I steered the car along a winding country road that gradually became narrower and more rutted. Beside me sat an older man, a tall fellow with fussy mannerisms and a faint thatch of white hair.
The man might have been English. The road might have been dirt or gravel. These details and others are indistinct because this experience took place in a dream I had a couple of weeks ago.
I was a guest at this man’s home, but we were driving to a spot he hadn’t seen before, a place I had heard about that offered spectacular natural beauty. A beach maybe, or a lake. The conditions became more perilous as we drove, and my host/passenger grew annoyed at me for dragging him along. We bickered. At one point the car almost toppled off a precipice (deep symbolism alert!) but eventually we reached our destination and returned safely.
The dream didn’t end there. My wife Barbara, waiting back at the home where we were staying, wanted to see this spot, too. (She wasn’t one to miss out on an interesting experience.) So I repeated the trip with her, this time without mishap.
This is where things got weird, even by dream standards.
I woke up gradually and immediately recalled a real-life experience that blended seamlessly with the dream narrative. In 2008, Barbara and I traveled to England to visit Jim and Jan, a prosperous retired couple she had befriended a few years earlier at a cooking school in France. We flew to London, rented a car and drove for a few hours to their house in a rural area. The landscape in this region resembled what I had seen in the dream. And the man beside me in the car looked a good deal like my recollection of Jim.
The trip went well, but it had an ugly postscript. A few weeks after our return we got an email from Jim saying he was ending our relationship because the proprietor of the place where we had stayed, a friend of his, was displeased with the condition of the room after we left. (It was one of those little cabins with a kitchen). In addition, Jan was unhappy at the mess left in the room in their home where Barbara stayed for a few days after I returned to Houston.
Even if we were guilty as charged, severing a relationship seemed a harsh response. We lived on different continents, after all, and were destined to see one another again only rarely, if ever. The message seemed needlessly cruel.
My reaction to the email was annoyance, but Barbara was deeply hurt. Friendship was among her greatest skills. Being insulted and rejected by someone she considered a friend was one of the worst things that could happen to her.
Four years after this trip, Barbara died of cancer. Her descent was swift — 10 months from first symptoms to death. Jim must have seen something about it on Facebook because he posted a message of condolence. I reflected that a kind gesture would have been more meaningful when she was alive.
I hadn’t thought about this trip, or about Jim and Jan, for years. I suppose it wasn’t a coincidence that they re-emerged in a dream-infused memory in the wee hours of January 28, 2020, the eighth anniversary of Barbara’s death.