I had a crazy vivid dream last night, one of those rare dreams that make you feel more awake in them than out of them.
I was travelling to my childhood home. The house was nearly empty. My parents were there, and a couple of my siblings. About a half-dozen of them were missing. They just weren’t there.
At first I was frightened, and then it was made clear to me, in the way it is in dreams. This was a world very like what I knew, but everything here had happened differently. In this world, my siblings had been born into different families, in different circumstances. One of them had been kidnapped and kept in someone’s basement. Another one was enslaved in North Africa, another one was trafficked in Asia. They were on all continents, in different crises. I needed to find them.
It was a long dream, there was action, but many more prayers. I remember at moments, when there was nothing I could do, I prayed hard. There was a feeling of long waiting in my dream—I am not sure if years passed by. One by one, they were rescued.
And the tears springing into my eyes, I almost couldn’t believe it, when the sister who had gone missing years ago (in the knowing that comes in dreams, I knew she had been trapped in someone’s basement in American suburbia but there was no way of finding where) was at the other end of the phone line. I had given her up for dead. But she had escaped, and with the help of a kindly neighbor, was physically safe and healing from injuries. Now she was calling us on our old landline whose number she had remembered all those years. Her voice was sad, but steady with hope. She was coming home on the train, today.
One by one, they were rescued. But there was one left missing – my kid sister, the spunky one with the round face and dark eyes. We couldn’t find her. Finally I found out what happened.
There was a building that looked like a factory or a hospital – very industrial, clean lines, ikea style. A family ran it – they had a big modern mansion next to the building and even bigger than it. The mansion was full of original impressionist paintings. There were many dinner parties there. The man and the woman had a daughter around my age. There were many guests, and I recognized people I knew there: we were all impressed with the lady of the mansion. She was a musician and an artist, outspoken but articulate, educated and very classy. The mansion (and the outside of the other building) were airy and light—with hues of white and pale blue and silver.
The inside of the other building (the ikea looking one) was also silvery white on the outside, but the inside was painted an orange-red. Inside, children were born there and then laid out on tables and the doors were locked. They died there.
The children ranged from preemies to two years old or so – somehow some of them survived that long before dying of dehydration. They were given no food or water, and nobody changed their diapers. The lady showed us around the place, classy as ever. I picked up one of the babies from the table and tried to carry it away, but the guards stopped me and they were all mad at me. They insisted that there were no children on the tables—though they wouldn’t let me take them home. Somehow, the act of picking up one was incredibly offensive.
I tried sneaking off with one, and was caught again. They were upset at me – I had broken some code of conduct and been decidedly unclassy and repugnant (it made sense in the dream). But they tried to be nice to me all the same. I was their houseguest. There were many houseguests – nice, good people I had known from before. Nobody else had seen the children on the tables, though we had all taken the tour of the other building together. There were concerts and dinners and intellectual discussions. Everyone was a little embarrassed for me, I was clearly being obnoxious to the gracious hospitality of the people at the mansion.
Finally I smuggled a baby out that was my kid sister (her name was different though, and she did not recognize me, being born into a different place in this world) —but only from the other building to the mansion. I was still trapped in the compound, and people were watching me all the time. They even watched my food at the table – I couldn’t smuggle any milk to her.
I hid her in different rooms in the mansion, as guests moved from one to the other and maids came – it was like playing a game of chess. I had just come back from an intellectual discussion and a thought-provoking play about social norms that had been performed for the houseguests. I was standing in a gilded room decorated in an updated baroque style, and I caught a glimpse of her face through a crack in the door of the supposedly empty spare room, and my heart ached with a sudden and fierce sense of worth. Her dark, sad, trusting little face was so beautiful it gave me both an overwhelming feeling of courage—I’d do anything to get her out of here – and also fear — that I would lose her, that they would find her outside of the other building and end her existence. She looked about two years old now but could talk, though she was quiet and stoic, and used to suffering. I smuggled her a biscuit, some milk, and a note (apparently 2 year olds can read in this world) that promised her I was going to do our escape in the next couple of days. She folded up the note quietly, and said through the crack in the door, “I can wait and hide, I will be here.” She said it with so much trust it nearly broke my heart.
And then the lady of the mansion burst into my room. She was out of sorts, not herself, in something of a suspicious fit. She had heard me talking to the door. She was fed up with me, and starting searching the room. Her daughter rushed in behind her, apologizing for her paranoid mother being discourteous to me, their houseguest. I had agreed with them about everything during the discussions, but the lady was shouting that I was a sneaky liar.
It was weird—but I was filled with a sense of shame, shame at my shabby self. I knew I was breaking all codes of conduct, and that this was their house, but I also knew that I had to do this. I pretended to look surprised and clueless.
But despite the daughter’s reasoning and apologies, her mother would not be dissuaded: she burst open the door where the extra food and my kid sister were – and my heart sank.
They would see the half-eaten biscuit and the little girl huddled in wide-eyed fear; and even the daughter would be filled with disgust. I was powerless now, they would catch her, and she would die. I had failed her.
The doors burst in – and it was empty. Sunlight flooded the room. My mind reeled in shock I was barely able to hide. The daughter apologized profusely to me, promised me full reign of the house and no more suspicious searchings, and dragged her mother out of the room.
And then I heard my kid sister’s voice calling from some hidey hole in a chipper sing-song voice: “I’m hiding, and I’m ok now, just come and get me soon.”
“I will” I whispered. “I’ll come for you in three days, and then we’ll be free.” I stared at the sunlight. It had been given me. It was as if I had just been given the universe, and it was something more wondrous and wide than…than anything I could ever hold in my mind, even for a moment.
I literally woke up at this moment. It is 6:30 a.m., and the St Louis sky was white and shining. I take a deep breath, and feel like crying and laughing, both. Most of all, I feel like sitting in silence, in a kind of gladness close to tears. My heart feels full with joy and fear and hope all at once, a weightiness like when you hold a fragile newborn on your chest.
Tolkien’s Eucatastrophe, I guess. I know this was just a dream, but it is the sort of thing that makes the whole universe feel big.