Hush little baby now don't you cry

Two nights ago, I dreamed my aunt and her husband came to visit me in a high-ceiling town house in New Orleans. He stood at the base of the stairs in the hallway, and she followed me into the kitchen. We were both young women. And my son was in pajamas next to a carton of eggs. I was crying. My aunt lifted me – up, up, up – by the refrigerator.

And then she and my mother, still young women, were marching through the streets of some unknown town, for a Pride parade. They had a Jersey cow with them, and as the parade circled through my house, I put my arm around the cow and said, “I know it’s absurd, but you’re OK.”

I woke up so upset.

Years ago, when we would stay at my grandmother’s house, I’d wake early and sneak into the living room, lie under the table to listen to my mother, grandmother and aunt talking. When I remember those mornings, they’re always young women. All three of them, laughing. They were different when the men weren’t around. Louder. Silly.

I read a short story by Katherine Mansfield in college that noticed how the women’s voices changed when the men left the house. But it was more than their voices.

Dreams are just stories, broken into pieces. For a while, I tried to assemble these. And then I remembered the rough hair of the cow. How it ignored me. Because it was a cow. In a parade.

It’s true that we contain multitudes. Stories remembered. Stories reinvented. Stories in the midst of creation. The girl under the table, listening. The woman walking to work in the rain, worried about the long cast of childhood. How the shadow creeps in every December.

I know it’s absurd. But you’re OK. You’re OK.

It’s tenuous, I think, to love aspects of relationships: to miss those things that were good, and undamaged, while still acknowledging that too much was not good, not safe, not healthy. I can feel the carpet on my neck. Can see the underside of the table. The wicker chairs between us. We can be a family, broken into pieces. I don’t even have to imagine us younger. That’s where we live together, in the morning light.

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