Of her letter, Rae Hallstrom states: I remember writing poems and making up stories to entertain my friends and cousins while in grade school, and it is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. But time has a way of killing dreams. First authority figures warned me against it, then economic necessity forced me to put my time into other things. When I woke from the dream described in this letter, I had no idea what it meant. Three days later it dawned on me. The baby is the creative life I want to lead. There are four novels (babies) that I have started but not finished, researched but not fleshed out. I do not want to lose them, but the fleas of life–to quote another writer–interfere. I wish I knew the way out of this dilemma.
Rae Hallstrom lives near Cleveland.
September 1, 2009
- Theresa Williams
- c/o The Letter Project
- English Department
- Bowling Green State University
- Bowling Green, OH 43403
As I write to you this morning I am still in the fog of a dream that I know someone (my own subconscious?) or something (those late night grape tomatoes in Caesar salad dressing?) insists I remember, and record.
It was one of those restless, panicky, sleepless nights that seem to be haunting me lately. So many grabby, attention-getting things were popping in and out of my mind, one more urgent or niggling than the next. At 2 in the morning, I surrendered, put on my eyeglasses (the old frames that are more comfortable than pretty), some old sock-slippers kept from a hospital visit because they might come in use, and one light after another in succession, first on, then off, until I made my way to the basement where I do the work that matters.
My desktop computer is there, with easy access to email and online auctions and all sorts of odd news about ships and vacuous spoon-fed celebrities, and the life-saving video clips of cats that make the heart feel hugged.
I opened a new document and at the top typed: To Do List, and began listing the jumble of things that dropped from my mind, like gum balls from a round globe fitted upside down onto a coin operated dispenser, and jaw-breakers seemed to roll out one after the other, first red, then green, followed by white, yellow and blue. My list was 4 pages long before I ran out of quarters or the glass jar had emptied or more likely, jammed. But nothing else tumbled out, so I saved the document, made my way back up 2 flights of stairs, and fell asleep the moment my eyes closed.
Then I dreamed a terrible dream.
It was the Olympics, presumably the Summer Olympics, because outside there were grapes on the vine in a place I’d never been, unless my mind clipped its dream scenery from a recent visit with friends to a bar at a winery. Or the dream may have taken place in Greece. Why not Greece? Home of the Olympics, and in this dream, a balmy but conspicuously absent Mediterranean air. The ground was turned but dry, like the real winery in Ohio on the day we were there, and it was full of small rocks and hard chunks of dirt so that walking over it hurt the soles of the feet, the lumps making their presence known through the lace-up athletic shoes that I wore. I was stumbling down a hill toward a bus unloading tourists, and I meant to warn them of the danger even as I knew the danger was not for them, not for anyone but me.
Earlier I had been trying to manage a baby and a dog, and somehow find my way to the coveted ticketed seats in the bleachers, to watch one of the Olympic competitions. I have never had the fortune to possess Olympic tickets in real life. The dog must have entered my dream from the Late Night with David Letterman show. He’d featured dogs flying, then diving, into a regulation dog-diving pool. I did not recognize the dog in my dream, or the baby, but I knew her, and knew with a mother’s protective instincts that she was mine.
I picked up the baby and carried her close to my chest. I felt her weight and it was right, and soothed me. Then the dog caught my attention and I put the baby down. When I finished tending to the dog, the baby was gone. I searched for her and each time except the last, I found my baby and picked her up and felt whole again. But when I woke up, in this dream fog, my baby was gone—taken by a monster—and I knew I might never see her alive again.
Being awake, I went to the bathroom, then descended the stairs to the kitchen, and made myself some tea. It was Bigelow’s Raspberry Royale®, and it came in a bright pink foil-lined packet. I tore a leftover spelt, oat, buckwheat and blueberry pancake in half, and ate it with a drizzle of real maple syrup, because the fake stuff made of corn syrup and artificial flavoring is not worth the bottle it’s poured into. I ate standing up, feeling as if I did not deserve to sit down, and I puzzled over the sense that the dream was what was real, and the pancake and the tea and the fact that I’d overslept was not.
Have you ever had a dream like that? A dream that won’t let go?
My real babies are grown and in college, but the baby I’d held in the night was real in another world, a world I might never know without her, and she was lost, and I wanted her back. I was distraught, until a thought floated into view and I wrote it down. It was a message from the world where the touch and the smell and the heft of a baby rivals the ones that teethe.
Then I trudged downstairs and opened the previous night’s To Do List. The first line on the list was: Write Theresa for The Letter Project.
I am always doing things that other people judge, because they do not produce what others might call real-world-results. So I did not plan to begin writing to The Letter Project, because there were other things on the list that anyone would say were more important, or necessary, which is the same thing to most people.
Why is it that everyone does not know the necessity, and the urgency, that is art?
Before I knew it, my scribble had filled pages, and crept into margins sideways and upside down. When I finished, I typed the letter into a new, untitled document, because in its original state no one but me stood a chance to decipher it. At the end, I remembered that there had been a dream message from my bad night of sleep, or night of bad sleep, but the content of the message escaped me.
I dreamed I had written it down, or maybe I had written it down, and maybe that would be enough. In my nightgown and sock feet, I ascended the stairs to my kitchen and returned to my now-cold cup of tea, and found the slip of paper, where I had brought the message into the daylight for everyone to see. Here is what it said:
“Don’t take my eyes off my baby. She is just learning to walk.”
Best wishes on your new semester, Theresa. How I wish I were there, learning from you!