Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Ways We Miss the Dead

I had a dream last night too muddled to recount. In it was a young man--the friend of one of my daughters. He was shot and killed at a party when they were in high school. In my dream he was playing the guitar and I was trying to explain to a friend that he was dead and had come back only for this one special evening. No matter how I tried, I could not make her understand.

Friday night I went to the mall to buy a purse and to have three dead watches checked out to see if batteries might revive them. One of the watches was my mother's. I had a snappy red leather band put on it along with the new battery, wondering if some day I might wear this watch, its pulse beating on my wrist now instead of my mother's and somehow this might make me feel her presence in my life in a physical way. While I waited for the work to be done on the watches, I walked through the mall and found myself in Sears, walking in the very same aisle I once walked regularly with my mother to get to Miracle Ear.

The other day I told a friend how my father often spoke in tired and true old sayings and how he didn't even have to deliver the whole saying because he'd said them so often that we kids knew what came next.  Up too late? "The early bird," he'd say. A friend got in trouble for running with the wild kids? "Birds of a feather," he'd say.

On Thursday night, my regular night out to hear music at a local bar with friends, the musicians played a song we'd never heard them play, Sweet and Shiny Eyes. Bonnie Rait recorded it and I think Willie Nelson put out a version too.

Your sweet and shiny eyes are like the stars above Laredo
Like meat and potatoes to me
In my sweet dreams we are in a bar, and it's my birthday
Drinking salted Margaritas with Fernando
Young and wild, we drove five hundred miles of Texas highway
To the Mexican border as the day was coming on
We crossed the Rio Grande river and we swore we'd have things our way
When we happened to walk into Nuevo Leon
Your sweet and shiny eyes are like the stars above Laredo
Like meat and potatoes to me
In my sweet dreams we are in a bar, and it's my birthday
And we're having our picture taken with Fernando
In my sweet dreams we are in a bar, and it's my birthday
And we're having our picture taken with Fernando

The version I know best was sung to me live. The way I remember it, it was usually after dinner at my place. Dan would pull his guitar out of its case and carry it back to the table. We'd push our chairs far enough from each other so he'd have room to play.

In my sweet dreams I'm in a bar, there are people playing the guitar, and the dead are back for a visit, their eyes sweet and shiny. We know, just by being in their presence how lucky we are, and they know that they were lucky, in a way, to leave this life first because we were here to hold them, to mourn them, to keep them alive in our dreams, to tell their stories--and they can never do that for us.

Here's an essay about that by Donald Hall from the New Yorker.


37paddington said...

they are lucky they went first because they don't have to feel the hole in the world their going makes. we learn to live with it, day by day. i am looking forward to reading that article. I clicked on it and began to read and realized i need to savor it later, when it is quiet. thank your for it.

Elizabeth said...

Big sighs. So beautiful, Denise. I miss you.

Unknown said...

Oh, Denise. This made me cry. Beautiful.

Unknown said...

Hi Denise - I'm "Unknown" - Let's get together in the coming year. xoxo Barbara

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Elsewhere said...

they were lucky...

yes, they were.

thank you,

Mel said...

Denise, this beautiful post made me cry, but in a good way. It made me look at grief from a different angle, and I found it very comforting, thank you. I had a strange dream after my father died, where we sat on the patio together on a beautiful sunny day. I was crying, because I knew he was gone, but he wouldn't acknowledge his death or my sorrow, or speak at all, he only smiled warmly at me. It seemed in the dream that he was telling me with his eyes that he was fine, because he did not feel sadness, only love. I think of that dream a lot, and try to be comforted by my father's steadfast happiness, in life and in death.

He said before his last heart surgery that he was not afraid, because if something went wrong, he would not have to know, he would just go to sleep without waking. But when he did wake, his eyes never looked more blue or sparkling or joyful. We had the most wonderful conversations in that hospital room. I wish I could remember every word.

I love the idea of your mother's watch ticking away on your wrist with that snappy red band.
I also liked the article and the song very much. Many thanks.
Wishing you sweeter dreams and happy memories to comfort you.