My father points to an area of our living room, though it doesn’t seem to fully resemble the place I grew up. Not as I recall it. I wonder what he is doing here, why he is standing in our old home, why he is interested in anything to do with renovation, which is utterly unlike him.
He is inspecting a beam, an exposed French beam at that, as if we reside in an old Parisian flat and not New England Victorian. He runs his hand over the pitted surface of the wood, and scans the room. He glances at me and raises an eyebrow, waiting for my response.
This is the moment I become aware of dream, and that time has tangled itself into an inexplicable knot.
As in any lucid dream, I long to take advantage of my ability to direct the action. I hope not only to stay awhile, but to lead the mind’s journey wherever I wish. I sense this is an opportunity to reconsider my definition of home, to linger with my father who has been gone for 23 years, and to reconsider my choices in a different light – in the mix of places I once lived, and the complicated quality of my rootlessness.
This is a time “before” – before my parents split, before my father passes away suddenly and too young, before the spaces of my childhood cease to be accessible, before my own marriage begins in hopefulness and ends in confusion. Yet I sense that my sons are missing, and I resolve to change nothing that might chance their disappearance from my waking world.
This is hardly my first dream of disorientation or imagery of home that doesn’t match verifiable belonging. Yet the message to myself is clear: Wherever I make my home, whatever renovation I undertake in my life, my children must be part of the equation.
My father is speaking to me now as an adult. We are debating the payoffs for remodeling kitchen versus bath, and the optimal timing for resale of the house. I explain that I have knowledge of the future, and he listens intently. I gaze at the ornate wallpaper my mother once chose that surely reminded her of my grandmother, also deceased, who adored all things French.
God is in the details (or France)
Now I am reappearing in the south of France in the manner of departure and arrival that is the assumed transport of dreams. I stand in a light and airy bedroom that was mine, briefly, when I was 15. This is my other “home” – the country where I have always felt welcomed and at ease, acutely aware that I am a foreigner, but at home all the same.
Madame loves her Louis XV chairs with their feminine, curving legs; her toiles, her china, her crystal. There are ample and emphatic touches of reds and golds, the preferred colors of my host family. And beyond the window are the walking paths through old Nice, the glistening Mediterranean, the bounty of blues in the sea and the sky.
Everything is impeccable yet livable – with teenagers in the house, there is no other option and certainly no soucis – no worries whatsoever when it comes to the quotidian and to pleasure.
I am tickled finding myself here, and too swiftly I am gone again, standing suddenly in Rouen where I once spent the holiday season, in my forties.
It is winter and I am strolling the flower market with a friend.
Paris: the heart’s home
To the extent that I am taking myself by the hand from place to place – each location, a happy one – I cover considerable ground. My stay in Normandy is short-lived, perhaps due to the cold. Next I find myself indoors in a sprawling flat in the Marais. The furnishings mix worn blues and deep purples with an eclectic collection of the owners’ antiques, contemporary paintings, and house plants that flourish; they spill off mantels and rise tall in large pots.
I know this space and love it: I am writing in my journal on a day bed by the window; I am leaning against pillows in downy ivory fabric; I am stretching my legs out on a leopard cover. I am content in a rare sensation of belonging though this apartment is only borrowed for ten days, the residence of a painter who has left on vacation.
This is my most cherished Paris – with its bustling streets below and the uncanny quiet of these rooms – mine, just long enough for me to become my most productive, most creative, most fully functioning self.
I am home.
In the dream, in the sweetness of seeing my father, in entertaining the option of reconstructing an environment that was not happy when I was a child, even as I light in temporary spots that were – I feel moments of healing. I tell myself this is helpful, and also ask myself – what if my dad were still alive? What role did his death play in my decision to marry and the chain of events that followed?
Travel to another time and place
As with any ruminations on toying with time – as if we could – would we really chance a Butterfly Effect that might negatively impact those we love? My boys are the product of my marriage; I will not tinker with the past.
My dream reminds me that I still yearn for a place that feels secure, impregnable even; this is a longing that has plagued me since divorce and layoff, since the loss of rooms that are striking in their absence – an address I called home for a dozen years – home to my babies, home to my marriage, home taken in the roller coaster ride of a tumultuous economy.
I do not share my fears of homelessness with my children any more than I share the dissonance I experience in the city where I reside.
Instead, I prescribe myself the usual Rx whether it is possible or not: a week or two in Paris, or simply a night.
Strangely, in this dreaming, I give myself exactly that – the sensation of traveling home, even though “home” continues to be a confusing and changeable concept – home with its references to those I hold most dear, to the past and its reinterpretation, to awareness of the present, to the country which laid claim to my deepest thinking and feeling self, so many decades ago.
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