Aquarium Dreams

Aquarium Dreams

2019 at the end of Debra Lane looks like one big emotional struggle; a struggle to stay sane and positive while holding back the rising sea of grief – I plowed through projects like a crazy Ninja. scrubbed and scoured away the grime of ages, painted, and painted some more, over some of the darkest ugliness known to man. You see, in the back of my mind is a plan, a plan to sell this place and get the hell outa Dodge – move on, find a real home where we can put down roots and stay forever. 

And through it all, I rub myself raw with the resentment of being uprooted once again. The Camp Fire not only stripped us bare and scattered our parts to the wind, it triggered the pain of some deep held wound in my cells. It made me face, square in the eye, that the very act of living requires one to pick up the pieces of a broken heart and start over, again and again. Loved ones die, beloved homes go up in flames, healthy minds are destroyed by stroke. I used to pride myself in optimism and thirst for life – empty words now. I’m tired and disappointed to the marrow.

On a sunny afternoon during the week between Christmas and the new year, Sam and I take a walk around our rural neighborhood. It’s not a particularly eventful walk, but for me, it triggers an alteration in my course of thinking.

Two cars whizz by on the narrow road, one tailgating the other. Their speed seems excessive to me and I shout, “Slow-down!” 

“They’re okay,” Sam says in all his annoyingly calm sensibility. 

Bristling at the patronizing rebuttal, I lash out,“You always do that – can’t I feel something and say it!” It just comes out like an unintended bullet escaping a loaded gun. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was doing that,” he responds, sincerely. 

We walk quietly after that, Sam waving to cars passing by, the drivers waving back in response, as though they were all good neighbors and long-time friends. Me, I gnaw on my edginess, wondering how I have come to this place where anger sits so stealth on my shoulder, ready to lash out like a whip. I decide right then and there to  change my attitude. I have more work to do.

And so it goes; along with a put-your-foot-down firm resolution for change, internal forces rise up – the heavy-hitters, armed and ready to resist. I welcome in 2020 with a raging head cold – a three day death-warmed-over, Nyquil-induced-oblivion, kind of cold. 

As miserable as I am, I take comfort in an old theory of mine; a metaphysical theory, mind you, no medical research involved here. It goes like this;  A virus breaks the mind and body down into a surrender state which then triggers a release of stored information, blocked information, into the system  I truly hate being sick, still fight it tooth and nail, but a shift in my perspective has always followed in on its heels.

In the wee dark hours of the third day, I have a dream. In the dream a giant eel takes over my aquarium, eats all the gentle fish and drains the space of its nurturing waters. I try refilling it with hose-water, but the eel keeps soaking it up. To my horror, amidst the muck and swampy remnants lay my stalwart cat, soaked and limp. Sam, rushes in to save Muffinhead, and is also attacked and wounded by the monster. It’s up to me. Grabbing the largest kitchen knife I can find, I prepare to defend all that I hold dear. Mid-scream and inept knife wielding charge, Sam nudges me awake. Heart still pounding, I gulp thirstily from the bedside glass of water. 

Daylight creeps in on scratchy eyes and throbbing skull. The morning headlines of my inner news reads, Giant Eel wreaks havoc on small aquarium. As you may know, I give a certain credence to dreams.  A dream to me is a portal from the chaotic surface of daily life to the realms of inner truth.  As dreams go and considering the ever-ready chance my unconscious takes to present me with a good pun, it is not a big stretch for me to recognize Eel- as Ill – get it, illness/eel-ness… sigh

It is said that in a dream, a dilemma is presented as well as a solution.  Above all I want insight into my brittle, brokenness… so back into the dream I go. I use a visualization technique, learned through my beloved teacher, Ellise Rossen and the teachings of Carl Jung. It is called active imagination and it acts as a bridge between the conscious mind and the unconscious. 

Quieting my mind, I call up the eel, its beady eyes, sharp teeth and skin the color of green snot, not easily forgotten. Transmitting my openness to what the eel might teach me, I am invited by this, now benevolent, monster for a ride. With all the stealth of a super-hero I leap up and onto the neck of the beast (hey…my vision, my super-powers.)

High atop the giant’s neck, I watch the subject aquarium shrink to the size of postage stamp – a tiny oasis that speaks for itself, amidst a vast Kansas-like prairie. 

I scan the landscape for something, an escape route – a simple signpost at least, pointing me in a direction… nothing, just the sprawl of summer-white fields of dry grass as far as the eye can see.  The dream message begins to clear like a lifting fog, and I find myself sitting right back in the muck of the aquarium, taking stock of myself and my surroundings. I’m okay, but life on the reef is in bad shape. The sea stars and anemones are without color and slump thirstily in upon themselves. My bones ache for their broken spirit.

The first thing I notice in the ensuing days are tears, enough new tears to surprise the scrappy no-nonsense woman I’ve become. They simply spring forth and spill unchecked, as if there is a fissure in the dam of self-preservation. As my aquarium fills, I wonder how long its been since the stream-of-tears was allowed to run its natural course.

Two weeks into January: The four walls of this aquarium are strong, water levels are rising and the eel is shrinking to a manageable size. This is Home. – it houses the ecosystem of my body-mind-spirit. Its only requirement is for me to be in it – I mean fully in it – heart-and-soul in it, tending to its balance.  A year from now is a year from now. It will unfold and we will adapt. 

And so it is; a subtle shift really – more of a settling down with what-is – not what-will-be. My body is healing and my spirit brightening. Walking easier in my skin, I follow Sam’s lead and wave to neighbors (even when I think they are driving too fast) and am surprised when rewarded with a wave back. 

I think I know a little more about grief now. I believe it to be a heart thing; the open heart, fully engaged and fully committed, can – and often will – be broken… And it can be broken over and over. Open the door to a life well-lived and you will find an odd misshapen heart, deeply scarred and tattered beyond recognition.  


Sam - Sheri 2019

Leaving Vancouver after Christmas. Three tries and we finally got Sam to quit making faces… sort of

Home faces east for spectacular sunrise views from living room window.


Sisters - Connie, living 15 minutes away, is heavenly; Our lunches together, our thrift store shopping forays, and the simple comfort of knowing someone has your back, saves me over and over again. 
This pic was taken during Donna's annual visit last June.

On a back page of my personal newspaper is an article that reads, Camp Fire survivors still wait for SBA loan. Our loan file is nice and fat now. I believe it has grown legs so as to scuttle from one SBA department to another. Each new agent picks it up gingerly, holding the poor thing at arms length, ready to toss it on at the first sign of trouble. With the assured loan we can tackle a few larger jobs, like skirting, windows, flooring, etc. 

Art room, ready for someone to get busy in there.

Art room back wall. Staggered shelves, Connie gave me Mom's old mobile and I re-hung it.

This is my favorite room, the pantry/utility room. We replaced closed cupboards with open shelving.


Christmas was spent in sheer deliciousness with family in Vancouver WA.  

Genevieve turned 50 this January and is blossoming – no empty-nest syndrome for this vibrant woman. 

Big Roger, full of surprises and love for my girl, never misses a chance to bring some fun and magic into the picture.  

Little Roger, 14, is smart and thoughtful and now taller than his mom. He passed up Sam and I a couple of years ago.

Jonathan and Hina (I’m keeping her forever) moved into an apartment together. Jonathan, our humble, introspective grandson, graduated cuma sum laude from Washington State (bragging rights invoked here) and works in a neuroscience research lab. In my minds eye I still see him charging across the back yard on 4 year old legs, plastic sword swishing, red cape flying.

We didn’t get to see Anthony (first-born grandson) at Christmas this year, but I’m working on a San Diego bound trip sometime this year to reconnect with this young man of my soul.

Jonathan, not so Little Roger, Genevieve, Big Roger, Anthony. Picture taken at Multnomah Falls during Anthony's early December visit.

Hina & Jonathan

Aquarium Dreams