“Sometimes I Have to Trust What I Can’t Know”
“Mom . . . Mom . . . wake up. I had a dream I have to tell you about.”
“Okay Sweetie, crawl in and tell me. Brrr it’s cold out there. Did it snow?”
“I don’t think so, but shhh, listen. It was more vivid than any dream I’ve ever had before. I think it was a sign. Where’s Dad?”
“He had to go in early. Okay, I’m listening.”
“Emmy, you big stinky girl, move over.”
(Everyone should have a king sized bed. Plenty of room for Mom, Dad, child, dog and assorted cats. )
“Come on Em, scoot over, give your sister room! Everyone settled? Okay Sweetie tell me.”
“I was at the beach, we were all in the ocean and a little further out was a boat pulling a skier, and smoke was pouring out of the boat, black ugly smoke. The skier dropped and the guy driving the boat got out and they waded in. The driver was saying it was this new fuel that made the smoke and he hoped nobody minded it. I spoke up and said it was hurting the Earth and polluting the air and I started crying and ran off.”
“Sounds terrible but how brave of you to stand up to him.”
“Oh that’s not the end.”
“Ooops, sorry… keep going.”
“Well, I was looking for the condo where we were staying. They looked like the ones at Gulf Shores, but I couldn’t find the one where we were staying so I went out front and looked for the cars and couldn’t find them either. I looked up at the sky and it was brown with smoke. It was coming from a cove and lots of people were standing in the water flying kites. There were two trash cans and smoke was pouring out of them. All of a sudden, everyone started running.”
“Sounds like a nightmare, maybe we shouldn’t go to beach anymore.”
“You’d like that, but wait a minute I didn’t get to the best part. As I was going up the beach I saw a little girl sitting in the sand. She looked at me with these big puppy dog eyes and said, ‘Shannon I’m lost.’ The pupils of her eyes were huge and they were more dark brown than black, then there was a ring of green and then blue. Her name was Clay. I picked her up and started walking down the beach. I asked her if she could remember anything about where she was staying. She said it had a deck, but they all did. Finally we found it and there were Sesame Street birthday decorations up and a sign that said ‘Happy Birthday Clay’. I asked her how old she was. She said 5. I wished her happy birthday and told her to go on in. She did and I could hear everyone yell ‘Surprise!’ She turned around and came back. She ran up to me and I picked her up. She said she loved me and that she didn’t want to go in because she was tired and dirty. I stood there holding her while we both cried. Then I woke up.”
Her voice had gotten soft and full of emotion, and even though Shannon had always been a deep thinker, she was also very sensible and matter of fact about life. Her reaction was unusual and I didn’t know exactly what to say.
“Wow. So what do you think it meant?”
“I don’t know. It seemed scary. All the smoke and that precious little girl. Clay.”
“Well let’s see. Maybe she symbolized the Earth, like clay. Maybe the green in her eyes was plant life and the blue was water or air, or both.”
I felt like I was giving her lame responses to what was obviously very important to her, but it scared me too a little and I hugged her closer. She had her back to me. I was so happy, even at seventeen, she liked me, and we could still have our moments. Sure, we argued, we could yell with the best of them, but there was never any doubt about how much we loved each other. I could smell Agree shampoo and for a minute I wished I could hold on to her forever. Just stay snuggled, safe and warm, between the soft flannel sheets.
“I don’t know what, but it meant something. This will sound nuts . . . but I feel like the dream brought me closer to the ‘Big Guy’.”
“Well that can’t be a bad thing, right?”
“I guess. Okay. Thanks Mom. What’s that saying about sharing your dreams before breakfast? Does that mean they will or won’t come true? Who knows? Are you getting up now? I’m hungry.”
“Me too, what are you fixing?”
“Yeah right, I’m getting in the shower.”
“I love you Nan.”
“Love you too Mom.”
She crawled out of the bed, her bathroom door shut softly. The shower came on and I knew steam would soon be curling into the hallway. We moved into another day.
I don’t know where dreams come from. All of the scientific explanations mean little when you want only to believe that perhaps they are a gift or a message. A way for us trust in things unseen, to know that we are not alone, that there is a plan, someone in charge, watching over us, letting us know that everything will be okay. Beth Chapman wrote a song, Every December Sky. I love that song especially the line, “Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know.”
“Hello my honey. I miss you. How is everything?”
“Everything is good. Andi and I want to come home for the weekend. Maybe go to a movie?”
“Yeah! I can’t wait! What should I get for your guys to eat?”
“Are you kidding? After Seacobeck, we’ll be grateful for anything. Seafood salad? Oh, and get some Diet Coke okay?”
“So are you guys getting all settled in?”
“We’re doing good. If I can teach her to pick up after herself I think we’ll be okay.”
I could hear Andi laughing in the background and I breathed a sigh of relief. College was going to be okay. Dorm life would be okay, and as long as Shannon was okay I would be okay.
“Mom, can you come? I had to carry Andi to the infirmary. They called an ambulance and said I couldn’t go. She’s been having her period for a month and wouldn’t tell her Mom. This morning she couldn’t walk. I’m so scared, she was so pale.”
Shannon was crying hysterically.
“Okay Sweetie, calm down. She’s going to be fine. I’ll be there in just a few minutes. Are you in your room?”
“Yes. They wouldn’t let me stay!”
“It’s okay. I’ll go to the infirmary. It’ll be okay. Did you call her Mom?”
“No. She didn’t want me to, and she’s not in the infirmary. They took her to the emergency room.”
“Okay. I’ll go straight to the hospital and I’ll call you when I get there. It’ll be okay, I promise.”
“I miss her so much. I can’t imagine my wedding without her. She was with me when I got my dress. She introduced us. After that emergency room thing and the ovarian cysts, she said she would be our surrogate. Then when she found out that Alex had had testicular cancer, that he couldn’t have babies, she was even more determined. I don’t know exactly where the sperm was coming from but you know Shannon, she would have figured it out. I don’t know how to be without her. She was more than my best friend, she made me lists and kept me moving and listened and fussed and bought me breakfast at McDonald’s and made everything okay.”
More than anyone, Andi knew the deep ache of trying to live without Shannon. She knew what sad bones felt like. I kept my arm wrapped around her shoulder and let her cry. There was nothing else to do. I knew there were no words. In the quiet moments between sobs, I could hear the bubbles bursting in the Pepsi glass.
“We’ll figure it out somehow. She wouldn’t have left us if she hadn’t trusted us . . . I had a dream last night . . . I felt like it was a message from Shan but I couldn’t see her. There was just a note on the calendar that she made me, you know the one with the pictures from the beaver dam, that something incredible was going to happen on 9-9-99.”
“Do you know what?” Andi asked, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.
“No idea, but it’s going to be wonderful.”
“Maybe you’ll get your book written?”
“Maybe. But it seemed bigger, grander . . .”
Andi and Shannon were the exception to all the rules of friendship. They were affectionately referred to as the “Hidden Ones” in their freshman dorm. Quiet, reserved, no nonsense artists that found in each other all they needed in a friend. They could fight something fierce and then forget what they were fighting over. They were, their safe place to be. They didn’t drink, they didn’t smoke, they liked the same music, the same food, and spending every weekend at our house. Friday nights were movie nights, with seafood salad sandwiches and Ruffles with bacon and horseradish, dip. The spare bedroom became Andi’s room.
I saw in her eyes, the same deep sorrow that filled my own. We had both lost our best friend. We had to learn to hold on to one another.
“Hi. I have news.”
I was driving north on 95, heading to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. The first Christmas without Shannon was bleak and cold. We loved Christmas together and I felt hollow.
“Hi Honey. I never carry this phone so I had trouble answering. Sorry. What’s up?”
“I don’t know how . . . I just left the doctor’s office . . . but I’m going to have a baby.”
“Oh My Gosh! That’s wonderful!” I had to concentrate to keep from wrecking the Jeep!
“There’s more . . . The due date is September 9.”
“I thought it was impossible. I thought Alex’s radiation . . .”
“So did we. “
“Oh Honey, that’s the best news ever.”
“I know it’s early to ask, so you have time to think about it but would you mind . . . now tell me if you do . . . but Alex and I would like to name the baby ‘Clay’.”
After I hung up the phone. I cried all the way to the mall. I cried because I was so happy for them. I cried because Shannon would have been such a wonderful mother. I cried because miracles happen and I was being given the gift of being part of this one. I cried because I had to.
I held a beautiful healthy baby girl in my arms and felt for the first time in a very long time that there might be a light in the darkness after all. Gillian Clay was born by caesarian section on September 5, 1999. Shannon’s Dad fussed with Andi about not being able to stick it out until the ninth.
I traced the shape of her sleeping face, and felt her tiny fingers wrap around my own. I listened to her breathe and marveled at the way someone so tiny could totally fill my empty spaces.
The hospital room was quiet. Grammas and Grandpas had gone home. Andi was sleeping. Alex and Jules had gone for coffee. We finally had a moment to ourselves. I softly told our Gillian Clay about Shannon. She stirred and looked up at me with her big puppy dog eyes. They were dark brown with flecks of blue and green. In that moment I realized that Gilli already knew Shannon. They had, only hours before, held on to one another, crying, sharing that they loved each other and then . . . Shannon sent her to her Mom and Dad.
I looked at our little miracle, all clean and pink. I wanted her to talk to me, to tell me that she had been with Shannon, that it was all real and fun and magical. My ears needed to hear it. My eyes . . . suddenly caught the ever so subtle movement of shimmering color in the shadowed corner of the pale green room. How had I missed it earlier?
There, floating happily above a clear glass vase of daisies and pink rosebuds, were baby Bert, and baby Ernie, smiling knowingly from their big orange and red faces, on the ‘Happy Birth Day’ mylar balloon.
This moment was ours . . . mine and Gilli’s and Shannon’s, and it was going to be okay.
And Heaven is not so far
Outside this womb of words
With every rose that blooms my soul is assured
Just like a song I’ve known, yet still unheard
Every December sky must lose its faith in leaves
And dream of the spring inside the trees
How heavy the empty heart
How light the heart that’s full
Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know.
Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know.
~Beth Nielsen Chapman~