Since 2004, I have had this recurring nightmare.
I am in my house and, though it is completely furnished with my belongings, it is still under construction. I can see open places in the ceiling. The roof has only half its shingles in place, the rest is thin tar paper.
It never occurs to me to question why all my stuff has been moved to this unfinished house. In fact, it’s furnished with nicer stuff than I really own, but the dream is so vivid that I am not quite aware yet that I am dreaming. I just have this mounting anxiety that everything should have been completed already.
And then it starts raining….
Water appears everywhere. It doesn’t even bother to drip. Water streams down from the ceiling, soaking the carpets. It cascades over my appliances. A gentle waterfall washes down from the attic through windowless dormers and over the stairs.
My home and all my things are gone and I experience a momentary sense of despair until my mind reminds me that I’m dreaming and I awaken in my house, which is still standing, with a peculiar sense of relief and unease.
Throughout the construction of my home, I experienced this nightmare frequently. It persisted even after my wife and I moved in. Finally, after a few years, the dream went away.
That is until last Saturday night when it came back forcefully and left me feeling uneasy at about 3 a.m. Sunday morning.
And I know the reason why.
Because of Halloween, October is easily my favorite month of the year. When I thought about what to write this week, I’d thought about sharing the fun side of the month: the haunted houses across the region, the costumes, the horror movie marathons on Turner Classic Movies. Man, I really do love me a good monster movie.
However, after enjoying the early afternoon at the Barbecue Cook Off downtown and being given a preview of Billy and Troy Roberts’ Haunted Barn, I was returning home on Millersburg Pike and came upon a terrible sight. I had admired the Thompsons’ beautiful country home from decades of driving that road, and here it was — utterly destroyed by fire. Both fire departments were parked in the yard and an ambulance was in the driveway. Thank goodness its services were not needed. WLEX-TV even had its news van on site.
Of course, one of my jobs is to cover these things and I make it a habit to have a camera available.
In the course of covering the situation, I realized that the homeowners, Anita and Terry Thompson, were on the premises. I don’t know them, but as I explained before, I had admired their home for many years. I know that they were shaken and I wanted to express my sympathy.
I had experienced a similar thing years ago in Carrollton. On a Christmas Day, a neighboring family forgot to unplug the lights on their real Christmas tree when they went to celebrate the holiday with relatives. They returned to find their home gutted.
There were tears but the family was young, their insurance was good and it wasn’t long before they were moving on.
That Saturday afternoon was a little different.
I thought about the accumulation of memories contained in that house: the family pictures and portraits, the trinkets that may have had a special meaning for this couple. All those decades stored on shelves or in a drawer – gone. Irretrievably gone.
This was real world horror. In fact, if you read some of the stories in this week’s paper, it was a whole weekend of real world tragedy and horror. The kind of stuff that makes you sigh heavily and wonder….
So it was with some surprise when after I expressed my sympathies to Mr. Thompson, he, with a shrug of his shoulders and a slight tremble in his voice, said “Things are here today and they’re gone tomorrow. We’ll be alright.”
At the moment, I thought it a particularly brave thing to say. That moment would continue to come back to me the rest of the day and the more I thought about it, the more profoundly was I moved by the sentiment he expressed.
I know there was a certain level at which Mr. Thompson had to resign himself to that thought. After all, there was little hope of recovering much from the house.
But I do believe that the more he and his wife said it, and thought about it, the greater their conviction would grow that what he said was the truth.
As I know many people are doing, I pray for this couple to be able to get through this crisis. But within my prayers is the certainty that they have already moved past it in an important way.
There was a powerful lesson in Mr. Thompson’s determination to move beyond what I hope becomes, to them, little more than a temporary setback.
But it’s a hard lesson to learn and I am a poor student at best.
After all, I still suffered the return of that damn nightmare. And somewhere else, a camel just ambled through the eye of a needle.