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By Martha Sherwood
Dreamed June 19, 2003

After many years, I was back in the biology department at Cornell--the Plant Science building. I'd been offered a temporary research job here, in Mr. Wood's lab at the end of a long hall, behind a door I'd never seen before. The lab had the unfinished aspect of a warehouse or temporary quarters.

For the weekend, we were going on a departmental retreat at a house in the Adirondack woods. I agreed to share costs with some grad students, and we rode up in a van. En route we shared food; I brought out a bag of Royal Hawaiian potato chips. The man sitting next to me was from Hawaii, and said "That's the commonest brand back home, but stateside, it's very expensive." I said "I bought it for 79 cents at Rainbow Foods." He was surprised at the bargain.

When we reached the retreat, the van driver of the van, a large bossy woman, said "I just had $3000 worth of work done on the van. You'll have to reimburse me." I regretted we hadn't explicitly discussed costs before setting out. I argued "You have to amortize the cost of the repairs over their expected life! We should only be responsible for a small fraction attributable to our actual usage." She wouldn't listen.

The house was normally a religious retreat, though we'd come to discuss biology. I was told "Your room's on the second floor," and was directed up a complex stairway that branched into a maze. I tried different flights of steps, but came to a barrier each time. I managed to climb over a couple of them, but found the staircase just ended in mid-air.

A young man offered to help, but it turned out he too had no idea how to reach the second floor. Giving up, he decided to pitch his tent in the yard. It was snowing outside, but he took off his sweatshirt. "I'm not bothered by cold," he said. "I always go shirtless in the snow." Fine for him, but I hadn't come prepared to snow-camp.

As night fell, I wandered the camp, still unsure where I'd be sleeping. In the parking lot I found a crowd of strangers, milling around an older woman, short and perhaps Asian. Pointing at peculiar round tracks in the snow, which circled behind the retreat building, she announced "These are the tracks of the Beast from Revelations. They signal the Last Judgment is at hand." I asked "You mean they're tracks of Leviathan?" The prints were perfectly circular, about two feet in diameter, with slightly raised centers. They were the sort of tracks you'd expect from an elephant with oil-drum legs.

The woman was right about the Last Judgment. The cars in the parking lot began moving by themselves, lining up in neat rows. Rainbow-colored haloes surrounded the people, cars, buildings, and trees. A brilliant light shone from the sky, and I saw vague shapes descend. There was a mechanical noise, so I'm still not sure if I saw angels or aliens.

I re-entered the retreat house, but it had turned into a huge hall, like a gym or a convention center at a fairground--not in the least elegant. Hundreds of people in 1950's clothing were materializing in the hall. The dead were resurrecting! I recognized a few celebrities like Bob Hope and Adlai Stevenson. They all danced to fifties pop music, celebrating.

But amid the revelers, I met a sad woman. She was middle-aged, thin and poor-looking. A girl in her late teens walked up to her. She had only one breast, and her face was badly deformed. They stared at one another, and people around us stopped dancing. The girl said, with a mixture of grief and bitterness, "I thought I'd be given a whole body after I died," and walked off. The middle-aged woman looked guilty. She said "My daughter was born with congenital malformations. They could have been fixed by extensive plastic surgery, but we were poor, and got turned away by various hospitals and agencies. Eventually, I just gave up trying to get help for her. I... I neglected her. When she was 17 or 18, she killed herself." She paused. I was startled that she was vague about the timing of her daughter's death. "I... at the time, I supposed it was just as well she died. But after her suicide, I was riddled by grief, regret, and guilt...." She added bitterly, "I can't believe this is all there was to life." She didn't say it, but somehow I knew: she drank herself to death.

The mother sat down in the middle of the dance floor and wrote a letter, apologizing to her daughter. She signed it and stood, peering around the sea of dancers. She said "Now how do I find her to deliver it?"

Instantly, her daughter walked up again--only this time it took a moment for us to recognize her, for her face and body were healed! Mother and daughter had a joyful reunion...

Happy ending? Mostly. Except for one odd detail. It's true the daughter was healthy and whole, but I couldn't call her normal. She was as gray as an old movie. She had no color at all.

What was still missing?

As I woke, at 4:30 AM, I wondered what else these two had to resolve.


I'm a 54-year-old woman with a doctorate in biology from Cornell. I often dream vividly. I do have a daughter who's 18, but she's not deformed.





Even Heaven itself can be marred by unhealed guilt and resentment. It deforms both the resenter AND the resented. I must let go. In the end, so must we all.

LISTS AND LINKS: religion - self-defense (against that driver!) - another strange dream of Rainbow Foods - stairways to heaven: dreams of ascent - frustration dreams - apocalyptic dreams - Afterworlds and astral planes - dreams of paradise - the dead and revenants - disability and deformity - breasts - mothers and mothering - guilt - grief - healing from old trauma

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