Was there any way she could close the gap that separated them?
- Posted on Apr 27, 2021
Wide awake, I sat up in bed before a hint of light entered the room. I’d had another dream about Jennifer, my middle child. She’s 38 now, a wife and a mother of three. Usually in my dreams she’s still a little girl—shy, freckle-faced and with a brightly colored headband holding back her shiny auburn hair. I loved her hair. I’d brush it into a ponytail and kiss the tiny hollow at the back of her neck before she left for school.
Jennifer was a mama’s girl. I never minded being called in the middle of the night to rescue her from a slumber party. “I have a stomachache, Mama,” she would complain, but we both knew she was homesick. I loved having her snuggle next to me as we drove home at 2 a.m. We fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Jennifer had been five years old and her older sister, Julie, seven, when the twins were born. Everything changed. The boys demanded so much of my time and energy, I hardly had any left for their older sisters. I was constantly exhausted—and short-tempered. Writing became my only escape. In retrospect, I saw it so clearly. Sweet, quiet Jennifer, sandwiched between the others, required almost nothing from me.
One afternoon Jennifer made a chocolate cake for a school bake sale. She did it all by herself, carefully spreading the icing between the layers, covering the cake with chocolate frosting. I stood there admiring it, when somehow she bumped the plate and the cake fell to the floor. The layers slid apart, seemingly in slow motion. We both stared in shock. Then Jennifer sucked in her breath and said softly, “I’ll have to make another one—and there’s no more cocoa.”
I glanced at my watch. Was there any way I could possibly run to the store before I picked up the boys at school and dropped them at their various practices? I was on a tight deadline for an article that was due. Before I could come up with a solution, Jennifer did. “It’s okay, Mama. I know you’re busy,” she said matter-of- factly. “The top layer is fine. I’ll just take that to school.”
And I let her.
While she was in college, her father battled brain cancer. One day Jennifer and I stood outside his hospital room. “He’s not going to be here to give me away when I get married, is he?”
I shook my head sadly, absorbed in my own pain. A year later, her twin brothers walked her down the aisle. I couldn’t help wishing that she and I had spent more time together before she started life on her own.
Eventually Jennifer had three children of her own, two boys and a little girl who looked amazingly like her. They lived about an hour and a half away. Sometimes it seemed as though she were worlds away. I often dreamed about her—dreamed that we were close again, like we were when she was small. But this dream was different.
I got out of bed and went to the kitchen, going over the details. No wonder I’d been jolted awake. Unlike my usual dreams about Jennifer, in this one she was a grown woman and mixed in with a crowd some distance away. I stood on my tiptoes and waved and hollered, “Jennifer! Over here! I’m over here!” But she didn’t notice me.
Was it too early in the morning to call her now? I longed to hear my daughter’s voice. Often when I phoned, she wasn’t home and I ended up speaking to an answering machine. She was busy with the children or playing tennis or substitute teaching. When we did talk, our conversations floundered as if we were talking through a wall. That morning as the sky filled with light, I dialed her number. She answered on the second ring.
“Hey,” I said, trying to sound lighthearted. “I had a dream about you last night.”
I could picture her in her kitchen, her long hair darker than it was when she was a child but still lustrous and beautiful. I wished I could reach out and touch it.
Then Jennifer surprised me. “I dreamed about you too. But it was terrible. I won’t even tell you.”
“You can’t help what you dream, Jen. Go on, tell.”
Her words tumbled out. “We were walking to a wedding, and we took a shortcut through a vegetable garden. I was in the wedding, so I had to be on time, but a farmer hollered that I’d stepped on one of his tomatoes. I offered to pay for it. He said, ‘Okay, 43 cents.’
“That’s when I realized I didn’t have any money and asked you for a loan. You said no, and I started crying. Your purse was a black box with a lock on it. I somehow managed to pry it open. Inside you had lots of money. ‘Please, Mother,’ I begged. You said I had stepped on the tomato and so I would have to pay for it. I ran all the way home, got the money, ran back and paid the farmer. But by the time I got to the church, the wedding was over. I woke up in tears.”
The pain in her voice almost cut my breath off. My purse, a locked black box. Was I that far out of reach?
Jennifer attempted a laugh. “Wasn’t that ridiculous, Mother?”
Dry-mouthed, I replied, “No, not at all. There were so many things I should have done for you….”
“Well, you could have gotten up from your typewriter sometimes,” she said. “You were always writing.”
I couldn’t undo the past, but I loved that she was being honest and open. This was my chance.
“Jennifer, you’re right,” I said. “I overlooked you. You seemed so capable. I forgot you were just a child.”
There was silence on her end of the line. The communication seemed broken again. That was as far as we got. God, please bring Jennifer back to me.
I thought about her all morning. Finally I called an old friend. I told her about Jennifer’s dream and our awkward attempt to connect. “You know,” she said, “your relationship probably broke down over a lot of little things, like that cocoa you told me about. It’ll take little things to mend it.”
Little things, like the cocoa. Little things that stood for bigger things. Like the 43-cent tomato? I had read in the Bible how God spoke to people in dreams. Was my dream God’s way of prompting me to try again with Jen?
From my desk drawer, I pulled out a note card. “Dear Jen,” I wrote on it, “this is what I should have done in the dream.”
I found a small, golden mesh bag with a drawstring, something I’d been saving for years. I dropped 43 cents into it, then stuck the bag and the note into an envelope and addressed it to Jennifer. I barely made it to the post office before that day’s mail went out.
The next day, the phone rang while I was at my typewriter.
“Mama, I got the 43 cents!”
“That was quick!” I said. “I wish I could have been just as quick to reach out to you when you were growing up, Jen. Can I ever make it up to you?”
“Forty-three cents is a start,” she said.
We were talking. I was tremendously encouraged. “Bet you can’t guess what I’m doing,” I said.
“Bet I can.” Jen laughed.
“Writing about 43 cents.” That was my Jen. She knew me like a book. We both laughed. We still had a way to go, but we’d begun. The whole thing started with a dream. Two dreams really. They had given Jen and me an opening, a lead to follow. So what if it meant doing something that seemed a little foolish—Jen telling me about her dream and me sending her some change. Nothing’s too foolish if it’s done out of love. And nothing is too foolish to restore love.
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