"Yeah, I had that dream again. Yeah. The hospital. No, I don't get why. I tried to tell you before, I didn't get what he said, he was just a stranger in the waiting room. Then I was a child again, reading a comic book or something."
Every time it was like this, he'd break off then wait for the reply to come. No exhortation to continue. No suggestion of an explanation. Shit. Still dreaming.
"What do you think it means?"
Anger, then silence. No, not anger. Frustration.
"We've been here before. I've been here before, I...
It was the jokes page of Reader's Digest magazine. I've tried to listen to what the man was saying to me, it's like he's mumbling. I want him to shut up so I can concentrate on the jokes. I don't know who he is. I can't see his face. Not properly. I can't hear what he's saying, but he doesn't give up. It's a dream. Faces get blurred, sounds don't come out right. Half remembered maybe, I don't know. He's definitely saying something. Speaking to me. I'm not listening. He's a stranger, I'm not going to...
He asks what I'm reading. No, not what I'm reading, but something similar. Why am I laughing? I point down at the page and the words stop making sense. It's like they're all floating around. The page is wet. His face is clearer now, but the word is blocked out. The man is now my father. He says it's ok.
No. I'm ok, but something is wrong. We have to go, and the water comes again. It might be rain. Do I really have to carry on? I don't want to talk about this anymore. It's dark. We're in the car and it's dark and we're driving away and I don't know what's going on so I close my eyes. Only problem is, when I wake up I'm back in that stupid fucking hospital.
I try to be quiet and listen. I can't hear what the adults are saying but they all look sad and nobody will tell me anything. I read the jokes again and something happens. There's light and I feel safe. I'm scared but safe. Dad's back and we're walking to the car. I can't stop it from happening. Over and over. The same elements again. I try to make sense of it, but something is stopping me."
Across from the couch he's lying on, he sees a nod.
Hesitating for a moment, he remembers where he is.
"It's the man in the waiting room again. He mumbles something and my page forms the words "tender loving care" and now I'm shaking and crying. Everyone else is sad and I hear the word "disappointed". I try to say something but as I speak the words get washed away by the rain and the rain gets brushed away by the windscreen wipers on the way home. I failed again.
The words echo in my head like a baby playing with a rattle. I can't sleep. I can't focus. I have to know what it means, but there's nothing. Every time relived, there's no end to the mystery, only a child crying, and sad faces crowding around him while he tries to decipher those three words that suddenly have no meaning. I can't see what they are all so sad about. I lean over to peer in between them, then I fall to my knees, clutching my stomach. That's when it happens.
My grandfather's face. The man in the waiting room. Eyes closed. The pain gets worse and I try to scream but nothing comes. I close my own eyes and see the jokes page from the magazine again. It stops hurting for a moment until the words rearrange again before my eyes. The pain sharpens to a knife point as I see them. Tender loving care. He died of stomach cancer in 1993. There was nothing any of us were able to do. My dad stopped the car."
This is based on my experience of my grandfather dying when I was about 9 years old. We weren't especially close, but it's an experience which has shaped much of my life since. It influenced my choice of career as well as seeping into various other parts of my life. I've tried to make sense of it, to rationalise it, and I don't know if I can. It was also a catalyst in me leaving the Catholic church. I was raised a Catholic (not in a very strict manner, I thank my parents for that), but after this, I just couldn't believe in that version of God any more.
Thank you for reading.