Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Dreams Are Made of This

As I write this, it's not the Eurythmics song I have running through my head (though it's probably running through yours now, sorry). No, I am singing Patty Griffin's song "Forgiveness":

It's hard to give
It's hard to get
It's hard to give
But still I think it's the best bet
Hard to give
Never gonna forget
But everybody needs a little forgiveness

The other night I dreamed of forgiveness.

In my dream, I ran into my old college boyfriend in a hamburger joint in our college town. I have not idea why, in the land of dreams, we met up in that particular place; I don't think it's a restaurant we ever visited together during our year-long romance as it was a little too far from our university campus. And I don't think it's a place I'm likely to visit now, even when I head back there to visit friends when I am in Texas for the upcoming Christmas holidays, given that I am a pretty strict vegetarian these days. Still, in my dream, there we were, our contemporary selves, bumping into each other at Fuddruckers.

I saw him before he saw me, and I took a moment to take in his grow-up self. Somehow in my mind, whenever he crossed it, he had remained that angst-ridden, angry 20-year-old. But here he was, a self-assured grown man. He seemed shorter than I remembered him, though that's probably just because I had made him into such a huge monster over the years. This was one of those dreams filled with visceral emotion. My stomach knotted with nerves, fear, and dread. I didn't want to face him. I debated trying to hide from him as I had once done at a bookstore when I nearly ran into him a few years after college. But I didn't. In my dream, I did what I have not done since the nasty break-up that lasted longer than the relationship. In the dream, I faced him. I called his name - first and last - trying to sound as light and carefree as possible. He looked up, and as dawning recognition came upon him, I could see his mind taking in the adjustment of what 15+ years have done to me, just as I took in the growth in him. His response was something along the lines of, "Well, wow. If it isn't Rachel Rev."

We spent a few minutes catching up. What was he doing? What was I doing? Specifically, what was I doing there? I assume he told me about his life, though I can recall nothing of what he said (probably because in real life, I have no clue). I told him I was living in Canada, recently hitched, and that we (I nodded to Craig over at our table with my friends) were "home" visiting for the holidays. When I told him what Craig does professionally, he made some comment/joke about me and my scientists, and I thought (or maybe said) that, no, he and Craig were the only scientists I had ever dated. The conversation then went a little deeper. Was he happy? Yes. Was I happy? Yes, indeed.

Then I saw the sadness in his eyes. And he brought up the messiness and nastiness and hurt and rage and sorrow in our shared past. Again, that trepidation and worry gripped my gut. This was why I had been tempted to sneak out without approaching him. Ow, I really didn't want to go there. But I acknowledged that yes, it was there, in our past. "I am so sorry," he said. I am sorry. Words which I had never heard from him. Words which, in my memory, had never come across his lips. Most likely, they were words uttered at one point or another, but never accepted by me, since I did not wish to forgive him. I wanted to hate him. I wanted to create him in the image of a villain - an unfeeling, uncaring, heartless bad guy. You know, memory is funny that way.

But there they were: "I am sorry." It was hard to hear them. Even in my dream, it was difficult. Because accepting those words would mean acknowledging the pain, walking through it again, even if just briefly, and then, finally, letting it go. I was tempted to laugh it off, to say no apologies were necessary, to say, "You know what, I am who I am today because of all that we went through. And I really like where I am. It hasn't always been easy, but I'm a better person because of it, so no worries. No apology needed."

Yes, there is truth in such a statement - the choices I have made have led me to my current place in life and the heartaches I have endured have helped to shape me into the woman I have become. Yet despite those truths, apologies were necessary. And not just his. I also needed to own up to my faults, to the hurt I brought to him. I needed to face my shadow side and acknowledge that I had was not a passive victim in our turbulent romance. I had said hateful words to him. I had employed volatile mood swings to manipulate him. And I had schemed and connived to bring out the rage in him. Not exactly behaviours I am proud of. Definitely not the me I would want revealed on a job interview or first date. It's a side of myself I have rarely revealed to my closest friends or even my life partner. Only this man has ever really known that version of me. This was exactly why my apology was necessary, not only his. (You know, I think my apology was harder for me to accept than his apology, since it meant accepting the part of myself I have kept under lock and key for so long.)

In the dream, I was tempted to laugh off his apology, stating it wasn't necessary. And instead, I accepted it. "Thank you," I replied, "I am sorry, too." He thanked me. And he forgave me. I forgave him. And then he went his way. And I went mine. Back to my table where my Beloved inquired, "Who was that?". I replied softly, "A guy from college. I'll tell you later."

I dreamed of forgiveness. The man in my dreams was a boy I had loved, a fiend I had hated, and now a man I had forgiven. Had I actually forgiven him? Had he forgiven me?

When I awoke, I felt forgiven. But I didn't feel all light and free. I woke up feeling as if I had been crying for hours, that type of crying that sucks the life and breath out of you, leaves you gasping and dry-heaving with puffy eyes and blotchy skin. Only no tears had been shed. No, I didn't feel light and free. I felt raw. Like my heart had been scoured and boiled, scrubbed on an old-fashioned washboard, and slapped against the rocks, then twisted and squeezed and wrung out, and then strung up on a line. Clean, but whipped. Forgiveness is really hard work, even in dreams, I guess.

As I reflected on this dream, I was surprised that I had dreamed it at all. You see, I thought I had "dealt" with all of this years ago. I thought I had dealt with the pain, the anger, the heartache of that tumult. To a large extent, I had. I mean, I've developed the capacity to be in healthy, life-giving relationships. I am able to communicate like a grown-up (on most days). I have stopped blaming this man for my commitment issues and have instead recognized that perhaps my fear of commitment, concerns with the institution of marriage, and ambivalence about having children were all contributing factors in the mayhem of our love. So, yeah, I had really "dealt" with it.

But I don't believe I have ever forgiven him. Or if I have ever forgiven myself. And I know that I have never said, "I am sorry" to him.

The other night, in my dream, I did. I heard his apology. I offered my own. I forgave him. And I forgave myself. It was only a dream. But as I awoke to the new dawn, I knew I had finally forgiven him. And while I may never know if he has forgiven me, I have finally forgiven myself. And in that, I experience absolution and release.


  1. What an incredible experience! I hope it will continue to be a blessing to you. And perhaps you'll run into him one day and can tell him about your dream.