Having always loved history I was looking forward to America’s bi-centennial. I envisioned parades and historical speeches. I was excited to see America display its greatness to the world. To revel in how far we’d come in only 200 years.
The anticipation of the revelry came crashing down on Feb. 2, 1976.
I don’t remember any Fourth of July celebrations, no statesman delivering a message for the ages.
All I remember of 1976 was that one day. The day my mother died.
It didn’t surprise me, for I knew it was going to happen.
For as long as I can remember I have had dreams. Maybe it comes with a vivid imagination. I’d have the usual wacky dreams like riding a unicorn across the sky and taking a bite out of marshmallow clouds.
But sometimes the dreams would be different somehow – I felt like I was living the dream, a spectator watching scenes play out.
And those “vivid dreams” would come to pass.
It scared me as a child because I thought something must be wrong with me. I knew early on that I couldn’t tell anyone about it because they’d think I was crazy.
In fact, most people who know me don’t even know of my secret. I’m not sure why I tell it now, maybe because I’m getting old enough not to care what other people think of me. Or maybe it’s a hope that admitting something will help heal the wounds I’ve carried in my soul.
For decades I blamed myself for my mom’s death. I think if only I’d told someone, maybe things would have been different. But who would believe me? The doctors? My father?
I remember the dream. It was the end of January, only a few days before Feb. 2.
I found myself walking into a pitch black room. I saw something in the center, a shape I couldn’t quite make out. A faint light began to shine down from above and I saw a casket. I knew who was in it.
“It’s time to say goodbye,” said a gentle voice that seemed to come from all around me.
“No,” I pleaded. “Not her, not my mom.”
The Voice seemed reassuring, but repeated that it was time.
“Not Mom,” I cried. “Take me instead! Don’t hurt my mom.”
“Give her one last kiss goodbye,” The Voice said.
I awoke, shaken and in a cold sweat. I thought I needed to tell someone, but there was no one to tell. I knew this was one of my vivid dreams because they always had a different feel to them.
The last time we visited my mom at the Boston hospital I was reliving that dream. And I thought I found a way to save my mom. The Voice had told me to kiss her goodbye, so if I didn’t kiss her – she wouldn’t die!
I should have known better, but I was 15 and desperate to protect my mother. I convinced myself I could keep her alive by not doing what The Voice had told me to do.
When it was time to leave I tried to sneak out of the room and then my Mom spoke her last words to me: “No kiss goodbye?”
I mumbled an excuse about having chocolate on my mouth from a candy bar and hurried outside.
I recalled her last words, they were almost the same as The Voice’s. But I was also relieved. I knew I had saved my Mom.
Only I didn’t. And I blamed myself for not being able to protect her.
It’s not an understatement to say that the loss of my mom was the most profound of my life. For decades I closed down every Feb. 2, either didn’t go to school or called in sick to work. I didn’t want to be around anyone. I couldn’t bear to hear other people’s laughter, knowing I would never laugh again.
I hated my vivid dreams.
But they still came sometimes. Other times it was like I just knew something, but couldn’t explain how I knew.
It happened on Aug. 9, 1994.
I was on the Narragansett Indian Tribal Council then and I was running late for a meeting. As I drove past the family house I said to myself, “Hi, Dad.”
And then one of those feelings came over me. Something made me turn the car around and stop home. My dad had just cooked up some baked beans and I had a bowl. As we were eating my brother showed up. We ate and chatted about this and that.
But I was late to my council meeting, so I stood up and walked to the door. Something inside of me made me stop and look at my dad. At that moment, as I looked at him, I suddenly knew I’d never see him alive again.
I thought of giving him a kiss goodbye. The kiss I had failed to give my mother.
But my dad was never the sensitive type. I was afraid if I tried to give him a kiss that he’d punch me. So I got in my car and drove off. Tears stained my face as I drove away, because I knew I had failed both of my parents.
My father died the next day.
And sometimes I wonder that when my time comes will there be anyone to give me one last kiss goodbye.
John Christian Hopkins lives in Sanders, Ariz., with his wife, Sararesa. He is a veteran journalist – but never an enemy of the people – and a former nationally syndicated columnist for Gannett News Service. He is the author of many books, including “Carlomagno: Adventures of the Pirate Prince of the Wampanoag.” He is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island.