narrow little shoulders, and I adored her. Just adored her.
Look at that, I thought, it’s mine, this funny little creature is mine, and I completely identified—comfort, familiarity, pride, belonging, protectiveness, and the security of our Lilliputian spec of world because it was ours and couldn’t be anyone else’s, a unique constellation of genes and humors and stars and timing, absolutely irreplicable.
Struck by all this, I leaned forward, instead of standing all the way back up, and pressed my chin on the cracked cart handle to keep it moving just enough, keep our caravan going now that it’d been recalibrated, and I reached down with both hands and gently tickled her sides through her thin white shirt, making her wiggle and giggle and emit that warm, contented understanding we tend to call “love.” I could see it and smell it and hear it and feel it. That’s my girl, I thought, and in that thought I awoke. My girl.
* * *
Whenever I have a dream like this, so detailed and specific and personal and real, which is quite often, I wonder: is that what it will be like, what it could be like, what it could’ve been? Could that be my daughter, I mean really be, somehow, sometime? Could that have been my daughter had any number of things gone differently before? Who would her mother be, who could she have been, do I know her now? What direction was I looking in time, or was I looking any direction at all? And where the hell did all that come from? I must be reading too much Knausgaard. Maybe I wasn’t even me.
I have not had this dream before, nor anything like it. My dreams do not repeat, although certain very general themes will—fleeing, escaping (elaborate escapes, that is), searching, and so on. Never am I just falling or running or floating or some such ambulation or movement. Never is it just a single, isolated act or vision or verb. There’s nearly always a scenario, often detailed and complex, sometimes rather fantastical and strange, but most times very realistic, alarmingly, startlingly realistic, leaving an impression on me at least as great as anything lived in waking and often greater. And I almost never see faces, though I will see words, and all manner of other details, both precise and peripheral, as peripheral as the indistinct sense of a produce section off to my right as we turned, as precise as the warm smell of my daughter’s hair when I leaned down to tickle her. I just wish I could’ve seen her face.