The last couple of nights I’ve dreamed about Dan. They have not been pleasant dreams.
In one, he was dead but had returned to life and then been murdered by a family friend and I found myself kneeling beside a shallow grave digging with bare hands through crumbly black earth, reaching a faded and torn Manchester United shirt and dusty bones.
In another, he was eleven or twelve, still at New Mills High School. He’d gone missing for a whole day and night and I was in shock and trying to get on with my day as if nothing was wrong. Then he appeared on the bus I was travelling on, and mutely asked me why I had not looked harder for him, even though he’d been perfectly fine, had been on a training course to be a Welcome Ambassador for new pupils at his school.
Both mornings I woke with a lump of sorrow lodged in my throat. Not the usual sadness about the absence of Dan, but despondency that I had let him down.
It’s the broken tooth that I don’t poke at, the brambly path I avoid, the itchy jumper I can’t throw out but that I always hide at the bottom of the pile; I let him down. It’s the ragged tip of thread on an endless spool that, once tugged, unravels quickly and spins away. I let him down.
I let him down by grumbling about what to have for tea that night as we got off the tram in Hillsborough so that he went off in a huff to KFC. I let him down by moving him to Sheffield. I let him down by being unable to offer him a more stable family life with Brian and Lea in Leeds. I let him down by failing to keep his birth family together. And there are so many other instances. The times I could have made better decisions that would have kept Dan alive whirl through my mind like the endlessly spiralling thread.
It really hurts to think of Dan being disappointed in me. The only achievement I have ever been truly proud of was being Dan’s mum. I loved being a parent and I thought I was doing a really good job. But fuck me, it turns out I was setting us both up for tragedy. That I was making crappy, deluded choices. I thought I was raising a fine young adult but really I was just paving a path to his early grave.
I know dwelling on this horror does me no good in the long run, but it would seem that it is leaking out into my dreams. It leaves me having to acknowledge my guilt at being, in the final analysis, a pretty bloody shit parent that couldn’t even keep her boy safe, so keen was she for him to be independent and grown-up. A better parent would have offered more stability throughout her son’s whole life, and a firmer demand to come home for tea that night. She’d have kept him close, and watched the Champions League Final with him and gone to bed and slept and got up the next day in the sunshine and waved him off as he went to meet his dad in Manchester. A better parent wouldn’t be writing blogs and memoirs trying to make sense of her son’s death, trying to keep some spark of Dan alive. A better parent would have a troubling dream about her son and be able to send him a WhatsApp message the next morning just to check in and remind him that she loved him.
I’ll permit this self-pity today. But it can’t stay. My guilt and horror at myself will have to be carefully rewound onto that spool and tucked away again if I am to function. The broken tooth will be ignored, the brambly path circumvented, the scratchy jumper returned to the bottom of the pile. I will spray lavender mist on my pillows tonight, and hope for dreamless sleep.