During my MFA program at Saint Mary’s College, I read Abigail Thomas for the first time. She rocked my world as a writer. Doing a search through some old documents, I found this piece that was inspired by her. Kind of like finding something special that I’d forgotten about.
Inspired by Abigail Thomas: Old Dreams I Miss
One of my very favorite dreams: The Attic Rooms
This one mostly took place in my old house in Oakland, the one we lived in before we moved into the house that burned down. There was a door between the kitchen and the laundry area that led to the garage. But in the dream it leads to a stairway going up to an attic (which the house didn’t have in real life). I open the door see the stairs and remember that there are rooms at the top. I’d known about these rooms but had forgotten about them for years. (We lived in the house for four years, so there wasn’t any chance this was true.) I go up the stairs and find a series of rooms, which are all furnished and ready to be occupied. The rooms are, in fact, nicer than the rooms below. There is a kitchen, sometimes more than one kitchen, fully equipped with clean and shiny appliances; it’s a pristine, unused kitchen with long counters and plenty of cabinets. The family room is spacious and full of coordinating furniture. It is not littered with toys. No one seems to live in these rooms; there are no personal effects or photographs in any of the rooms. They reflect the taste and financial resources of someone other than myself.
All the rooms are decorated nicely: a child’s bedroom, another one; a master suite with fireplace and cozy corners; living rooms, studios, special rooms for special activities, on and on and on. Enormous bathrooms, too, with several sinks, elegant fixtures, big bathtubs, lots of windows and light. The space is limitless. Sometimes, the whole house upstairs is even located someplace else, in a nicer neighborhood, as though it could float away from the house below, which was not bad, but nothing like the house in the attic in my dreams.
Every time I had the dream, I would walk through the entire area, entering each room and marveling that such a place could exist right under (or over) my nose. Sometimes a neighbor or a stranger would be there too, chiding me for not knowing about the rooms. I would always feel foolish about this major oversight.
And sometimes I dreamed about the backyard, too. Now it gets tricky, because the backyard would also have to be above the house, but in dreams anything can happen. The yard extended forever, with no fences. Trees and plants in a well-tended garden, a little grassy knoll, a meandering path that led to a flowing brook, benches and arbors—all of this was mine.
In the dream, I acknowledge all that is mine.
The Closet Full of Dresses
In this dream, I am looking for a fancy dress to wear on a special occasion. I open the door to my closet and discover that I have lots and lots of dresses, most of which I have forgotten about. (I realize this is a theme here.) As I reach into my closet and slide the hangars one by one, I see black dresses, red dresses, all manner of elegant dresses that I vaguely recall owning. Every time I had this dream, I was pleased to see these dresses again, like long-lost friends. (In fact, I had a number of nice dresses that I wore to events at my husband’s law firm: Christmas parties, retreat weekends at a nice hotel or resort, or the occasional wedding of a law partner or associate. Since I would be seeing the same people, I couldn’t wear the same dress to the Christmas party two years in a row! Unthinkable. So I actually did own a fair number of nice dresses before the fire.)
If I wanted to keep writing about dresses I have owned and loved, this could go on for quite a while. Since I used to sew, several of them were handmade. But there were a few I bought in Berkeley during the “long dress, long hair, and bare feet” era, which lasted until the late ’70s. One dress I made was a sad reminder of the time I got stood up on a date: the sapphire blue satin dress with leg-of-mutton sleeves and an empire waist that I made to wear to the Renaissance Faire. Never went, only wore the dress a couple of times. I had covered the buttons with fabric and made little loops for each button, a tedious time-consuming process meant to lend some authenticity to the dress. Another favorite was the one made of sky blue linen, with ecru lace on the bodice and sleeves, and a long flared skirt that brushed the floor.
The most spectacular creation was a dress I made myself: an overlay of sheer fabric patterned with spring green leaves, a long, multi-tiered skirt and those leg-of-mutton sleeves again. Except for the sleeves, the whole dress was lined with white satin. I used white lace and kelly green ribbon for trim. I really loved that dress. It swirled and twirled and made me feel quite elegant. Even with a cat on my lap.
Broccoli in the Pudding
But back to dreams. The others are the ones I miss, but there have been a few that just stand out for their blatant symbolism. One of them is the “broccoli in my pudding dream,” which I had when bad news and troubles followed us on one family vacation. Normally our week or two at Donner Lake meant a complete cut-off from the outside world. No TV, no phone calls, no work. One year, though, things were different. My husband’s friend and colleague was dying of brain cancer, and the kids were going through some difficult transitions. One night I had this dream about making pudding. The more I stirred, the more I noticed little flecks of green in the pot. I identified it as broccoli and was stumped as to how it got there. Since then, bad tidings or complications that occur during what should be a relaxing, peaceful time are referred to by my family as “broccoli in the pudding.” We all know what it means.
Diamonds in the Hem of my Dress
In this dream, I am going somewhere to escape from something and know that I have sewed diamonds in the hem of my dress. Another of the “hidden treasures” dreams that I used to have.
A curious thing about these dreams is that I don’t really have them anymore. If there was an inciting incident that allowed my subconscious to work it out, I can’t pinpoint what it may have been. Maybe when I started writing? Hmmm.
And what Tom says.