I dream of my mother. She is kneeling in front of me with her arms full of cotton wool, antiseptic wipes and swathes of white bandages. She is wrapping them around my feet, first bunching up the cotton wool, then wrapping the bandages tightly around them, tenderly. She is telling me that growing pains are normal for girls my age, that cramps in the feet are common, that this will help. She is wrapping my feet around and round, and all the while I am telling her that the pain isn’t there at all.
I dreamed of you, last night. We were standing in the garden over the river, with the round wall that we sat on all those years ago, eating from lunchboxes. I could smell gardenias, knew bumblebees would be lurching about, drunk on the scent, and you were beside me, and we looked out.
The houses are huge, in this part of the city. Sprawling like oak roots over the banks, they stretch out like cats in the sun, all the way to the meadows, where the grass runs parched and gorse bushes reign. Did we go there as children? I can’t remember. I don’t think we did, I think we only went down to the river, with school, and school is how we would have been there together, that was the link that fused us.
I wonder, in the way that I have lately, in the loosened moments between asleep and awake, why that bond was ever enough to hurt me when it was cut. We were not friends in any context other than classrooms, strangers who smiled in the street, guilelessly when we were five-six-seven, bashfully when we were nine-ten-eleven, and then not at all, or mocking, or ashamed, I never could tell: your glasses frames hid your face too well.
Anyway, this is a dream and we are standing together, in the curve of stone above the river in the city where we grew up in classrooms together, and I say, ‘Why?’
I don’t know if it is before or after this that you begin to cry, but you do, and perhaps I am a better person in my dreams than I ever have been in flesh, walking silent behind you when others shouted, hiding in taciturn terror, telling myself I was justified in my hypocrisy. I must be better, because I put my arms around you, first round your back, then your head, because you are warm and crying and I want you to stop, I do not want you to hurt.
So we stand there, in the curve of the cusp of the city and the care of years falls away, the gardenia-smell is strong and you are alive and I am glad you are, and gladder still that so am I, heart a-thrum with a beat that I would never have learned without everything that came before. And I feel a tremendous sense of grace.
When I wake, I understand that I have forgiven you.