Reframing the hero:
I wasn’t expecting Papi to show up in my dream. We were at a Mexican restaurant in Venice, CA, sitting at a round table accompanied by my older siblings, Karen and Dany. Neither of them ever lived in the US, and besides, both Papi and my sister Karen, have been dead for decades. We all ordered enchiladas, but they looked like small burritos, filled with delicious queso Mexicano, veggies, and black beans, melted cheese on top. They were expensive, the four enchiladas plus coffee ended up being $1,000. This seemed too much, but Papi didn’t care about the cost. He was happy we were having an opportunity to sit at a meal together. He was calm.
Papi was younger looking, in his late 40s. Sitting across from him, I was absorbed looking at his facial features, as if he was a subject in a live drawing class, and I was outlining them; the slight upward turn of his mouth, the oval-shaped eyes with a slight slant downward at the corners, and minor sagging of the skin below his jaw. I was hoping to retain it all, as his face and smile felt so real and looked similar to my own. Papi was reciprocating my attention with warmth and kindness that filled my heart with love towards him.
He invited us for a branch goodbye before departing to Europe. He was on his way to file for reparations from the German government for his WWII traumas, and the loss of his immediate family. He turned to me and said he wasn’t sure he could file reparations because he felt ashamed that he’d taken so many psychiatric meds. “Why would they give it to me if they know that?” I leaned forward, put my head on his shoulder and we were very close like never before. I said, “It’s OK to ask for money from the Germans for what they caused you, Papi. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I love you.” He was holding me. I put my arms around him and told him that he should forgive himself for taking the pills, that it makes so much sense that he tried to numb his pain. He looked at me with an expression filled with so much love and gratefulness, and said, thank you. Thank you for understanding me. Thank you for seeing me.
I lay in bed with my eyes closed, awake, holding on to these feelings of our reciprocated love. I didn’t want to let go of his face, the one that reflected at me, that could see me, and I, him. First time in my life I felt the intimacy of our love and was afraid to lose this new feeling of closeness, even if it was only a dream. Jungian psychology says that our dreams are keys to understand what’s going on in our subconscious. Was Papi me in this dream? Was I forgiving myself for the shame I carry for not showing and feeling love for him while he was alive? And while lying unconscious in an ICU from a suicide attempt that killed him? Is this fifty-six-year-old embracing the seventeen-year-old with kindness, “It’s OK to let go of the shame.” Can the archetypal relationship between my complicated but deeply human father, and a shame-filled daughter be reframed in a dream?