Saturday, September 28, 2013

Don Pérignon Dreams

Four years ago, when my dad was in the hospital (42 days in ICU, 1.5 years in a rehabilitation center and then a nursing home) I used to have some pretty fucked up dreams.

My mom trapped in a burning car, my own teeth softly falling out while I spoke, being trapped inside my bipolar mind with no clarity in sight – these were some of the nightmarish dreams that visited me when sleep found me four years ago.

It was a crazy time. Things had gone horribly wrong with my dad after a fairly routine (albeit major) abdominal surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in his intestines. Things went so wrong that, to this day, over four years later, my dad is still very much alive but also very much altered. He is unable to talk, move, eat or breathe without a myriad of tubes and machines. And even with that incredible technology, he still cannot speak, his "food" comes from a can, and his ventilator and suction machines are loud and impersonal with their hissing and grinding noises, 24/7, 365, after 365, and another 365... 

But, as my family and I always explain once we witness the look of horror on your face that, – But hold on, –  his brain is perfectly fine.

So, my dad's brain is perfectly fine. That should be a really good thing and make the situation a lot easier, right? No. No, it does not make it easier to know that my dad's brain being held hostage inside a soft, locked prison, is perfectly fine. In fact, it terrifies me just to think what must be going on in his mind.

The photo for this story is ironic, because my dad didn't drink. The reason I've juxtaposed these two photos together is because – and please hear me out – Don Pérignon brought me my normal dad back tonight. It happened in a dream.


This story starts 10 hours ago, at 7:00 PM. 7PM was the oh-so reasonable hour that I put myself in a cab and told the driver my address to go home. 

I had responsibly extracted myself from a lively tiki bar where I spent three hours with fellow colleagues, consuming drinks with names like Zombie Punch, Christmas in July and The Treasure Chest. 

The Treasure Chest was indeed a chest, smoking with dry ice and skewered with long, neon pink straws. It took three servers to carry it out and set it on a table. Once they set it on the table, they brought out these mysterious champaign bottles that had glowing green labels. In fact, the labels were more than glowing, they were like mini green LCD lights outlining the letters on the bottle. It was fascinating to look at, especially after consuming several mini umbrella drinks and a snifter of 15-year aged Rum on the rocks (my brilliant idea – to give me courage on the dance floor).

Not being a hard core gangster rapper, I did not recognize these bottles. Working in advertising, of course my colleagues did. They were bottles of Don Pérignon, at $299 a pop. I saw many of these bottles floating around throughout the night. People posed in photos and cradled these bottles like prize trophies. 

Once at home, I was pleased with what I call my highly functional brain on alcohol, which, let's be honest, is the same thing everyone says everywhere when they are "functioning" after multiple drinks, even though "functioning" might mean zero spelling errors in your sext message to your boss.

So, here I was, finally home at my Lake Shore Drive apartment, and I was "functioning." I ate some cereal and some popcorn, drank some orange juice (?) and ate a few pieces of chocolate. I wiped off my eye makeup and transitioned from my party dress into a t-shirt and boxer shorts and – at 7:55 PM – fell into bed. 

I was so proud of myself. Here I was, after a 60+ hour work week, responsibly crawling into my bed before 8PM on a Friday night, having avoided making a fool of myself in front of colleagues while successfully imbibing four to seven heavily mixed drinks plus multiple pulls from good 'ole Dom in The Treasure Chest. It almost seemed too easy.

Until midnight. 

That was when I woke up. And proceeded to vomit in my bathroom. What came next was one of the worst hang over headaches I can remember in my history of drinking. My head hurt so bad that I had to put an ice pack under my neck and over my eyes. I laid in bed, literally writhing in pain. "Damn you, Dom." I said aloud inside my poisoned head. I felt the tiki toxins working my body. It was like a hurricane on a white sand beach.

For the life of me, I could not fucking fall back asleep. Here I thought that I had made it home scott free, avoiding some embarrassing bar scene. Here I thought proudly to myself that my Norwegian genes had done their job in keeping me nice and high toleranced in the face of multiple kinds of liquor. But, alas, No. I was fantastically, horribly hung over. And all I wanted to do was sleep.

I did use my time well, however. Despite my headache, at one point I sat down and scheduled a facial at Bliss Spa tomorrow. What? Yes, this was evident when I sat down to type this post. I also managed to – cover the kids' ears – plug in my ancient vibrator that I unearthed from a moving box. What? Yep, I found that, too. I mean, am I one of those people like those sleep walkers who find out the next morning that they drove themselves to the store to get milk? Am I a highly functioning hung over person? 

Maybe. Because this seemed to go on for hours, even though all I wanted to do was go back to sleep. I laid in bed, staying very still. Hoping that the stillness and the meditative breathing might slip me back under the veil of sleep. 

I rolled onto my side, I rolled onto my stomach. I rolled back onto my back. I switched pillows. I drank some more water. And, soon enough, at some point, I drifted off and was dreaming...

At the start of the dream it was one of those weird things where you are dreaming your actual environment. So my mom was on the floor of my Chicago apartment, in a sleeping bag. When she woke up and I woke up, I was shocked to see that my mom had been sleeping here all along during my horrible hungover insomnia night, and I wondered if she had seen me plug in my vibrator. At any rate, it was morning, and it was time to go hang out with my twin cousins and my aunt. Expect, something horrible happened. My cousin Matthew (or was it Andrew?) had been stabbed by a girl, and I had to tell someone. Then my mom and I were back at our house in Minnetonka. And that was when it happened. I heard the sound of a Man's voice.

"Oh. Shoot, Dad fell asleep in the chair" my mom said. "He needs to get to work." I walked downstairs because we had been up in my room. As I walked downstairs, I saw our old white table - the round wooden one that used to be our dining room table – and there, at the same place where he always sat at family dinners, was my Dad.

"The Runsk!" He said, which was how my dad always greeted me. I walked toward him. I was still wearing my t-shirt and boxer shorts that I put on during my hungover night. There sat my Dad, wearing khaki pants and a red sweater. He had his brown docksiders on and his legs were crossed in a "4" the way that men cross their legs. I stood there, still tasting remnants of vomit in my mouth. I spoke to him:

"Dad. DAD. You're okay? You are normal? DAD - YOU ARE NORMAL!!" was what I said.

He started chuckling and opened his arms to give me a hug. I hugged him. He was smiling and relaxed. I started to feel this overwhelming sense of relief. It was the most intense relief I had felt in as long as I could remember. I wanted to go get my mom and start planning a cookout dinner for our family. I felt warm and comforted. It almost felt like Heaven...

And then, I woke up.

It was about 4AM, I think. I was confused because this was one of those dream-within-a-dream feelings, like Inception, where you are not quite sure which level of dream you are waking up from. 

But, it didn't take long for me to realize what had happened. It had happened. I had experienced one of those rare dreams (in four years I've had less than a dozen) where I dream about my Dad the way he used to be, and it is so intensely real that when I wake there is this fresh mourning that has to take place when I realize that my Dad in actuality is severely handicapped and cannot call me his "Runsk." In actuality, my Dad cannot open his arms and hug me and he cannot wear khakis, a red sweater and docksiders and cross his short legs (my dad always had kind of shorter legs and could never keep up with my mom's fast, purposeful walking. Instead, my Dad liked to call it a stroll and it was lovely to go on walks with him...I should have gone on more walks with him).

I am writing this blog post at the crack of dawn because I have to. I have to capture this moment of receiving a Beginners Mind about my dad, because, you see, what happens when you go through family trauma is that your mind adjusts. For better or for worse, I rarely think about the way my dad used to be. I can't think about it; it's too painful. But there are those rare occasions when something magically happens inside the mind and in a dream, your person is brought back to you. 

This is the last part I wanted to write and if you are still reading, this is the most poignant part of the story for me. When I woke up at 4AM and could still taste the feeling of what it used to feel like to have a normal, totally fine Dad, I immediately wanted to talk to him. See, that is the weird thing. My Dad is not dead. We can still talk to him and he can hear us. The problem is, with all of his medications and medical treatments, my Dad varies with his level of alert willingness to look people in the eye and let them talk to him. Because – here's the reality – to a certain degree, we all suck at talking to him. Even for me, who was the best communicator in the family, who was able to intricately dissect my emotional state at a young age and then describe this to my psychology-knowing Dad, even for me I often suck at talking to him. It is hard to talk to someone who cannot talk back. It is harder than you might think. It is extra hard that my Dad tries to talk and mouths words that none of us know. It is so excruciating to watch him that soon you decide to stop talking to him. It is too painful not knowing what he is trying to say. The ability to communicate and express oneself is deeply human and incredibly essential, moreso than movement, food or even air.

But there have been those times in the past four years. Times when I WAKE UP and remember that I am my Dad's daughter and that I STILL NEED HIM. And I have been able to say to him, nervously, "Dad?" And there must be something in my voice at those times because something changes in him and in his mute, paralyzed state his eyes get clear and sort of snap into attention and he looks at me like my Dad, because he is still my Dad. There are those times. 

I somewhat desperately considered calling my mom and asking her if she could wake my dad up and have him get on Skype with head phones on so only he could hear me (because my special Dad? moments have to be with him alone, no nurses in the room). But then I realized that it was 5AM and I also now live 500 miles away from him.

Now, the very last part I will write, and if you are still reading this, God bless you. The last thing I want to say is that in two weeks on October 12th it will be my Dad's 70th birthday. My entire family, including out-of-town aunts and uncles and some long lost friends get to wish my Dad a Happy 70th, and the last time he was normal was at age 65. If this story has touched you in any way, please share it with me, somehow. Write on my Facebook, make a comment here on Blogger, send a carrier pigeon – just tell me. And then, on his birthday, I will read it to my Dad. Thank you. And thanks to you too, Dom Pérignon.


  1. Susan,

    I did read to the end, and I am definitely touched by what you wrote. I actually read every one of your posts when they come out and I feel sheepish saying it because we haven't really stayed in touch so I feel stalker-esque! But, I can't help it -- I love your writing. While your experience with your dad's paralysis is unique, you write in a way that makes it more... "understandable" or "relatable" to us all, I think. And of course with your usual wisdom, insight, and humor. Happy birthday to your dad, who must be very proud that you've found your way through to pursuing a great life for yourself in the midst of the hard circumstances. And thank you for sharing your writing online where I'm sure I'm not the only one secretly reading it religiously!

    Best wishes,
    Hannah Ferber

  2. Wish your dad a very happy birthday from Dublin, Ireland!