It’s odd that I know people who do not exist at all. My dream of an old friend who had committed murder sticks with me. The friend doesn’t exist, of course, but he did for a handful of minutes. My mind created him, a fifty something man with thinning hair and three ex-wives. He was athletic as a younger man, but a back disability and a drinking problem ate away at his vigor as time eroded his body. His third wife, the one I remember best, stayed the shortest about of time. Jan stuck with him for just shy of five years and then relinquished him to the bottle again. She called me one night, to tell me he had taken a dare, for a half gallon of whiskey, to jump naked into patch of Yucca plants. He went back first, but struggled to remove himself from the plants, and was horribly cut up by the sharp blades that Yucca leaves are. He got his half gallon of whiskey and he also spent a couple of hours in the ER and lost three days of work because his foot was cut badly.
After the divorce, he rented a room down at the beach and stayed drunk for a week, drinking himself out of a job in the process. Six months later, Jan called me to go down and bail him out of jail, after his third DUI in less than five years, and I told her I was done with that sort of thing, and I still am. She told me she couldn’t do it, she couldn’t see him like that again, and so we both agreed not to do anything about it anymore. A year or so later, I saw Jan at a friend’s house, and we wound up going out, just as friends, and after I took her home, she asked me to come in, and we sat on her sofa and talked for hours about why men drank the way they did, and if they knew the women who loved them felt like it was their fault the men drank like that. The night crept away from us, and I held her when she started crying. I never realized how much it hurt her to see him drunk, how it affected her at her core as a wife, as a woman, and how she doubted herself for it, and how hard it was for her to be the wife of a man who people could tempt into doing stupid things for whiskey.
You knew he was this way when you met him. You knew he would never change. You knew he would only get better at hiding what he did, until it spilled out into the open, you knew he lost to wives to it, and you knew that when you married him. Yes, but I thought I would be enough to fix him. She wipes her eyes as she says this, and laughs, the sound she would make when a female friend of hers said that same thing out loud, and she would laugh at how ridiculous it sounded. Once you reach a certain age, a woman ten years young than I tells me, it’s harder to believe you’re attractive to anyone, and your husband hides in the woods behind the house to drink himself into a state where he doesn’t see you. The space of a few heartbeats go by and I realize what’s she’s said and what she means.
There is no real love here, no future, no promises or intent. There’s only damage done and more damage perhaps, maybe some healing, maybe something shared that will tie two people together in a friendship that might last, but it doesn’t matter, at the time, at the moment, at the point of need, and small hours ticking away. It’s like an emotional stone soup, where everything everyone has is thrown together and then cooked over a fire, and whatever it is, it is better than the stone at the bottom of the pot.
Jan isn’t real and none of this has ever happened. I had a nightmare Friday night, and left lingering in my mind was the life of a person in the dream, Jan’s ex-husband, whose name never showed up, and from there my mind cooked up the rest. It’s very likely I could put them both into a story about a marriage gone wrong, and maybe even use the murder in the dream. If Jan’s ex-husband went to prison for murder, she would have a double curse upon her; the woman whose husband loved alcohol, and the woman whose husband went to prison. It’s hard in the South for a woman to escape the shadow of her husband, she’s a reflection of his worth, and who he is, rather than who she is. Might Jan be written into a story where she finds a place to stand on her own, and take charge of a life she wants to live?
The dream has stuck with me all day today, until I had to sit down and write it out, define it, breathe life into the people I know so well who do not exist. But that too, is part of life, to imagine, to dream, to look beyond the blackness of night and interpret the shadows cast by starlight in the woods. So little there is to see, if your eyes are the only tools you trust, and to me there is more, there has to be, so into the darkness I peer, hoping…
Now, it is clear to me where Jan will arrive. I think she will be a part of a story I’ve been working on, where she’s a survivor among survivors, and she is known to the locals as the woman who lost a man to drink and to prison. Yet, like me, Jan looks into the shadows and see not the darkness, but the light that created the shadows, the forms from which the shadows grow, and at nearly fifty years old, Jan decides to begin anew, and alone.