Disconnection

by Hillary Donitz-Goldstein

 

Dedicated to the disenfranchised and to those who have slipped through the cracks. You will find your way back again.

For my husband, Aaron.

Author’s Note:

It is the connections we make to others that give our lives meaning, purpose, and validation.

 

Catherine’s sleep was frequently and relentlessly visited by dreams that overdue spring. They were vivid, and unlike any she had in the past, where she could barely grasp an image or idea before it fell back into the abyss of her subconscious. These new invaders enabled her to recall every minute detail, whether it was a sound, a color, a feeling, or an impression.

Last night, she was able to recall an extraordinary place. She walked in bare feet, clad in an unusual garment. Was it a nightgown? She couldn’t tell, as it wasn’t one of her more familiar items of clothing, like her pink pajamas or her blue silk dressing gown. It seemed to be a long white shift with an abundance of patches that felt comfortable against her body. Where would she obtain such an item? It had a warm, lived-in feeling. Even more curiously, she was carrying a tall candle. The smell of wax pleasantly assaulted her nostrils.

She appeared to be underground… she smelled and heard the insistent flow of water, and. although it was chilly, she didn’t feel cold. She felt rocks beneath her. Strangely, her feet weren’t cut, as if she had previously walked a well-tread path here before. The solid, yet uneven walls around her had lit torches tucked in strategic places, so she didn’t helplessly flail about in the shadowy environment. Somehow, in the certainty that only dreams could bring, she felt she had been here before, so she wasn’t afraid. Then, she thought she heard the strains of classical music. The soothing sounds guided her to a rickety footbridge. Whispers simultaneously came from everywhere and nowhere.

Suddenly, above the symphony of sound, one voice rose above the others, a male voice unlike any she had heard before. It called out to her in a velvety, gentle tone, and resonated with strength. “Catherine…” the sound lifted on the darkness and pleasantly enveloped her entire being.

Intuitively, she proceeded through the half-light to investigate. She didn’t recognize the voice, but it made her smile. She was expected…someone needed her. Who was it?

Suddenly, she saw a tall, cloaked figure standing with his back to her on the other side of the bridge. She thought she saw a quick flash of long blond hair peeking out of a hood. He partially turned to greet her…she waited in eager anticipation.

A prolonged shriek rent the revelatory moment, and Catherine was roughly hurtled from a peaceful dream to the harsh everyday world by her shrill alarm clock that reminded her none-too-gently that reality couldn’t be escaped. She disagreed, because she had always believed in Shangri-La. She felt disappointed and saddened, and felt as if she had left someone significant “back there.” She was tempted to throw the offending clock against the wall. What happened? Where was she? She knew that something important had transpired. No one ever called her “Catherine.” She tested the name on her tongue. It had such a romantic taste. She was always “Cathy” to her family, friends, and casual acquaintances; not very imaginative. “How do you travel back to a dream?” she wondered, while she was in the shower, dreading the arduous, and rather tedious, day ahead that was like all the others that preceded it.

Catherine’s thoughts that morning veered from legal matters presented by her position as a corporate attorney in her father’s midtown law firm to her mysterious nocturnal journey. She tried to decipher its meaning. All her life she believed in signs, omens, and premonitions, but this dream was truly unusual. Who was that heavenly-voiced man? What did the candle, music, and subterranean setting symbolize? She shook her head.

Catherine was so mesmerized by visions of old bridges and broad-shouldered mystery men, that she didn’t hear her name impatiently called at a staff meeting that the senior partners had quickly assembled to discuss the minutiae of an upcoming case. “This wasn’t the first time she had been caught daydreaming, and it wouldn’t be the last,” she feared. Corporate law wasn’t exactly an endless thrill, but that voice from last night was another matter…

“Cathy, are you with us?”

She flushed, completely embarrassed, and offered her apologies to the speaker, her father, Charles Chandler, a tall, distinguished man, with blue eyes that twinkled. The other attorneys regarded her with sympathy, as if she were a helpless child forced to play games in an adult world for which she wasn’t prepared, and impatience, because her mistakes could cost them a big win. Catherine was used to this feeling of not belonging, or was she?

Catherine regarded the lavishly appointed conference room with its sparkling central table, with trays of delectable pastries on its surface, and professionally outfitted, flawlessly prepared attorneys in plush chairs all around her. She scanned the thick law books which adorned the floor to ceiling shelves. What was she doing here? Charles Chandler was the renowned corporate lawyer in the family, not her. She dressed the part, with the designer business suits and accessories to match, but that was where the similarity ended. She was seen as something of a maverick in the eyes of her father’s partners in the firm. Most of them felt that she could never be the high caliber, aggressive attorney that he was, and the thought that she was being groomed to take over in the future was absolutely ludicrous in their eyes. It was obvious to them that she was more interested in late nights out, and now, apparently, daydreaming, rather than analyzing the intricacies of contracts and professional responsibility. Catherine knew that her future wasn’t here, between these walls, although she would never say it aloud.

Charles was painfully aware of the general consensus amongst his colleagues, but assumed that his wayward daughter would bypass her growing pains, and embrace the life that he had so meticulously prepared for her. Radcliffe…Columbia…partnership in his firm…successful husband…perfect children. “The formula for a happy life,” as he often thought. It would have been her mother’s wish, as well.

Catherine would have scoffed at this formula, as her legal training would have taught her to question and analyze its every nuance. What are the ingredients for a happy life, and who wrote the recipe? She felt completely alienated form this environment, this sterile life that wasn’t her invention. She only felt a profound disconnect…from everything. Who was she, really? What were her priorities? What made her happy?

All at once, she heard that disembodied voice again from the realm of her subconscious. “Catherine…” It seemed to torture her, but she loved it.

When the meeting ended, Catherine approached Charles, and told him that she had to leave for the day, that she had had a late night, and needed to catch up on her sleep. She apologized for her lack of attention at the conference, but she knew, in her heart of hearts, that she could no longer continue to disappoint him with her carelessness and apathy. Her actions negatively reflected on him. She didn’t know how to outlaw distractions, or maybe she didn’t want to. She could never accept tedium, and he had no tolerance for mediocrity. Where could those two qualities meet?

Concerned, Charles let her go. He wanted to say something, anything, but thought better of it. He watched her walk towards her apartment from the window of his high corner office. He knew she was unhappy, but couldn’t detect the exact source. Was it the work at the office, her love life? He would have a heart to heart talk with her as soon as possible. They hadn’t been as close lately, and they would have to bridge that gap before it became too wide to cross. They used to talk about everything when she was a young girl, and then she went off to college, and lived her own life. He blamed himself. Perhaps he had sheltered her too much. It was hard to raise a child alone. Cathy’s mother had died when she was ten, and his first instinct was a protective one. He wanted to keep her close; he didn’t realize she felt stifled.

Catherine went home, and quickly exchanged her corporate attire for blue jeans, a t shirt, sneakers and a jeans jacket that was worn at the shoulders and elbows. Briefly, she thought of the patched gown that she wore in the dream. She took a long walk in Central Park where she used to climb trees when she was a child, and breathed in the refreshing spring air. The upcoming season promised to be glorious. Perhaps the feeling of disconnection would dissipate.

           

Far below the surface of the earth, in a subterranean realm that was too fantastic to contemplate, a tall, scholarly blond man, with an unusual appearance and a beautiful heart, quickly looked up from the book he was reading. The tapping on the pipes, orchestrated by his dear friend, Pascal, announced that it was lunchtime. He put on his cloak as the day seemed to be excessively chilly, walked into the passageway, and ushered the children that he observed playing nearby into the dining chamber. The others would come from their special secret places. They were always happy to see Vincent, their favorite adult in the world below.

Vincent usually spent the afternoon working with them on their lessons, or helping the  men with construction projects in the various chambers. An introverted, quiet man, he spent long hours, particularly in the evenings, writing in his journal. He was a supremely gifted writer and wordsmith. He noted during the last few weeks, as he thumbed through the pages, that the entries shared the quality of expectation, as if something momentous were about to happen. As his life in the tunnels was fairly routinized, this change of writing from reflections about literary passages and daily events, was noteworthy and unusual, and he wondered what it meant. Was it just wishful thinking, or was something for him, expressly for him, about to transpire? He spent much of his time helping others, but in his long solitary nocturnal walks around the city, taking great care to hide his face from others in the depths of his hooded cloak, he realized he wanted something, or someone for himself. His tunnel family was wonderful, but he needed more. He longed to be part of the world above, but he knew it wasn’t possible. It was his destiny to be an outsider, to hide in the shadows, but a part of him did not accept this fate.

He was lonely. Was there anyone out there as lonely as he?

 

The next night, Catherine had another dream, but it wasn’t as alluring as the previous night’s vision. It seemed to hover at the edge of her consciousness and mercilessly await her as she slipped into sleep. It had the precision of a predatory animal that awaited its target, and couldn’t be stopped.

It started in celebration, and ended in a nightmare.

 When the dream began, Catherine found herself at a party. She intuited that she was there out of duty, and not genuine desire. She couldn’t determine the location, perhaps a ballroom of some kind. She wore a sleek, expensively cut black cocktail dress, with her light brown hair upswept into the latest style, diamond studs that glittered in her ears, a gift from her rather unremarkable latest boyfriend, Tom Gunther, and a clutch purse in her hand. There was a massive chocolate cake in the middle of the room with endless tiers that seemed to reach the ceiling of the air conditioned room. Her mouth watered. She was grateful that she never needed to diet like her friends. Jenny Aronson, her dearest classmate and confidant from Radcliffe College, constantly complained about her latest diet. She hadn’t lost any weight, she was constantly hungry…the litany of complaints would continue forever. Catherine would laugh, because Jenny, a successful book editor, was beautiful, and didn’t need to obsess over such trivial matters.

Catherine circled the room, and spoke to various groups of people, as expected. The murmur of conversation and laughter pleasantly intermingled with the clinking of wine glasses and silverware. The bar was aligned with rows of colorful bottles, and the sparkling chandelier was regal.

She noticed Tom flattering some client or other who was “important” to him. Any connection he could make, or network that he could cement was “important” to him. She found it ridiculous. A confident man didn’t need to be obsequious. He should stand on his own merits. That was the true definition of strength. She had disengaged herself from his tight arm around her waist, presumably to go to the bathroom. Did he even notice that she was gone, or was he too occupied with his own petty concerns?

She had met Tom a year ago, at a fundraiser for a children’s hospital. He was handsome, intelligent, and powerfully built, and initially, she had been attracted to him. They both enjoyed travel and the opera, and her father was pleased. But as time passed, she found Tom’s sarcasm and lack of sentiment unappealing. He didn’t understand her restlessness, as he only knew relentless ambition, and plied her with expensive gifts, such as the earrings, when she was unhappy. He never tried to understand her. Did they ever have a serious conversation? She would have to end this superficial relationship very soon. She needed more than a bedmate at his convenience. She had been fooled by his casual, manufactured charms for far too long.

Catherine made a grimace of disgust. She had found herself growing more and more disinterested in these forced gatherings where she couldn’t be herself, and socialize just for the sake of meeting new people. Why did everything have to have a set purpose? She was having a pleasant enough time, but she felt oddly removed from the people around her. This was no longer her scene. Her views had changed, and there was no turning back. Her black pumps uncomfortably squeezed her feet. They felt like a pair of boa constrictors. She realized she’d rather be home in pajamas and slippers, reading a book. Not very exciting, but honest.

Suddenly, the scene abruptly changed. She heard her own harsh, labored breathing, as she seemingly ran for her life down a dark alley. She felt sweat pool under her arms. She could barely see anything. She was being pursued, but she couldn’t tell who it was, or if there was more than one culprit. The pavement was uneven under her feet, and she nearly slipped several times as she ran. The shoes she wore were not meant for athletic maneuvers. She fell and hit her head. Immobilized, and in shock, she was blinded by a vehicle’s headlights, as she felt blood escape her wound. A van pulled up beside her, and she was snatched off the ground as she screamed in protest, and thrown inside.

 A vicious roar, the sound of an enraged animal, tore the night asunder.

           

Catherine awoke with the echo of that ferocity resounding in her ears. Her head pounded. She remembered every last detail of that dream. It felt real. She ran into the bathroom to check her head…there was no wound, or trace of blood on her face. Her heart raced, as if she had run for a long time. That roar…she shook her head. Somehow, she felt comforted because she knew that its source…human (how could such a sound emanate from a person?) or animal, had come to protect her.

Catherine wanted to call Jenny, that very minute, at 2:30 AM, to divulge the contents of the dream, and ask for her interpretation. She knew from past experience that Jenny was almost psychically talented when it came to premonitions and visions. She lifted the receiver, and called the familiar numbers to memory. Then, she suddenly decided against it. Subconsciously, she felt that it was too personal to reveal even to her closest confidant. Strange.

She went into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Tea was always the cure for what ailed her. Even so, she knew there would be no more sleep for her. That evening, she had made some adjustments to her sleeping environment in the hopes of recalling that enjoyable and mysterious nocturnal realm that she had temporarily visited, and dispelling her latest vision of violence. She took care to open her bedroom windows wider, because she thought that the evening breezes would soothe her to sleep, like balm on a restless soul. There was so little peace in the city, even on the high floor where her apartment was situated. She had skillfully positioned the lace curtains to better enjoy the dazzling view of the skyline from her bed, which was outfitted with the most comfortable sheets and fluffiest pillows that money could buy.

As she grew older, and wiser, she began to realize that not all problems could be solved with shopping sprees. She laughed at her former self. When she was a teenager, her occasional dark moods would dissipate with the flash of a credit card, and the ring of a cash register, but in adulthood, creative solutions were needed for more pressing challenges. She wanted to replace materialism with spiritual values.

Catherine put her teacup down on the kitchen table. She looked around the living room and noted the ostentatious ornaments on glass shelved curio cabinets. Her couches were enormous, and seemed to be oddly mismatched with the room. She didn’t do much entertaining, why did she have them? Was it an unspoken expectation? By whose dictates?

Then, she moved to the bedroom, opened her closets, and disinterestedly scanned the rows of business suits, custom made evening wear, and coats and jackets for every occasion. She was blinded by shiny pairs of shoes, some of which she hadn’t yet worn, of all different sizes, colors, and shapes. Who was this clothes horse? Was it she? How could she have been so shallow? She felt like a stranger to herself. Who would she see if she looked in the mirror? She felt goosebumps rise on her arms.

Catherine opened the terrace doors and walked out to her balcony, far above the city streets. She watched pedestrians scurry along the streets. Where were they going in such a hurry? What were they thinking about?  She gazed at the plethora of tall buildings, and observed that many of the windows were alit, despite the unconventional hour. Was there anyone as lonely as she, who was soul searching and trying to find a moment of solitude within the demands of a restless heart?

The cloaked dream-phantom expelled her name on the remaining stars in the sky. “Catherine…”

It was April 12th.

 

END