The dreams came one night after the other. They were like a replay of a horrible situation, made worse by the altered reality so common to the dream state. It was a few years ago, some time after my friend Tracy had committed suicide in December 2004. A range of emotions occurred after his passing, from guilt, to sadness, to anger, back to sadness. Finally, an inevitable calm upon the psyche's realization that the event happened, Tracy was dead, and there was nothing that could be done about it.
The first night, in the dream, Tracy was a ghost. Or at least he had the stereotypical ghostly qualities: an almost transparent, soft-white luminescence that took his form. I found myself next to his house, over by the back door. I heard a soft whimpering, like the kind you hear in a horror movie before a spook suddenly bursts onto the scene. Sure, enough, here came Tracy, passing through the back door, down the steps and over to the garage. I called out to him, "Tracy, stop! Don't go in there. Wait... wait ... stop." Of course, he continued on, oblivious to my calls.
Into the garage he went, passing through its walls as easily as one might walk through water. I followed him into the garage, opening the door to find the car running and Tracy sitting in the car, coughing from the fumes. "Don't do this," I said. The pleas continued, to no avail. Soon, the coughing stopped, and the spirit lay slumped. Then my brain switched off the cruel dream. The next night, it was the same, only this time I was, for whatever reason, the spirit, and it was a real-looking Tracy who once again went through the motions, myself again unable to help.
It doesn't take a psychologist to explain why I would have a dream where I slip back in time and attempt to prevent a friend's life from ending. We often wish we could turn back the clock and stop something from occurring. It's odd... as a kid, it was stuff like the Kennedy assassination. If only someone could go back to Dallas and prevent that motorcade from happening. As an adult, it's all about the people I've known. If only I could have been there to stop Tracy. If only I could have made my dad go to the doctor a year before his cancer diagnosis. If only, if only.
Such thoughts of wishing to slip back arose this week after two local deaths and a massacre at an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando. A gunman murdered 49 people at the nightclub, and injured over 50 more. Here in Champaign-Urbana, a woman was on a walk in her neighborhood and became the unintended target of a gunman. She succumbed to her wounds yesterday. Last Saturday night, a young man went to his dad's house, an argument ensued, he left, then returned a few hours later only to be shot dead by his father.
There have been no dreams yet of these incidents. I hope there are none. But that hasn't stopped them from appearing in my mind's eye. How I wish we could slip back and either stop the Orlando gunman from committing his heinous act, or tell the clubgoers, "Maybe you should stay in tonight?" Of the young man who lost his life in Urbana, I wish we could slip back and tell him, "Don't go back to your father's house tonight. Just... let it go for now." The woman shot while walking? Well, at some point, this all becomes a tad ridiculous, telling someone they can't go for a walk in their own neighborhood, and yet that is what I think of (that, or stopping the shooter before he pulled the trigger).
In truth, there's no way to go back and save anyone. The events that happen around, and, to us are, for the most part, a long time in the making. They involve a life's worth of experiences, interactions and emotions, and are already well underway by the time we take notice of them. And yet, I still see myself standing outside Tracy's house that night, attempting to convince him to turn away from a fate already occurred. Perhaps in the next dream I'll be successful.