“Blue looks good on the sky
Looks good on that neon buzzin’ on the wall
But darling, it don’t match your eyes
I’m tellin’ you
You don’t need that guy
It’s so black and white
He’s stealin’ your thunder
Baby, blue ain’t your color…”*
When I was fourteen I had a dream about killing my father. We were standing at the edge of our property, looking back at the house where our family lived: A small blue single-story house with uneven floors and bats in the attic.
The year my parents bought that house my mother planted two flowering crabapple trees, one on either side of our driveway. In my dream they were blooming, their petals blushing deep crimson.
There are so many things I don’t remember about that house and our family, and about the year we fell apart. But I remember that dream, and the look on my father’s face when I lifted a gun to it. I was seething with anger, my own face red hot and swollen.
I did not hate my father.
I don’t wish him harm, I never have.
My father is a gentle man, a pacifist.
My father would never hurt anyone.
When I pulled the trigger, he fell limply to the ground, no sound and no blood. Moments later his body disappeared, leaving nothing but a pile of crumpled laundry.
I could hear my mother’s voice calling from inside the house, “He is always doing that!”
A few months after I had a dream about killing my father, my parents declared bankruptcy. Shortly after that, they filed for divorce.
We were already on food stamps, already uprooting. My dad had been working in the cities, the only place he could find a job. Every couple of weeks he sent cash home in a security envelope.
After they split and the bank took our house, my mother was single and homeless, with four children in her full-time care. Though she worked three part-time jobs, the math didn’t add up. We still had no car and no place.
Jeff was a truck driver who spent his weekends at the bar where my mother cleaned-up on Saturdays and Sundays. He was different from my father in every way. He promised to build my mother the house of her dreams.
I’ve since learned that there are many different kinds of dreams.
Some dreams come to us in times of profound upheaval and loss. These dreams tell us things about our ability to survive. The problem is, we don’t always know we’re dreaming that kind of dream until much later — don’t always know what we’re surviving until months or even years after we wake.
In the midst of a war, my great-grandmother dreamt about an empty train. When it arrived at the station in Palisade, no one was aboard, not even a conductor. It was quiet, and the cars were filled with blue smoke.
My great-grandmother circled that day on her calendar, noting precisely when she woke from the dream. A few weeks later, a telegram arrived to tell her that her son — a soldier — had been killed somewhere in Japan, on the very same day that she’d circled. They couldn’t find his body, never did.
When we moved to Jeff’s farm, my mother had a dream that she’d gone back for her crabapple trees. Under cover of night, she used a bobcat to dig them up. The neighbors woke. If they noticed her at all, they still said nothing, and did nothing.
Though these were fully mature trees, much much bigger than my mother, she managed to walk — pulling them behind her — all the way to the farm where we were living for a time.
Jeff had taken us all in, made us part of his dream, which turned out to be a nightmare. Jeff was an insomniac. When he did finally sleep, he shouted cuss words and threats, a disorder accompanied by frequent night terrors.
Jeff claimed it was the dog howling that bothered him so. Once, after a few nights of no sleep, he walked to the window, opened it wide, and shot the dog. This was not a dream. He used the same gun he kept next to the bed, the one he would use to threaten my mother when he’d had too much to drink. I was gone by then, on my way from one dream to another.
I was not part of my mother’s dream about the trees, but when she told me, I understood: Our way is not important. That we survive at all, that’s what matters. I close my eyes and I see my mother marching. Behind her, two uprooted trees carving parallel lines deep into a gravel road.
*Lyric from Keith Urban, Blue Ain’t Your Color. One in an ongoing series of pieces written after listening to, and reimagining, Top 40 Country Songs.