Sometimes life melts into fantasy, then back again, almost before you notice. But there was one time I remember having that sort of feeling…of being pulled from one reality into another…that didn’t happen in an eye blink. Instead it began slowly, then picked up speed, gradually blurring my ability to comprehend all that followed. Only now, years later, am I able to see clearly what was gained, as well as lost in the course of that event.
It began on an early Friday afternoon in Albuquerque, where I was living at the time. Laura, my best friend (and erstwhile lover) had come down from Madrid (a small town just south of Santa Fe) to spend the day shopping for art supplies and to visit with me.
By early afternoon she’d finished shopping, and called to see if I was up for going to a movie she’d heard was quite good. I agreed, but somewhat reluctantly. Going to a theater at a strip mall to see a movie was not my kind of thing…much less in the early afternoon. You know the feeling…coming out of a theater into bright sunlight and the sights ‘n sounds of a typical workday after spending two hours dramatized by bigger than life images, music and emotions in the dark…all of which I thought would probably be exaggerated because of the unusual ‘surreality’ of this particular film. As it turns out, my initial resistance was prophetic.
We sat through the film, holding hands, and were completely drawn into and transformed by the drama that unfolded. It was as though we had both entered into the same dream. When it was over, we were emotionally exhausted and in no condition to rejoin the “real world” or continue a normal day. Typically, on such occasions, we would go someplace to eat, then return to my apartment and spend the remainder of the evening enjoying each other as friends and lovers do.
Instead, we walked out to the parking lot, had a brief, somewhat superficial conversation, and basically decided to call it quits for the day. I went back to my office, and she returned home to Madrid.
Laura was an artist and a calligrapher. Prior to her move to New Mexico, which is where we met, she had lived for several years in Long Beach, California and had worked as a full-time calligrapher for the city. In many ways she was an anomaly. She was 39 when we met, had never been married, had no children, and had only a couple of brief, semi-serious relationships in her past.
Part of that was due to the fact that she was an unusually quiet, sensitive, introspective woman…and thus found it difficult to engage in the normal push and shove of dating and romance. Another factor was that she was often very “internalized” and lived in a sort of imaginary world of her own. It was almost as though she was not of this time or place. She was raised in a catholic environment, went to catholic secondary schools, and graduated from a catholic university with a degree in art. In short, much of her life had been spent in the company of nuns. And that is probably what she would have become…except that, while quite spiritual, she was oddly not very religious. Which left her somewhere in between. A strange place to be.
But where the real anomaly lay was in the contrast between her internal persona, and her outward appearance. She was a beautiful woman, unusually tall (6′-1″) and slender. When I met her she was almost forty, but looked twenty. She had that kind of smooth skin and body tone that just doesn’t seem to show age. So you can imagine the impact she had on people, especially men, yet how incredibly uncomfortable that was for her. She simply did not connect to her exterior self, and was always mystified and effectively put-off by all the attention she got for that reason. The result was that she tended to shy away from contact with people…which amplified her propensity to be withdrawn and self-contained.
While she was highly accomplished and recognized in the world of professional calligraphy, her first love was art. And (not surprisingly) much of her drawings and paintings were of angels. It was almost an obsession. But her style was somewhat primitive, and fell between impressionistic, iconic, and fantasy. As a result, it wasn’t taken seriously by the artistic community, and she had a hard time showing or marketing her work in a conventional way. But that didn’t stop her. She drew and painted prolifically, and her work gradually filled and overtook her living space. She didn’t care. As long as she had a desk, easel, a toilet and enough floor space to stretch out a futon for sleeping, she was satisfied.
Nothing I’m able to say comes even close to capturing what an unusual woman she was. God knows why she loved me, but she did. And it was reciprocal. We lived together for a few months after we first met, and I remodeled and added a couple of rooms to her small house. But after a time I got restless, had become increasingly hooked by the emerging potential of the Internet, and decided to start a dial-up service in Albuquerque. I began commuting each day, but quickly tired of that and decided to get a place there to stay during the work week, and spend weekends in Madrid.
During that same period she started renting a booth and showing/selling her art work at the Santa Fe art market…a very large, outdoor arts & crafts facility that drew thousands of people each weekend from literally all over the world. I began spending time with her there on the weekends, but that started getting old fast. A place filled with flea-marketeers, artists and gushy, sandaled, Volvo-ed tourists was not my preferred milieu. So I began finding excuses for not coming on this weekend, or that weekend and, finally, not at all. Which effectively reduced our contact to her bi-monthly art supply trip to Albuquerque.
In short, much as we cared for each other, we were nonetheless beginning to drift apart. And that was really causing her, especially, a great deal of anxiety. We were increasingly depending on the phone for communication. Sometimes talking for hours. And there was seldom a day that passed without one of us calling the other. Still, on that last trip of hers, it had become increasingly clear that our relationship was coming to a crossroad. But neither of us, on that day, was ready yet to discuss it openly. And that was the context, that afternoon, as we sat there holding hands in a dark theater watching What Dreams May Come.*
She called the next evening (Saturday), to let me know how her day had gone. That was typical, as I had been the driving force behind her open-air marketing effort (without which she wouldn’t have done it), so she usually called me both Saturday and Sunday evenings to let me know how sales had been each day. Actually, over the prior few weeks, her sales had begun to climb steadily, and she was by then averaging a few hundred dollars each day. That was important, because it was now her only source of income, and the increase in sales meant that she was no longer having to rely on savings to pay bills.
But she didn’t call Sunday night. Which was very unusual. Nor did she call Monday. By Tuesday night I was beginning to get worried, so called her. There was no answer. That was very odd, as she almost never went anywhere, especially at night. So I left a message on her machine. The next morning, around 10am, I got a call from a mutual friend who lived nearby. She told me that she hadn’t seen Laura for a couple of days, and had just gone to her house to see if she was home. Laura’s car was in the driveway, but she didn’t answer the door. So our friend was calling to see if I knew what was going on. I told her that I too was beginning to get worried, and asked her to try the door again. I also told her where the spare key was hidden, and asked that she go in and check things out if she still didn’t get a response.
A few minutes later she called back, this time from inside the house. She had found Laura in her bed, as though asleep. But she wasn’t asleep, she was gone.
I arrived in Madrid just as the people from the coroner’s office were getting ready to remove her body. They wouldn’t let me go inside to see her, and kept me away while they brought her out, zipped in a body bag, and put her in the waiting ambulance. It drove off, and there I stood. Never to be the same again.
Laura had died in her sleep, that past Saturday night, within an hour or so of our last conversation. A valve in her heart had simply opened with one beat, but failed to close on the next. And thus began my personal experience with what dreams may come…
* What Dreams May Come, a film released in October, 1998 starring Robin Williams. (See Trailer) The title is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause…”
The film’s producer, Stephen Simon, has an excellent website dedicated to promoting imaginative, thought-provoking films: www.spiritualcinemacircle.com