I'm not a superstitious person. I don't believe in ghosts, nor in the effects of black cats or broken mirrors. But I am afraid of the number 52. I dislike it immensely. It is, to me, unlucky. If I ever constructed a building, it very likely wouldn't have a 52nd floor. Why all the hate for this number? Simply put, my dad died at age 52, and it has since become my antagonist. I measure my life as a countdown to that age, to the time when, perhaps, this journey will be at an end.
This is on my mind because, last night, I had the dream again. Its scenery may change, some of the people who populate it may differ, but every time the events unfold in roughly the same manner. It begins sometime during the year of my father's death from pancreatic cancer. In real life, we were not to know that he would finally pass away on August 21, 1997, but in the dream, the date is known well in advance. Much as in life, in the dream dad has good days and bad. In general, things are deteriorating.
In what is probably the most vivid, richly-detailed version of the dream, dad held a party at his house not long before he was to die. Of course, this being a dream, it wasn't really his house. This was a Civil War-type antebellum estate that would have made Scarlett O'Hara blush. In back was a vast lawn, leading down to a small river lined with Weeping Willows. What seemed like the entirety of my dad's side of the family was there, frolicking about and enjoying themselves no end. I am sad, knowing that August 21st is drawing near.
My dad approaches me, serious but with a smile, and says something like, "It's ok, son. This is part of what happens in life. I'll be ok." I fight back tears, and reply, "I know. But I wish it didn't have to happen." We talk some more, but the gist of what we talk about I can not recall. Eventually, the party breaks up, and the presence of my father retreats from the scene. The timeline of the dream fast forwards a little, and we reach the dreaded date: August 21st. I shut myself off from the world for that entire day, not wishing to hear the bad news. Finally, the next day, I turn the phone back on and wait for the call. Eventually, the phone rings.
And it's my father.
The tone of his voice is jubilant. "Great news, Matt! I didn't die after all!" I sit, stunned, for a moment, but quickly recover and join in with the festive mood. I say things like, "That's great!" and express some surprise at the turn of events. If the reason for my dad's survival is conveyed in the dream, it is not remembered by me at this time. It is generally accepted, much like having the foreknowledge of the date of his death, these oddities that exist -- and are accepted -- only in dreams.
The celebration of dad's survival goes on for some time. There are, of course, some questions: What does this mean? Since the cancer is suddenly, miraculously gone, will it stay gone? How much longer does he have? So many questions, so few answers. And, just as everyone is brimming-over with happiness that this man has survived his date of death, the dream ends. As all dreams must.
Who knows why I have this dream? A psychologist could probably analyze the situation and come up with some sort of reason why it occurs, but I'm not too terribly worried about it. It's actually a somewhat comforting dream. And it only happens about once or twice a year. Yes, the moment of wakefulness from it is a tad wrenching, but it's always nice, on a rare occasion, to enjoy some time where I no longer have reason to despise a particular number, and my father doesn't die at age 52 after all.