Item: My dad is my best friend.
Item: My dad's health is not, and has not been, for a very long time, the best.
Without getting in to the details of his maladies, suffice it to say, the idea of my dad getting even sicker, or worse, dying, has been an source of anxiety-to-the-point-of-trauma for me for a very, very long time.
It's bad enough that I can make myself physically ill with worry during the day, using nothing but controlled, conscious thought. What's worse is how much worse (better?) my subconscious is at drawing out fantastic, excruciating, unbelievable versions of these same anxiety-fantasies.
I have had recurring dreams of my father's death/decline for as long as I can remember dreaming. Not the same dream, but the same storyline. (Do other people dream in movies, like I do?) What's truly impressive is the staggering number of storylines my subconscious has come up with to exploit this fear with me.
The one where I lose him in a crowd at a Flyers game at the Spectrum, and the next thing I know, I see his memorial obit picture on the jumbotron.
The one where, in a stunning recreation of an actual event from his childhood, he wanders down the beach and never comes back.
The one where I sit in the hospital with him for days and days and days and the doctors refuse to tell me why we're there.
It goes on. I've forgotten most of them, thank God. I mostly remember just waking up in cold sweats, consciously toeing that line between knowing it's a dream and just needing it all to STOP, and knowing it's a dream and being so horrified by the nightmare scenario playing out that I want to see it all the way through to the end.
And so, today's. I took a nap after I came home from Kentucky, and got served what may have been my most vivid version of this shitshow to date, and a uniquely nauseating one, to boot.
This wasn't a dream about my dad's death, for a change. The thought and fear of that was a bright and pulsing undercurrent for the dream, to be sure, but not the literal content.
We're driving home in a car that is mine, but is not my Element, though it is suggestive of it. We are driving from a vague but familiar point west - Genaurdi's, perhaps. The doctor's office. We are initially driving past Not-Radnor-High (you know how dreamscape geography is), under the 476 underpass at Lancaster & KoP, when the underpass area becomes more urban (a larger underpass area, more lanes, more concrete, more confusion) and more forest (more leaves on the ground, low-forest shrubs in the same concrete-y area) than before. The area merges to a combination of the underpass intersection of Sproul and Conestoga, but with the trailheads of Enke Park/Radnor Chester Road transposed on the SW side of Sproul.
This locations are important, because they're such a familiar, background part of my daily drives back home. That section of Sproul, particularly, is one of my favourite bits of road to drive on. The scenery and landscape are familiar, homey. So it makes what happens next all the more distressing.
The roads become this morph of roads, and they become difficult to navigate. The car is physically having a difficult time travelling over them. The traffic is getting more condensed - not heavier, just as if the roads are merging - and though I don't see it, it feels as if we're fording a river. I'm becoming claustrophic.
I feel the car pass over what might be a speed bump, as we're passed on the left by a large, white, fast moving vehicle. This is insufficient. It's a vehicle that seems to be part DeathRace 2000 racecar, part boat. The part that is exposed to me, on the driver's side left, is the right side of the vehicle, which is essential the white, oversized ridged bilge of a crappy speedboat, if that speedboat bilge had been stretched with the bow and stern on the horizontal, and the bilge pulled vertically along the gunwales, almost to form a sail (maybe a shield) that obscures the rest of the craft from me as it passes by, though I see enough of it to know that it is attached by a simple joint, like an umbrella, or what is used to hold up deck awnings.
It passes us, and between the reflections (or what, I'm not sure, just that they're glaringly bright) and the water it splashes, I am blinded and run off road.
We are in a patch of the underpass underbelly, stuck in some sort of mud-quicksand-grass-island-median. Dreamscape, all things at once. We're being passed by men and women on foot, in costume. Dad gets out of the car, and wanders in to a storefront, one of many that has appeared, and look like they have come out of a set, or Main Street Disneyland. They look faux, false.
I realize that the men and women in costume are part of one of those doofy themed 5ks, and the Disney set we appear to be on is, in fact, a set that has been built on top of these familiar roads. The bilge vehicle DID offroad us over breakers, and we ARE in the middle of the course. And this course IS partially submerged in water, the racers DO have to ford it (there are large black whitewater rafts, though it is unclear how racers are chosen for them. Teams? Fighting?), and run it, and obstacle course it.
The car is stuck, and there is no way back to where we started. The terrain is unpassable in that direction, and we are beginning to be overcome with course runners. I manage to find a race official to explain the situation, but Dad has wandered in to a storefront, something that appears to be a cross between a tailor's shop and a western saloon. He stands on a slightly elevated square of a pedestal, as you do in a dressing room, while women both measure and coo over him. This added measure of sexuality makes me intensely uncomfortable as a watch them drape themselves over him.
The staffer I talk to is at first perplexed - she doesn't understand that we're not part of the race, that we don't want to be a part of the race, that I just need to get my car off of the "lot" and go home. Eventually, she leads me behind the "scenes" - it is exactly like a false front on a set, or a prop front on a stage, and, from the back of a "barn" front, she throws open the double doors and says that I can drive out that way. Even with my narrow Element, the frame is not quite wide enough for me to fit my car through, I tell her. She gets upset, and re-explains that this is how I should leave. We go through this for a while, til she eventually sighs, exasperated, and pushes a wall to the side, like a pocket door.
I go to retrieve my father, and he doesn't want to go. He doesn't protest, doesn't say he isn't ready - and that's the most frightening part. He is acting like someone wholly unlike the person I know. This is the part I find hardest to describe, because none of the actions he is taking or words he is saying are inappropriate or lewd or unbecoming. There is simply this aura of his behavior, his body language, his words and tone, that is distinctly off and frighteningly wrong. His physical form has shifted. He is not the man who is currently my father, but somehow a dream-ish version of him when I was younger, one that I have cobbled together from pictures, but not actually rooted in memory. Not problem-free, but healthier than he has been in a long time. Brunette, not grey. And I am surrounded by people who cannot see this, who do not understand why these behavior changes, along with the physical retrogression, distress me so much.
I become increasingly desperate to collect my father, to leave this situation, but in between spurts of me not being able to find him, being overcome by runners in (superhero) costumes, by the spray from the obstacles, I can't. And no one will help me.
"You're being a stick in the mud," they tell me. "He's just discovering himself. Maybe this is his true self. Maybe this is how it's meant to be."
But that is not my perception. The actions and interactions I see my father performing are so wrong (on him) that they are shaking me to my core. I am on the edge of hysteria, as the people around me ignore the years of relationship that my father and I have built, telling me that his current actions are the way he really is, should be, wants to be. And that way is rude, childish, fedorable. He stands in front of a fountain like the one in Triangle Park, Lexington (onyx stairs), with his brown hair and enormous tortoiseshell glasses, and looks at me. Looks past me. Like he's not interested, or like I'm only something he imagined, once.
I can only try to explain my terror, in that moment, of someone who is being told that their loved one's cancer, or mental health, or broken limbs, are "natural," and the treatment options that are usual for them are hurting them, that they should be free to be their "true" self. That their suffering/pain/distress is actually pleasant, a release. Or like when a child goes missing, and someone suggests to her friends and family that the reason they ran was a reason so far from the realm of known possibilities that it is actually offensive. (This did, in fact, happen to me several weeks ago. Maybe some of that is bleeding through, here.)
Maybe I'm seeing a version of my father that never was - of a person he wasn't able to be, because of his illnesses holding him back. But in the moment, all I can see is my dad, my best friend, who is acting like he hardly knows me, like he doesn't care, and like he has no responsibility to get back in the car, and back towards the time-sensitive treatments that allow him to continue being my best friend.
I go from person to person, trying to get them to help me bring my dad back to me. Every one of them chides me, asking how dare I pretend to know what is best for him, how I can deny him his true self. "Look how happy he is," they say!
All I can see (feel) is how close we are to that timeclock running out on when he last took his insulin, what he looks like when he goes in to shock, what will happen when medicine can't keep him patched up and running. hHow powerless I feel when bad things happen to him and I can't help him. I can't do anything. Nothing I do or want or say can save him. He stands by that fountain and grins.
I wake up, per usual, drenched in cold sweat and tears.