Six nights ago I dreamed about a long-dead friend and have felt obsessed about it ever since. Just finished looking at old pictures of her I found in dusty high school yearbooks. She graduated in June of 1976 a year ahead of me. Her name was Jo Anne.
We didn’t hang out much at all in high school. We became friends many years later after she tracked me down to Richmond, the capital city of Virginia, where I lived and attended grad school in the mid-1980s. She wasn’t my girlfriend. We were never lovers. More like I was her confidante – we were buddies and pen pals there for a while. Before she died.
We were both rural kids bussed from the far corners of Prince Edward County into the town of Farmville, where we attended high school in the south-central part of Virginia. She was a wild beauty who once stood up and shouted out in the one class we ever shared, “If it feels good, do it!” Followed by a big, goofy laugh.
The rest of us fool kids giggled and either nodded our heads in agreement or shook it like “She’s crazy, crazier than us, like rilly crazy.” I did all three. Jo Anne was tall and slender with long, black hair. She carried herself with an air of crazy confidence, reminding me sometimes of that zany Swedish character Pippi Longstocking. Art was among her favorite subjects, and she was known to be quite imaginative with both pen and brush. Back then I was way too shy to do anything but laugh with her and admire her daredevilry.
Ten or twelve years later, after I had already graduated from high school then college, been married and divorced, moved to the city, and was buried into my first intense year of graduate school, Jo Anne looked me up and found me. She got my contact info from my parents back on the farm in Prince Edward. She knocked on my apartment door where I lived down in The Fan, the Bohemian part of Olde Richmond Town. I opened my door, and she came on in and sat down. Just like that. Out of the blue.
I had to hold my breath and pretend nothing was the matter. She had warned me, but it was still a shock. She was all broken up from a terrible automobile accident. Or maybe it was a motorcycle wreck? I just don’t remember now. But she had a severe limp, was kind of hunched over, and had lost an eye and part of her face. Her voice was husky and whispery, as the accident had damaged her neck and throat. She was still beautiful in a ghostly way, and it was clear she was struggling with it all even as she tried to dismiss it all as another “just what happened, life goes on” kind of thing.
It was tough being with her at first. I felt uncomfortable, not as mature as I am now. Hell, I’d still feel uncomfortable. Jo Anne had a great sense of humor, though, and a certain deep wisdom. We became pen pals. I believe I still have some of her letters buried down in basement boxes. I remember her big, loopy scrawl mixed with precise lettering. She wrote with a sort of restrained chaos, as if ever moment counted and I wasn’t present enough to feel it. Our conversations touched upon many topics, from spirituality to healing to growing up in the country to just plain having fun to the shared pain of broken hearts and love lost.
One day the letters stopped. Was it 1985? Or 86? I began to miss her and wondered why. Then the pressures of grad school focused my attention elsewhere. One day I read in the paper she’d died suddenly. Still don’t know why. She was gone. Just. Like. That.
Jo Anne must’ve been in her late-20s as I was in my mid-20s. She had a huge spirit, and some of it had been crushed. I suspected she had the hots for me, but wasn’t sure if she desired more than a close friendship. She clearly was attracted to me and sought me out. I was unable to go there with her. Not only was I was still recovering from the pain of a traumatic divorce, but I couldn’t handle the desecration of her outer beauty back then. One can only speculate what wonders Time would have wrought if her life had continued as I matured. We did share some intimate letters, as her inner beauty captivated my spirit.
Jo Anne was a dynamic young woman, bursting with energy, and I could already see her batteries emptying out. I just didn’t expect her to die.
Many years later, in the early morning darkness of Thursday, September 10, 2009, I dreamed of my long-dead friend. In my dream Jo Anne Ferguson was alive and radiant in a new, fully healed body. She just danced and spun with delight – spinning through the air, her feet never really touching the ground – and the air was smoky and smoky in a good, homey kinda way – a clean, white dress with shoulder straps, V-necked, and waistband with a skirt that hung loose above the knees – her white dress whipped around her body as she spun in gray smoke.
We never spoke, I never heard her voice, but she knew I was there watching her. She was too full of joy and unexpected life. And every moment counted. And she knew I was there. She knew I was there watching her. For every moment counted. Every moment.
In real life and in this dream she had a mane of tangled black curls. As she spun suspended in smoky air her wild mane of hair whipped in slow motion behind her head. In real life she wore big glasses. In this dream her eyes sparkled free of such things. Her eyes lit up with deep, black sparkles. In the dream she wore that plain, white dress, something she didn’t wear in real life, as she was a blue jeans hippy kinda gal.
My dreamed morphed into two other events that seemed significant at the time, but this first piece compelled me the most. The urge to write of it was overwhelming. So I emailed questions about my dream to my friend Scott, who had recently started a new men’s group course I’ve unofficially nicknamed the “Bone Soup Men’s Group.”
In the ending ritual the Wednesday night before the dream Scott lit a fire with sparks struck from a flint and cremated a bird that had died earlier that day. The little bird had flown into a window of his home and broke his neck. Just like human beings barrel up the highway and crash into other cars and maim and kill each other. Just a bird flying into windows. Or a reminder to be more aware and appreciative of the present moment – our lives and those of others may hinge upon it – who knows when the next massive asteroid or comet will smash into our planet?
Still got those letters somewhere in a box with other old stuff, archaic remnants from the Age of Paper. I have not thought about her in many years. She’s been dead a couple of decades. And here Jo Anne is again, spinning in my dream. What is that all about? Why these images? What does it mean? From the standpoint of conventional dream interpretation, what aspect of me does she represent? From an alternative standpoint, why is she reaching out to me from the Afterlife after so many years and what is she trying to tell me as she shared her joy of discovering herself as a free spirit in a perfect body?
If the Afterlife is indeed free of temporal limitations, perhaps as a beam of light traveling across the galaxy a beam of her soul experienced upon her death finally reached me in some moment of spontaneous resurrection. And, of course, I’m aware of the influence cremating the bird must’ve had upon my dream.
Shit, I am crying. It is hard for me to cry. Especially for myself. Tears run down my face and my voice breaks. I fold my arms against my chest to stop the crying. I open back up. But I’ve already moved on. So perhaps this is the gift. The freedom to cry.
Remember where ya been. Watch where ya going. In between be here now.
And Jo Anne, thank you for the gifts: the dream, the tears, the lessons. I have a hunch resting in peace forever is not your thing. I have a feeling you’re partying it up in the Afterlife, celebrating the pure joys of the soul.
Still, for the rest of us back in the mundane here-now: remember where you’ve been, watch where you go, and be here now.
Count every moment as it arises. Then let it go. Into the flow. Be the flow. Flow. Now.
William Dudley Bass
September 16, 2009
March 27, 2012
June 7, 2012
NOTE: Originally posted on my older blog, Cultivate and Harvest, @ http://cultivateandharvest.blogspot.com/2009/09/last-night-i-dreamed-of-dead-woman-from.html, then revised, edited, and reposted on my website On Earth at the Brink @ http://williamdudleybass.com this March then June of 2012. Unfortunately, those old high school yearbooks as well as my collection of her letters were destroyed when my house burned down a couple of years earlier in March of 2010.
NOTE 2: This revised essay appears on my website, http://williamdudleybass.com/, and reappears here with my permission as the Author. Thank you.
Copyright © 2009, 2012 by William Dudley Bass.