Of Dreams and Nightmares

I don’t remember my dreams. I wake up, remember I had a dream, but cannot remember what the dream was about. On my first night home, after a good second round of chemo for Dylan, I had a vivid dream that I could not forget. I am not a believer in dreams as a way to tell the future, or as a way to write novels about Vampires living in Forks, Washington, but I do believe that our subconscious is an uncontrolled mess of emotions and unwound ideas, and eventually, no matter how much we suppress our inner world, these things climb out of their dark basement and into the light.

The Dream: It was a windy night. I could hear the wind whistling by the house as I prepared to sleep, but it was not the type of wind storm that would blow the garbage can over and knock down trees. When I woke up in the morning I looked out of the bathroom window and something looked like it was missing. At first I could not tell what was different, but when I called my wife’s attention to it she said, “The garage is gone.” She was right, nothing was left of the garage except the concrete pad. There wasn’t a stick of wood left standing. I walked out to where the garage used to be and could see that all of it had blown into a swamp between my house and our neighbor’s house. (For the record, there is no swamp near my house.) As I got closer, I could see that my garage had blown into my neighbor’s house and destroyed it. The neighbor family was stuck in the swamp mud up to their waists. I went into the swamp to help get them out. Then I woke up.

I don’t know what the dream meant, but it stuck with me.

Dylan was feeling good on our first morning home so I decided to run into work and spend the day fixing the various problems associated with me being gone for a month. It was good to be back in the classroom and I ended up spending the full day teaching. When I got home I was exhausted. My throat was raw, talking for seven hours at an elevated level will do that to your throat, as the school year goes on your body adjusts to the demands of teaching, but my body was not ready for the shock of a full day of talking and there are not too many places on the planet as germ filled as a public school so deep down I was worried about getting sick.

The next day I took Dylan to get a blood draw at the local cancer clinic. The results were great. His counts were up and he was doing better than expected. We had another blood draw and an appointment in Seattle on Friday but after the results came back we were told that we could do the draw at the local clinic.

Things were looking good and it could not have happened at a better time. My daughter, who has spent the last month being strong and independent, and I had a concert to attend in Seattle. Initially, when I okayed the concert, I assumed I would be in Seattle at the hospital and would just pop out with her to the show, but now I was heading back over to Seattle to see Bambu do his rap thing (concert review upcoming). It was a late night and by the end of the evening, I wasn’t sure if my sore throat was an allergy, or turning into something else, but since Dylan was healthy it wasn’t too important.

On Friday, I slept in and my wife took Dylan to do the blood draw at the clinic. Around 11 AM I got a call from the clinic saying that Dylan had bottomed out. His immunity was now zero. He needed a transfusion of red blood and platelets. After a few hours of trying to arrange a transfusion nearby, the nurse at Swedish decided that we would be better off driving to Seattle to do the transfusion. Before leaving I asked if we would be done in time to get home on the last ferry around 1 AM; they were certain we would be able to make it. Dylan wore a mask to protect him from breathing in germs, but I wasn’t completely honest about how I was feeling. I didn’t feel sick, but my sore throat hadn’t gone away and the driving a late nights were catching up with me. I drove to Seattle with Dylan and my wife knowing I should probably have stayed home.

Once we were at the hospital, I wore a mask and made sure my contact with Dylan was minimal, but as the evening approached it became more and more clear that we were not going to make it home that night. It takes three hours for each bag of red blood and about a half hour for platelets. It was around 8 PM when the red blood started. I knew staying in the hospital room with a mask on all night would not be great for my already sleep deprived body, so I announced I was going to go home. My wife agreed to stay the night with Dylan and I would get them in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

When I woke up the next day, I felt worse. To spend three hours in the car with my son would be unforgivable. One of the doctors at the hospital said to Dylan, “Any illnesses at this point could kill you.” I called my dad and arranged for him to pick up Dylan and my wife. I cleaned the house, sanitized every corner, and then hid in my bedroom away from Dylan.

Last night, around 11PM, Dylan knocked at the bedroom door. His temperature had gone over 100.5 which was the signal that he had to go to the hospital again. My wife got up and drove him to the emergency room in Port Angeles. I sat awake in bed texting my wife, remembering how six weeks ago she had taken him in with stomach discomfort to the same hospital. I remembered the crushing words coming over the telephone, “They think it is cancer.” I remembered how everything changed in an instant. I spent the next two hours hoping Dylan wasn’t getting sick just when everything seemed to be going so well.

Then I got the text, “Everything is good, we are coming home.” Relief. Total relief.

In My Own Private Idaho there is a memorable scene where a barn is dropped on a lonely road in a desolate part of Idaho. The barn smashes into a pile of broken sticks. Sometimes I have thought of how to explain what the last six weeks have felt like and it is that image that continues to return to me. tumblr_msrf4t8ugl1s1lhtpo1_400

In an instant life happens. We don’t get the chance to stop things and figure them out. Borrowing from Kierkegaard, we live our lives forward and can only understand them when looking backward, so when a barn is dropped on our lives, or a dream blows away the garage, we don’t have time to figure out why, we just have to live.

26 thoughts on “Of Dreams and Nightmares

  1. I hate “dream stories”. But they happen, and they do unleash emotions. Yours is a good one. The image of that barn is haunting. Stay strong.


  2. Thinking of you all often! Prayers and love thrown your way. The barn/ garage is where you store everything… Sometimes what you think is important to hold onto gets demolished and your neighbors will help you out when you are up to your knees in sticky situations.


  3. Hopefully under the house is the wicked bitch of cancer. I understand living your life forward. I could never articulate it the way you are able to. Glad Dylan is still home and you didn’t get stuck at omc. ❤️


  4. Ugh…on top of it all, to worry about infecting your son, good god. Soon spring will really be here and hopefully those seasonal colds from your school will abate. The image from “Idaho” is great, I’d forgotten that…like so many bizarre dreams. And I like the Kierkegaard reference too. I have him and Brecht lined up for some ambitious reading projects I may or may not get to, when we move to Germany. Have a good week Jon, sleep tight…batten down the hatches.


  5. I had to be in bed by 11:00 tonight as I have an early morning. Then I saw you had another post and had to read it tonight. I pray for you and Dylan as I fall asleep. Here’s to high counts and pleasant dreams.


  6. I have been quietly following your blog for the last week or so, I also work at PBH and have been using your blog to keep myself and a few others updated on things. We are all so glad to hear things are slowly getting better. I never had the privelage to have you as a teacher when I was in school but I have heard many great things. Your writing is inspiring and I thank you for sharing you and your family’s strength with all of us.


  7. Could not have said it better. Wouldn’t even try. Sometimes life is just that: A ton of sticks falling. The skill is to pick it up again. A skill you guys seem to getting the hang of! Great to hear things are looking up…


  8. I have just leaned of Dylan’s fight with lymphoma. One of our children struggled with an illness that required hospitalization for about 9 months. It was not cancer. However, we met many parents and children that were dealing with cancer. As a parent, I know exactly what you mean that it feels like a barn is falling. The world becomes upside down. Nothing else matters except for your child to get well. Yet, that is not the absolute truth. Because: work continues. Other relationships continue (MUST continue). Marriages need nurturing, especially during a crises. Other children, siblings, need parent time and energy too! Life goes on, yet, it is different. In a way that only other parents in that situation can ever completely grasp. As recovery from a serious illness slowly progressed for our child, I will never forget the kindness of staff in the Sequim School District. Cheryl Eekhoff is one of the most compassionate teachers that we had the pleasure to work with. (Our child is well now and scheduled for graduation from Sequim High School this Spring). You are brave to ask for help and to receive it. It is humbling and necessary for healing on any level in the situation of which you are dealing. Please know our family will hold yours in our thoughts and thoughts.


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