A surprise visit from my father.

Let me just say up front that my father died almost twenty years ago.  Still.  I dreamed about him Tuesday.  And tonight I went to my second Bryant Park writing workshop and there was my father again, spilling out in the bit of memoir I wrote.  Here’s my piece:

Walking in Bryant Park, I pass a bed of begonias.  Soft shades of glossy pink, deep green leaves.  Nothing about them like my father, and yet there they are, triggering thoughts of him.

It’s an easy stream of consciousness path to chart:  “Does Ruby Begonia ring a bell?”  It’s a punchline on the Flip Wilson album my dad loved.  “Does Ruby Begonia ring a bell?”  She didn’t.  Not for child-me, anyway.  Flip would say his line and my father would laugh his basso-profundo laugh.  I always laughed, too, but I never got what was supposed to be funny.

That Ruby Begonia joke illustrates perfectly my perception of my father: I went along, but never really got him, never understood what about him was supposed to make sense.

And this is in my mind right now because two nights ago, for the first time in more than ten years, I dreamed him.  This is only the fifth time he’s shown up in the twenty years since he died.

The first three dreams came in quick succession, not long after the funeral, like pushing me to accept his death, accept that I was never going to get the answers I’d hoped to find in him, from him.  The fourth one was like a strange little gift years later — his shirt hanging on the back of my door.  As though he’d come home to me, as if he was still with me, still mine.  And that felt good, but was frustrating, too.  He’d come home, but without any answers for me, without offering me any way to understand.

Tuesday’s dream?  I don’t know.   We were in a kitchen — our kitchen, but not one I’ve ever known in any home of ours or mine.  He was stretching his back because it hurt.  He told me — not gently — to move because I was cramping his range of motion.  So typical of us both, that.  Him not knowing how to talk to me, me all up in his way trying to be close, trying to see him.

Tuesday’s dream is more us than any of the others, more us than those last strange visits with him after he knew the cancer would kill him.  So us.  Which is maybe the point: maybe it’s taken me these long twenty years to get to a place where I can live with the truth that we just are who we are, that I’m not going to see him, that I won’t get any answers, that Ruby Begonia is never going to ring a bell.

Tonight’s workshop was in the park, instead of our in-case-of-rain location from last week.  And the park is a great and strange place to have a writing workshop.  It’s weird to have the workshop leader miked and basically giving the workshop to anyone within range of the amps.  And it’s weird to have people who aren’t part of the workshop standing along the sidelines watching us write and listening to us share our writing.  Weird, but not in a truly off-putting way.

As I said in my post about last week’s workshop, if nothing else, going to these workshops is making me write in spite of myself, and that’s a good thing.  Gotham Writers Workshop has some free summer things going on, too.  Maybe I’ll check them out.  Maybe going to free writing workshops will be the secret to getting me back into my writing this summer.


12 thoughts on “A surprise visit from my father.

  1. I like that your dream had no gloss…I find I dream my father (who also died of cancer) in the same way: it’s never the happy, shiny “us” I once yearned for, it’s the usual fussy, fretting “us,” unable to communicate clearly enough to resolve the simplest dilemma. you’re brave–I don’t think I’d have the guts to join a workshop, never mind read my work to Bryant Park! But it’s great that this has got you writing again…do try to surround yourself with writers who are at your level; that’s not snobby–the higher the bar, the harder you’ll push yourself…


    1. Thanks, Zetta. Tonight’s workshop left me feeling particularly snobby, but I enjoyed myself all the same. I’m not sure what dreams I would have expected to have of my father. I guess I wouldn’t have expected to dream of him at all (silly, yes). I like that we get to have these little visits from our pasts.


  2. This was interesting. Thank you for sharing it with us. When my beloved grandmother died, I thought I’d dream about her all the time, but it’s only been twice or thrice in six or so years, and very brief dreams at that. They seem like gifts, like treasures. (Earlier this week, I dreamed about a beloved ex-coworker I haven’t seen in years. When I woke up, I thought, “Gosh, it was great to see Ben!” It was like we’d been hanging out.)


  3. OK, I have to tell this; forgive me. My most recent dream about my grandmother: I’m standing in a circle of elderly white ladies, as if at a tea party, and we’re playing a game. A fancy ring has been submerged in a teacup full of boiling hot water, which is being passed around the circle. My grandmother is one of the ladies in the circle, and her presence is generally benevolent, but she never says anything to me directly, nor I to her. Each person tries to fish the ring out of the water; the one who will get the ring is the one who happens to be holding the cup when the water is cool enough to put one’s fingers in. I hear the ladies whispering, conspiring–they are trying to make it so I am the one who will get the ring. One of them says, “It’s only fair, since it’s her grandmother’s ring.”


    1. Interesting dream! I like that your grandmother is in the group and yet still the ‘game’ of passing the cup has to happen, that she can’t/doesn’t just give you the ring out right.


        1. Definitely has magic! It’s one of the things that I love about writing, and one of the things I was glad to hear Miranda (the workshop leader) talk about: don’t worry about ‘the message’ or ‘the point’ of what you’re trying to write, just write and be surprised by what you discover when you see what you’ve written.


  4. juliebrock

    Wow, what an interesting (as the midwest peeps say when they don’t know ho to describe something) or surreal experience – the dream, the realization, and the park exposure…I would feel a tad bit exposed as outsiders were let in, but does it matter? Hmmmmmm.

    wonderful writing as always, and I am sitting thinking about people who have passed and their position in my living life – usually on the outskits, but not out of the sight line.


    1. The passerby-listeners is a little strange (tonight even more than last week … perhaps because there were many more people stopping by than last week), but it turns out to be ok in the end.


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