“The past does not come back merely by longing for it. All we have is the now.” Mere words. But they take on a very special meaning when you have lost a lot. The past keep calling you when you have lost irretrievably. And you don’t really want the now.

When life has taken a lot, it may look like not much is left for death to take. But when the end happens, there is no comfort. There is no sense of balance, retribution or fairness. The loss is simply compounded. It is excruciating. Death is its own beast and has nothing to do with life’s trials. He does not owe anyone anything more or less than what is promised. One death. And when he collects— he takes fully.

It has been six months since dad passed and the journey has been a mix of good and rough. It seems I am moving forward at times and at times in circles. Healing feels great and then there is a darkness that has endless powers to hurt. His death was followed closely by the pandemic. The historic, COVID-19 caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The one that changed the world in ways it has not changed in our lifetime. The one we will tell future generations about if we survive. But the fact that we lost our dad right before the world became infected was insurmountable over insurmountable.

Thankfully, I have not dreamt of dad all this time. His memory haunts me enough, I was grateful he spares me in dreams.

Until last night, more like very early this morning. I dreamed of him. And I really wish I hadn’t.

It wasn’t horrible, in a horror story sense. I was in a typical hospital elevator, one of those big long ones that can transfer patients. I distinctly remember I was riding down. It was a huge elevator, moving very slowly. The elevator rather resembled a Mumbai local train compartment. I was near the door. Dreams are weird the way they mix things up. I was seated (yes, seated) right next to someone I knew, because I remember sharing a smile and a chat with her. There were food vendors coming in and out (remember how this is a hospital elevator and a Mumbai local train). There was an old timey peanut vendor who had pre-packaged shelled peanuts in plastic bags that she carried in a large basket over her head. She just sat down with the basket right outside the elevator (apparently to make a sale) and me and my friend kept passing peanut bags in and money out of the elevator.

I wondered in my dream why we were halted for so long, at one particular floor, but no one else seemed bothered by it. We just assumed that is how hospital elevators worked, sluggish and patient, so everyone had a chance to get on and off. My eyes wondered to the hospital floor. Just then my ‘friend’ offered me a hand sanitizer, because both she and I had helped other people buy peanuts and we had in the process touched things… I don’t remember thinking this was happening in the COVID era — because no one had masks on and there was zero social distancing. But like I said, dreams mix things up, including timelines.

While I was looking at the nurses’ station from my perch in the elevator, I saw my mother. She was holding two cups of tea in her hands. The cups were covered to keep the tea warm. She was in a black and white saree that had a deep red border — it was a Pochampalli double ikat saree — black, white and red geometric, kaleidoscopic block printed designs with rich deep red colored border. A very attractive style of her youth. She had not owned a Pochampalli for years now. At that time I was puzzled, I knew I was in the hospital to meet my seriously ill, old dad, yet mom was young and needless to say, beautiful. She had a smile on her face. I knew she was there to bring tea to my dad, probably also with a set of fresh clothes, perhaps his shaving kit... Things you do when your spouse is hospitalized.

I jumped off the elevator before it started to move again, called out to mom, “Aai”, I said. She was far and there was a sea of people in between, but she seemed to hear me and looked around to figure who called her. But she got distracted and kept walking. So I started walking briskly toward her or else I lose her on that cross between hospital floor/local train station crowd, she was still holding the covered tea cups.

That is when I saw him. Dad. Walking towards me (but I thought he was unconscious in the ICU!), looking way younger, his hair dyed dark and combed over the balding head, like he used to many years ago. He was heavy set like he was before the two heart attacks. (Since the heart attacks he lost half his body weight, stopped dyeing his hair and aged by a decade in two years). So there he was, walking down the hospital corridor, I recognized the butter yellow shirt. He was holding a cloth bag with vegetables and greens in it — he always bought the best veggies on his evening walk. He came towards me. I was so happy and dumbfounded my heart jumped not knowing how and what was happening but happy all the same.

He looked at me coldly, no sign of recognition. He looked distant, even sinister. For a man who could hardly contain his joy around his children, for a man who greeted people he barely knew — he looked to have a rather strange indifference in his face. Not a frown, not a smile, just a serious, dark empty expression. There was no love, nor any sign that love ever existed! It is like meeting your own father in a parallel universe where he does not know you, does not like you.

He walked up to me and then turned right and kept walking like I wasn’t even there. I was way shorter to him in my dream, because he towered over me — I had to look up to see his face.

He kept walking and a sense of doom and sadness crept over me. I desperately looked around to see if I could find my mother in that strange place and if she could make sense of this. But she was gone too. Just then the dream melted and dissolved away and I was left feeling extremely disturbed.

They were both young. Mom did not see me. Dad saw right through me. He just kept walking. He was right there but he was not him. Like an illusion, a lie, a mirage, a tease, … a betrayal!

What can be worse?

Life has changed so much in so many ways since he passed, life keeps happening and we march to time’s relentless drum beat. But in this dream it looked like our dad had moved on and left us in ways worse than dying.

No matter how much I long for it, the past isn’t coming back. We only have the present, the now. And I am not sure I want it.

Heart, we will forget him

Heart, we will forget him. You and I, tonight.

You may forget the warmth he gave, I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me, That I my thoughts may dim;

Haste! lest while you’re lagging, I may remember him!

-Emily Dickinson

Writer, Thinker, Scientist