What do unborn babies dream of? I had asked myself a week or two after I found out my wife was pregnant. I had imagined that they dream of the color of sound and heat, of liquid against the absence of light. But I knew that what had been inside her wasnâ€™t a baby yet, not then, not exactly, but would become one, the beginning of somethingâ€¦something more than I could have imagined, but I triedâ€¦.
At the time I had asked myself that question, she was but a ball of cells, a blastocyst is the extraterrestrial term. She was but a shape, a formation wherein, shape upon shape, sheâ€™d become a little human. And, ohâ€¦when she would be birthed through liquid into light, knowing the true expanse and feeling of the outside world, she would expand, grow, like a super absorbent polymer toy whose medium was now air. But not just air, love and light and warmth and, for a time, milkâ€¦the question that now plagues my mind is more onerous, with the replacement of a single word: what do dead babies dream of? I know itâ€™s not a question exactly. Yes, itâ€™s grammatically correct, but perhaps thatâ€™s where it ends, in the grammar. How can anyone make sense of such a question? I cannot.
I donâ€™t know how much I can write. Itâ€™s too painful. Reading the above entry caused nausea, dizziness. I used to record my dreams as a child. Some nights Iâ€™d forget to write the dream down, other nights Iâ€™d forget the dream itself, as if the thing had drowned in my mind. I had killed it and mourned it simultaneously. Oh, Godâ€¦I had to retreat to the bathroom for a moment and stomach acid came up. It burned my innards, my throat, my mouth. More than that, it felt like the juices had tried to digest me on their way out. The burning doesnâ€™t feel as if it will go awayâ€¦.
As I mentioned, I had tried to log my dreams but it took years to finally fill a single notebook. And now I canâ€™t find it or any other markings of the nocturnal narratives of my past. Perhaps it is for the best. But one dream I had the other night wonâ€™t go away. It remains like a freshly watched film. It is obdurate, damn it. I figure it wants to be told:
I had found myself on a beach, no past, no future, only the breathing waves of the sea. But as I opened my eyes, in the dream, I felt as though someone or something was with me. A presence that needed my guidance and watchfulness, my protection. Yet I didnâ€™t know where it was and so my duty was destined to become a failure. That feeling of failure was palpable. It weighed me down and molded my body against the sands. With all my strength I stood up, feeling like Atlas, condemned to hold the earth on my shoulders. Upright, against the coming winds, was when I saw her.
I couldnâ€™t go any further. I tried, but some weights are too heavy to bear. Something happened today that has forced me to finish the narrative, and so I will:
I saw her. On the shore. My darling daughter. She had grown beyond the womb. She was tall. She was a woman. She wore a kind of white dress that could have been for a wedding she would never have. But, either the imagination of my subconscious is limited, or it plays with my emotions, my fear and my depression. This womanâ€™s faceâ€¦Iâ€™ll call her the name that had been decided so early in the pregnancy, a name reminiscent of Lilianna, her motherâ€¦Mariannaâ€™s face was premature. The flowing strands of blonde hair were attached to fair, almost translucent skin, where one could see shy blue veins here and there on her temples, but it tapered, like an amputeeâ€¦her face tapered into a fetus. Her philtrum had yet to weld itself and so it hung as two flaps of skin, making a black triangle out of the toothless, gaping mouth. Her nose was flat and porcine. Her eyes were sunken and positioned closer to the sides of her head rather than projecting from the front of her face. Iâ€™m almost sure that if I had attempted to caress her cheek, it would have come off as melted wax. For a little girl to be cursed with an ungrown face, it was horrid. It was unjust. I felt myself wanting to, dare I write it, curse God. But those feelings are the wildness of dreams, and, upon awakening and drying myself of tears, I prayed for forgiveness. Iâ€™ve yet to see Father Joseph for confession, but, if I can gather myself, I soon will.
The dream is not yet over: as it was my duty to protect Marianna, to hold her and to love her, I would, no matter what she looked like. She was my daughter. And so I ran after her, but she evaded me. Disappeared. I looked everywhere, yet she was nowhere. I sprinted down the course of the beach, thinking I had lost her foreverâ€¦again. I called her name: â€œMarianna! Marianna!â€ But all I ran to was more loneliness. On I went, up the rocky length of a hill, and I didnâ€™t stop until I made it to the cliff overlooking the tumultuous water. For some reason, the area was Mediterranean. I had only seen such vistas on postcards. I sat on the edge of the cliff, short of breath. I cried. The kind of crying that can only occur in dreams, because the atmosphere cries with you, shaking and shifting as if it too had lungs and tear ducts. In reality, it is only God and I who cry. No one else. God should be everything. I know He should. But it doesnâ€™t feel that way. Forgive meâ€¦.
From my resting place on the precipice, with my feet dangling, I looked at the swirling and sloshing of the gray water. The sun was still in the sky, but it emitted a lightless fire. I could hear the waves against the rocks, sounding like the crushing and snapping of bones. Then, I saw a body floating in the water, engulfed and regurgitated by waves. I knew it had to have been Marianna. To save her, I did what any father would do. I dove down into the sea. When I resurfaced, I couldnâ€™t see her. The waters were too violent. I swam, calling for her. The salt-ridden water continued to fill my mouth as I gargled her name. I swam until I surrendered to the lassitude of my limbs and passed out or fell asleep. Perhaps, during that time, I dreamt other dreams, or perhaps I slept without any odd narrative other than the one I was already in. After so long, my body shrunk as if in formaldehyde. I was washed ashore an island of black sand and let out a muscled yawn. The grains of sand were little pieces of coal and thick, curled flakes of ash. There was nothing on the island. It was so minuscule it could barely pass for one. In my peripheral vision, I saw a figure beside me. Hazy. Indistinct. Something standing outside of time. When I turned to look at it, I couldnâ€™t tell if it had the face of a carcass or a fetus, like Marianna. I was compelled to ask it something: â€œDo you think sheâ€™s dead?â€
The figure seemed to think for a moment, shifting between the murk of the past and the far grasp of the future. â€œShe could be dead, or she could be alive.â€ Its voice sounded clear yet remote. There were many voices, or two: young and old, thought patterns and dust-covered croaks. â€œYou wonâ€™t know unless you die yourself. At that time, youâ€™ll be able to peer inside the box. Until then, sheâ€™s both.â€
In the dream I didnâ€™t realize the figure was, in a way, referring to Schrodingerâ€™s thought experiment, involving a cat, a box, and a flask of hydrocyanic acid, all governed by radioactive decay.
â€œI canâ€™t comprehend that, that sheâ€™s both,â€ I told it.
â€œPerhaps, eventually, if you do comprehend it, and if it gives you comfort, then you shouldnâ€™t look for that box, never open it.â€
â€œNoâ€¦no, I couldnâ€™t do that. Iâ€™d have to know, Iâ€™d have to know for sure.â€
I looked into its face, its facelessness, like gazing into a slowly vanishing mirror.
â€œThis canâ€™t go on forever,â€ it said.
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œEternal, timeless, eternity, forever, they are all meaningless. Itâ€™s not only a wish, but the wish itself is an illusion. The sun wonâ€™t even last forever.â€
â€œI never thought it would. Butâ€¦I donâ€™t think I ever thought it wouldnâ€™t, either. I just donâ€™t know.â€
I realize now that I was speaking to a personification of my doubt, if nothing else. And Doubt knows what I want to know: is my unborn, dead daughter, is my unchristened baby, in purgatory? By what means could she have gotten into heaven? These questions are what feed my doubt to begin with. Itâ€™s just too muchâ€¦.
After my exchange with Doubt, a kind of climax in the dream occurred. The â€˜realityâ€™ around me began to melt while particles of ash rose above. I breathed in and out the freezing air. The particles became static clouds of dots and a microscopic ember sparked in each one, like a piece of wool catching fire. Distant, they began to glow white while the sky closed over in darker and darker blackness. A metallic scent came from the nothingness. The ground beneath my feet began to tremble, and then it must have given way, falling into an abyss. I glanced down and confirmed what was happening. Yes, the ground had fallen away. I was floating. The darkness below was so pure and warm. I felt the presence of something, like when I had been on the beach, and looked up. Ahead of me stretched the Milky Way. The dust had become stars, the ground had become planets. My skin quivered in unison with the stars. I felt gravity invite me forward and I floated closer and closer. Through the light-dusted darkness, I fell away into a single point, into the sun.