On Octobers, Superheroes, And Dreams

by Christopher Paul on October 1, 2012

It’s fitting that last night I would have a dream about my mother. Today is October 1 and October is generally thought of as Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a disease that took my mom from me over three years ago and now kills her sister. My mom was diagnosed in August or September of 2005 and there was nothing I could do but watch her go through the stages of grief. I’m lucky I had a few years between diagnosis and death to talk to her and engrain more memories of her knowing she’d slip away from me at some point. I know some families aren’t so lucky and some are more so.

I don’t remember her telling me her true prognosis. If any of my siblings knew it’s only because they asked about it. I preferred to hope for the best but expected the worst in some distant future so I never brought up her life expectancy, chances of survival, or any of those phrases that cancer patients hear. But as she fought the battle with surgeries, chemicals, and hope, I saw what was happing. In a way, she was gone from day one because she gave up everything she owned and made plans for “the time” when she couldn’t officiate arguments between my brothers or give advice or cheer me up.

As a child, the superhero I most wanted to be like was Superman. His alter-ego was mild and soft-spoken like me. I always wished the bullying I experienced would bounce off me like bullets did to The Man of Steel. And I wished I had super powers to fight the evils of the world and help people in their unique time of need – to protect those who were vulnerable or unable. It’s a feeling that, I’m sure, many have felt.

In my nightmare, I was told my mother was alive after I had thought she died weeks ago. When I went looking for her, I couldn’t find her and started calling everyone I knew to figure out where she was. Eventually, I reached a brother of mine who frantically told me she was at “some hospital” where, very randomly, she had also contracted SARS. She was quarantined.

Imagining her frightened and probably near death, I wanted to race to her and offer strength and comfort. Running outside of wherever I was, I actually thought I could fly to her and, at the least, bring her back to a safe place where I hoped to magically heal her pain and suffering. Believing so hard I possessed Superman’s powers, I jumped up to take flight but fell hard to the ground where I cried out in anguish at not being able to get to my mother.

I felt the hopelessness and sadness all over again in a flash of false imagery perpetrated by my nocturnal mind. Just before I woke, my dream-self realized my mother had already died and this was, in fact, a nightmare. But the sense of loss, anger, sadness, and uselessness came back and I lay in bed for another 30 minutes before I calmed myself to sleep. It’s a terrible cycle I imagine every person experiences as they live through someone else’s death – to breast cancer or otherwise.

In Octobers past, I’ve done walks. I’ve worn pink ribbons on my lapels. I’ve worn the pink rubber bracelets. I’ve worn my tie. Symbols – costumes, really – for those needing hope or a savior. But for me, they are only small visual tokens of pain that come back to haunt an ever increasing number of people. I want Octobers to be different. I want there to be a different meaning. I want to feel different.

My childhood fantasy of being Superman doesn’t exist in my consciousness anymore. Apparently, however, it lives in my dreams but it doesn’t make it any more obtainable. I hope that my dream of feeling different one day isn’t as impossible.

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