a dream, 11/17/2018
content note: accidental death
I had a dream about the large extended family of a woman who had died young. On the anniversary of her death, I was watching the family explain what had happened, in the place where it had happened.
The young woman was nineteen years old, and had just been married. The newlyweds moved into a modest but charming house with a big yard. The yard had quite a few trees, some fruit-bearing, some not, and so they set to work assessing them. The young man decided to chop down a tree to clear the space for a garden, and the young woman had climbed up a very tall fruit tree to check its health and the quality of its fruit. They were a bit like mangoes, but larger and more green.
As I listened, the young man stood at the stump of the tree, pretending to chop at it with the axe he held in his hands. He explained that he had never cut down a strong old tree before, and it had proved much more difficult than he anticipated. As he kept chopping, he heard a terrible sound. A thud. His new wife had fallen from the tall tree, struck the ground, and died.
I listened from the branches of the tree, which still stood, and looked toward him, where he stood at the stump where the other tree had been. The whole family was there, grandparents and siblings and honorary cousins, and the young women were in the tree.
But when it came to the part in the story when she fell to her death, the young women of her family stepped out of the branches with billowing sheets of white fabric, parachutes, gliding softly through the air in graceful arabesques until they touched the dirt.
Some of their movements were less like gentle falls and more like flight, their hands guiding the fabric in the air in a dance that was brief but slow and meditative, mournful but also with some touch of joy in the action. It was as if by recreating this tragic event in safety they could defang it somehow, defuse its power.
Watching their skill I realized, this was not the first anniversary of this event. I looked at the young man and I realized he was not the widower – perhaps that was his grandfather, or his great-great-uncle, and it had been decided that this year he would play the part. Each year they told the story of the woman who had died, and each year they would keep her alive, floating softly to the ground on homemade wings.