I dreamt about my house again last night. As the dream often goes, turns out my parents never actually moved out, or they moved out but then moved back in, because they couldn’t sell it. All the old stuff is there, the worn oriental rugs, and natty couches shredded by cats, even the old linoleum. My parents are their elderly selves, not the middle-aged selves they were the 14 years we lived there. They are not their dead selves, at least, so I am happy to see them. But they need help selling the house and packing it up. I don’t want to do this. I haven’t been here in so long. Not since the last dream. I want to hang out, hell, I want to live here again. I go upstairs, but they have settled in to reading the paper over coffee at the dining room table and don’t notice me.
The carpet in my old room is the same old gray-pink. I pick up the heavy black dial phone in the hall and pull it into my room, closing the door on its cord. But who am I going to call? I don’t live here anymore.
What is the lure of my old house? I lived there from age 4 to age 18. Why is it so magical in my dreams? I don’t think I’m dreaming about sex, Dr. Freud, because when I dream about sex I actually dream about sex. When I dream about my old house, intact, with all the old furniture and cubbies and dust, I am filled with an enormous sense of comfort. Being with my mom, feeling safe. Yet in waking life I remember trauma, anxiety, loneliness, there. In dreams it is always a place of longing, a desire to return—to not knowing, to not worrying, to only being a child with her mother.
Yet my parents are elderly and in need of care in the dream, as they were at the end of their lives, when I cared for them. Despite the traumas of my childhood, which they caused because they were not perfect, I forgave them and dream and redream caring for them as they cared for me. My father cared for me by earning a living and bossing. My mother by mothering and protecting (or not). I cared for them by organizing professional care and visiting, and with my father, taking him into my home.
The house dream is comforting but elusive, never lasts long enough. I like seeing my mother in dreams; it is a treat to see her again. And I accept my father’s presence because of course she wants him there, though I feel my usual defensive posture.
They are so imperfect, and so dear.
Kitchen, with cats, circa 1968.