[He] brought me in, I took [him] out. Taking someone to their death is probably the most intimate thing you can do, and after that you can never be ordinary again.—Roland RocchiccioFor the past two months I've had a recurring dream. Each time I'm searching for a lost message from my Dad. Each time I wake up in a panic and can't remember the message. Until this week.
Variations on a Dream, Part 1: I'm hiking on a rocky mountain and I almost step on an old plastic nugget of a child's charm (just like the time I almost stepped on a baby frog, but somehow could feel its life's pulse radiating through the Gore-Tex of my boot, and didn't). Instead, I pick up the small golden orb as it gently falls open in my hand. All of a sudden I hear the orchestral introduction to Cinderella by Prokofiev, (something Dad would have loved and been able to pick out just by ear; something I've never heard before, something my dream knowledge informs me is so). It's coming out of the toy.
And as the plastic starts to whirl, I hear a voice over the witty dissonance of the music. "Hi my Dearie, it's Daddy. . . " followed by silence. It was as if, as I was listening, I had already forgotten. The message was playing somewhere, but inaudible to my ears. I shake the trinket and stumble to a tree, collapsing onto a heap of dirt. I've been on this mountain before, it was when I was still an A cup. This is a Midwestern mountain.
When I look down at my hands again, the toy is gone, and the dirt I'm now kneeling on is the fresh earth of the Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol cemetery in Ladue, Missouri. I wake up, my heart in my throat, with the aching feeling that my deceased father is trying to contact me.
Variations on a Dream, Part 2: I'm in a field and in the distance I see Dad lounging in his suit pants. I run toward him, worried he's in pain. But as I get closer I see that he's comfortably reading his memoirs, The Memoirs of a Born Shlepper, and making notes on a yellow, legal-sized notepad with his blue pen (the kind that stains the green leather couches and drives Mom crazy).
He's even got his toupee, plotzed in a playful manor. And that's when I realize he's got everything we gave him in his goodie bag (the book, the pad, the pen, the toupee) that went in his coffin. Now I'm standing right next to him. He looks up and smiles, "Hi my Dearie ..." He opens his mouth to say more, but I'm no longer in the field. I can no longer hear him.
Variations on a Dream, Part 3: I'm now attempting to play voice messages on my brand new Droid Incredible smart phone. In the dream it successfully uses it's intelligence to feel power over me. Every touch of the screen is met with sounds of a galloping run up and down the keys of a piano. My smart phone is laughing at me.
The voicemail icon turns into a red eyeball, a feverish angry orb that won't give me access. And as I begin to shake the phone, the droid eye spins. Out of a pounding silence a message picks up part way through, ". . . it's Daddy . . . " The eyeball is spinning so fast I think the phone will surely explode. But instead the Incredible merely howls, a maniacal laughter that frightens me. I awaken in a panic and nearly push Josh out of bed.
Then this week at work, fully awake, I call into my cell for voicemail and I'm bumped into a vortex of saved messages I didn't know I had. Most were from Josh, loving sound bites I found especially sweet. And as the messages play out, a timeline starts to form.
Early May, when I was in L.A. for work, "Hope you're having fun with Rebecca and your sister."
Mid-May, when I was already in St. Louis the first time when Dad was just diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, "Hi beautiful. I miss you. I think you're wonderful."
Late May, when I had come home to the city, and had no idea I'd be flying right back, hoping I'd arrive in time to say goodbye. The message plays, it's from my sister, but she's pretending to be Mom. "Hi Dollface, glad to hear you got in safe. We're just knee deep into a war film on TCM; made an Ensure shake; miss you baby. Here's Dad."
(Am I dreaming? No, I'm not dreaming. Am I in St. Louis? No, I'm back in NYC, it's after the funeral.) Then, "Hi my Dearie, it's Daddy . . . " It's the lost message, his voice is addressing me, something I thought I'd never hear again. But then I hear Mom in the background with a lilt in her voice, this time it's really her. "Rod, just leave a message, it's only a recorder. A recording, Rod."
"Oh," he says into the phone, and then, BELCH! (One only to rival my Mother's.)
And that was it, except for the unbridled laughter from my sister in the background, a gut cackle I haven't heard from her since. Then it's my sister as Mom again, over-annunciating to the tee, "My Gaaaawwwd, that was sooo Dad. Okay, bye Dear." And now it's my Mom's turn to hoot in the background. "Byyyyyye." Click.
I heard from my deceased father this week. On the two month anniversary of his passing, he left me a voice message on my new Droid Incredible smart-phone. The message was a belch. A belch from beyond . . . And I will cherish it always because it was addressed to me.
Michelle Fadem is an editor and playwright in New York.
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