Outside of work, Sandy P______ and I were not close. Certainly we got on all right, and worked well together, for two people who were polar opposites in so many many ways. She was a married older woman with two sons coming of age, a real salt-of-the-earth working class Republican from south of the Mason-Dixon line, where I am a Northern Liberal writer and graphic artist, both childless and single. But we liked each other and had a good, strong working relationship, nothing more. Which makes the thing that happened that much stranger.
In time I moved on to a different job for a different employer. As far as I know, Sandy stayed on at the bookstore until she became too sick to work.
I believe that she must have been in her mid-fifties when she was diagnosed with cancer. I had not seen her in several years, but I heard about her illness through the so-called grapevine: Waterville, Maine is a small town.
She fought it hard. It went into remission — then it came back.
The last time I saw Sandy was in a local supermarket. I was heading to the checkout counter when I heard my name being called enthusiastically from the distance. I followed the sound into one of the aisles and there found Sandy in a wheelchair, being pushed by her loving husband, who had himself shed his normal appearance of vitality for that of the strained caregiver — a look I was myself to become too familiar with in later years.
She was wearing a turban to hide her baldness, but was smiling and seemed as full of energy as ever, despite the chair. She had taken on that contradictory aspect that one sometimes sees in very sick people: drained, yet full of life. We exchanged a few pleasant words, said our goodbyes and each moved on.
I did not see her or have any news of her for several months after that meeting. Life went on.
Then, early one morning, when I was in that middle-ground between sleeping and waking, she came to me in a dream.
In that dream, I was literally coming back from some Deeper Place, from a deeper dream that I do not remember, when she and I met in passing in a public park. I was surprised to see her. She greeted me as enthusiastically as she had in the supermarket. There was no sign of the turban or wheelchair. She looked her old self.
We sat down at a picnic table that sprang up out of nowhere to accommodate us. I remember being really glad to see her. I said, “How are you? You look great!”
And she did. She had her hair and her color and her vitality back, all at Full Strength.
She said, “I am great, I’m completely cured! They were ready to put me in a pine box, but I showed them!”
Which is just how she talked in real life. Emphatic. With just a hint of a southern accent.
We sat for just a bit and talked a little more; but then the time came when I had to go. I got up and left her there at the table. Suddenly, she looked quite sad.
I woke, remembering everything and feeling so strange. I understood immediately what had happened, yet I shrugged it off and thought, Wouldn’t that be odd if…
No more had I gotten dressed and made my way down to the kitchen when the telephone rang. It was Ellen R________, our former boss at the bookstore.
Sandy had died during the night.
I will not tell you that what I experienced was anything other than a dream. And yet I remember it vividly all these years later, and wonder why, of all the people in her life, she came to see me.