While growing up in Belgium, I had a few friends. At the time, my girlfriend Catherine was my best friend. For a while we shared a small apartment at the edge of Brussels. One summer afternoon, Catherine phoned me at work.
“Can you stop by my mother’s work and convince her that I’m fine,” my best friend said. “She’s worrying about me.”
“Ok,” I answered. “I’ll be home around 7pm. I’m so glad you are feeling better.”
Arriving home that evening, I found my best friend in bed. Her face was colorless, her body inert. At first I thought she was asleep. Then I worried.
“Catherine,” I exclaimed. “I’m home.”
But Catherine wouldn’t wake up. I touched one of her hands. Her hand felt cold. Hastily I phoned 911. Ten minutes later an ambulance arrived. A few men tried to reanimate my friend but without success. So they took her to the hospital.
A few weeks earlier, Catherine and I had spoken.
“I dreamed about you,” I’d said. “In my dream, you told me that you were dead even though you looked alive and talked to me.”
“That’s funny,” Catherine had retorted laughing. “I’ve been thinking about committing suicide. I know the right pills to swallow.”
“Are you joking? What about your family, your friends,” I’d said. “What about me.”
“Yes, I know,” she’d retorted. “But I’m in so much pain. I don’t feel like living these days.”
My girlfriend’s laughs and words had startled me. I knew Catherine wasn’t well. Her boyfriend had left her for another woman. A psychologist was supposedly helping her deal with her heartache. In a way, I thought she was safe. I was mistaken.
For weeks, Catherine stayed in intensive care at one of Brussels’ hospitals. She was in a coma. While her body looked rosy and healthy, her brain was presumably dead. Every other day I went to visit my best friend at the hospital. Holding one of her hands in mine, I talked to her. I begged her:
“Please wake up.”
But my girlfriend wouldn’t wake up. Eventually, the doctor in charge disconnected her from life support. In a few minutes my best friend was gone.
The death of Catherine changed my life. I felt guilty for not being able to help my best friend. I felt guilty for arriving home too late. I should have taken my dream seriously. Shortly after Catherine’s funeral, I talked to my mother.
“I’m going to quit my job and leave Belgium,” I simply said. “I’m going to America.”
“You are?” she replied. “You know your father wouldn’t approve.”
“But dad is dead,” I continued. “He died last year. I need space. I need to see the world.”
“Do what you have to do then,” my mother finally responded.
“Thank you,” I finally replied. “If I don’t go, I’ll die too.”
Before leaving Belgium, I didn’t have the courage to say goodbye to some of my friends. I was feeling sad, angry and lonesome. In Europe, psychologists were only starting to become popular. Catherine was seeing one before she died, and what help did she get? Thus, I left my native country like a thief, fleeing away with my sorrows.
By the beginning of autumn, I was heading towards Northern California. I had a friend there. Michaela and I had met a few years earlier, while I was backpacking along the California coastline.
“You are welcome to stay with me in Mill Valley,” explained Michaela when I phoned her.
“That’s sounds wonderful. Thank you.”
Mill Valley is located in Marin, north of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. The small town features a large square, with various shops, restaurants and cafés. Hills and redwood trees also share the town’s landscape.
While my new life felt therapeutic, I often cried. My dreams where loaded with my best friend’s memories. Catherine’s ghost was playing tricks on me.
“Did anyone in Belgium tell you that I didn’t die after all,” the ghost in my dream said.
“No, no one told me,” I replied. “I’m so happy. I’ve been crying over you for months.”
“I’m alive and well,” the ghost explained.
Yet as soon as I awoke, reality returned. For years I kept on dreaming similar scenarios, until one night.
“Take me to California,” Catherine’s ghost once asked me.
“You’ll have to ride on my back,” I replied. “Where do you want to go?”
“To Stinson Beach,” she said knowing where I had been.
This time in my dream, I was a Bald eagle. Catherine sitting on my back, we flew together across the Atlantic and towards the Pacific Ocean. Our journey only took a few seconds. Quickly my sharp bird’s eyes located Stinson Beach while discerning a few miniature human buildings along Highway 1.
“I need to eat,” I said to Catherine.
“I’m hungry too,” she replied.
“Let’s go to The Sand Dollar Restaurant,” I explained. “I want salmon.”
Although I had metamorphosed into a bird, my girlfriend had remained human. She was holding my white neck with her two hands, her feet and legs tightly embracing my feathered body.
“There it is,” I said. “Hold on tight. We’re going to land.”
Adjusting my claws, I landed smoothly on the one of the tables in the restaurant’s outdoor terrace. We sat in the two last empty chairs. A waitress came fast. She didn’t seem startled about my transformation. The many customers already sitting and eating didn’t seem to care either. Catherine couldn’t speak English, so I ordered.
“Two bagels with cream cheese and lox please,” I said to the waitress.
After ingesting our lunch, we left the beach café and headed east towards Belgium. While flying away, we slowly vanished into annihilation. Today, often still, Catherine and I meet in a reality solely existing in my dreams.