I want to tell you about the dream I had last night. I dreamed that it was your wedding day and we were together getting things ready. Your wedding dress needed to be pressed so I called all the bridesmaids together and made one of them do it. Dream Elizabeth is bossy. Then your husband’s plane was delayed. I asked if you wanted to push the wedding back a day but you wanted to wait and go ahead after he landed. I knew we weren’t going to be finished until way after midnight and then I woke up.
What do you think my dream means? We used to play dream interpreter but I don’t think I know what you’d say anymore.
People come and go a lot in my line of work. Some stay two or three months, others leave after one, and even more leave sooner. Some are asked to leave and others just don’t come back. You come into work one morning and realize that there are two dashes next to their name on the night roster. And then there’s a black garbage bag full of clothes, shoes, books, and medicine in the laundry room with their name on it. You’ll keep it for a while, longer than you should, maybe, but eventually the bag has to make room for another bag.
Sometimes these absences are hard. You have favorites, of course, even though you probably shouldn’t. When Mr. _____ left, you cried as he hugged you and promised that he’d come back to volunteer. You still haven’t heard from him. When Mr. _____ left, he left behind the bible he asked you for. It’s sitting on the bookshelf in your office, a reminder of the kind of work you do.
When I grieve, I think of an embarrassing dinner date with a man who did not want to date me but did not want to say so. He’s married now. When I grieve, I think of a million opportunities lost, a million paths I did not take.
Last week, one of the residents of our long-term housing program vanished. He didn’t bring the mail on Wednesday and on Thursday, he didn’t come for dinner so I asked if anyone had heard from him. I didn’t see him on Friday and when I came into work on Monday morning, I had a note on my desk telling me that he’d been discharged.
I remember how he would bring me the mail and check out the new donations to the clothing closet. I remember his obsession with the London Fog brand and his protectiveness of me. I remember his joy when the Patriots won the Superbowl. I remember how he would gang up with Doug to tease me while fixing dinner. When I grieve, I remember that eventually we run out of second chances.
When I grieve, I think about you. I think about my father, who arguably loves you more than he loves me, and I think about your mother, who I love like my own. I think about the times I dreamed about you and all the times I didn’t. I think about road trips and loud music and four-hour-long phone calls. I remember swimming pools and painting toe nails and packing before graduation and movie theaters. I remember a million things I didn’t say, a million opportunities to pick a different ending to this story.
And then I try to think about something else.