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I Finally Dreamed of Her, and This Is What She Said

Earlier today I was doing a gratitude exercise online. I was lying in bed with my eyes closed. And as I listened to the teacher guiding the meditation, instead of visualizing energy flowing through me, I began to experience flashbacks of Kara's last months on earth. Like a spontaneous, self-generating montage projected on the drive-in movie screen of my mind's eye. I saw her sobbing in her hospital bed, yet again covered in her own fecal matter. I saw her tearfully asking her oncologist if she would ever get the new in-dwelling catheter removed. I saw her lying on our couch, once again covered in shit--practically the whole couch was covered in shit--asking me to give her a few minutes before I cleaned her up so she could cry. I saw her lying in the hospital bed in our living room, her eyes crinkling with what looked like extreme anguish, yet with no tears flowing from them.

And as these scenes played on the cruel screen, the voice continued to speak euphoniously of chakras and gratitude. Don't get me wrong, it's not like this rift felt like a cosmic prank or insult. I just knew that intense feelings of anger and guilt were overpowering me, an indication that aspects of experience I had pushed outside myself to do the job I took on last summer were creeping back into my consciousness. Apparently, enough time has passed for me to realize truly, that I will never see Kara in the flesh again in this lifetime. And when you get angry at one person or situation in hindsight, that brings up a whole chain of persons and situations, which works the same way with guilt, at least in my experience, manifesting as anger at myself for screwing up at my wife's corporeal expense, for continuing to exist after her, and why are there so many unhealthy people out there who never do anything to get better, unlike Kara, yet they keep on keeping on?

I have weathered the onrush of such feelings before, just not during a gratitude exercise. Which does not say anything against the exercise itself--quite the opposite, because it showed me what I have been suspecting for a while now... namely, that traumatic episodes wrapped in a now-purposeless identity are coming back home.

I bring this up because I continue to struggle with feelings of failure and, I guess the standard grief model would call it "bargaining." Avoiding sadness by speculating about how things might have gone differently if I had only done this or that. I don't buy into this framing, personally, but whatever the diagnosis, or diagnosing model, I do struggle with what has happened over the last five years as if I am back in the high school locker room watching game tape, hearing the coach tell me where I didn't read the play correctly, where I didn't make a hole, where I didn't drive my legs hard enough on the tackle. And Kara? At least when I played football, I played football, skillfully or not so skillfully. Whatever game Kara played, she played it the way she wanted to play it, even if it meant playing a basketball game like it was a hockey game (actually, having played one-on-one against her, this isn't far from the truth!). This driving force of Kara's existence came up many times in our collaborations through the years, sometimes resulting in her making a change here and there, though I'm inclined to say more often not.

For example, when she was drawing for one of our book projects, I often said, as gently as possible, "Hey, Kara, maybe you might want to make the line thickness more uniform throughout." When she first started blogging, I said, "Hey, Kara, you might want to think about search engine optimization and key terms and popular topics." When she worked on a competitive air guitar routine, I frequently said, "Hey, Kara, do you want to win or do you just want to do this cool weird thing? Because I'm telling you (kicking men in the air testicles) (spitting beer badly in the character of a rotting tooth) (dropping giant ovaries from between your legs after dancing around with a fake baby to the music of Doris Day) is probably going to cost you some points at the judges' table." Maybe this is rich coming from a guy who wrote a book called Bodybuilding Spider Rangers, but, and Kara understood this, too, if I were playing tennis, which, to be clear, I can't actually play tennis, I would try to kind of make my motions look like tennis. Whereas if Kara played tennis, it would have looked like an art form I can't even begin to imagine.

Which brings me to a dream I had last night. The first time I have dreamed of Kara since she sparkled on. A group of us had escaped some creepy building and we were walking through the streets of an empty city at dusk. What is now fashionably referred to as "a liminal space." We were moving at a brisk pace through what may have been a gas station at one time, the pumps and shelter removed, just raised concrete slabs remaining. And Kara was walking up and down these slabs, not even looking where she was going, but effortlessly striding forward, while talking to an ex-friend with whom we had been very close at one time. She says to him, looking him straight in the eye: "No, John, you're wrong. I had to do it the way I did it. All of it." As this happened, understanding hit me instantly, within the dream state: She means everything--her art, her health, her relationships, her suffering, her entire life. No regrets, no sadness, just matter-of-fact, as if she were talking about grocery shopping. Maybe with a tad more professional pride than that, but plain and factual just the same. With an undertone of reassurance. For our ex-friend or me observing, I don't know.

Interestingly, at least to me, she didn't look like her faux hawked, sparkly, superhero self in this urban-fantasy-like dream. Instead, she showed up as her earthy, dressed-for-everyday-life self. (Isn't that just like her...) But whether to her superhero or earthy presentation, tennis always looked like tennis, no matter what it looked like to anyone else. And it's not as if Kara didn't have creative insecurities or refused to consider appropriate critical feedback. She just couldn't do anything any other way than what felt right to her. Which meant inventing the thing for herself without regard for whatever the standard measures of success for it might be. I think this type of autonomy is something a lot of people reject or at least struggle with, understandably. We want to be recognized and rewarded, not looked at like, "Huh?"

I'll close with a scene from a movie called Tin Cup starring Kevin Costner. Several people have told me his character reminds them of Kara, because he just can't play the game the way it's supposed to be played, according to the prevailing view.

How do you measure your own success? And is that success what you really want, or what someone else told you to want? I don't believe there is a single right answer for this.

I just know the one that was right for my closest friend.

Until next time.

--Charles Austin Muir

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Mar 29

So very glad you had that dream, Charles. Those dreams do bring understanding! Sending you a hug and prayers for comfort and more understanding to come.

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