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

25 thoughts on “Aquarium Dreams

  • January 16, 2020 at 6:12 pm

    So love your writing it feed our souls

    • January 17, 2020 at 4:17 pm

      Christy Laperle, I am always surprised by some of the stuff that comes to me when I write. I guess you could say it feeds my soul also. Thank you my friend. I’ll see you in 2020

  • January 16, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I love your insights. Hope 2020 is a great year for you and Sam! XOXO

    • January 17, 2020 at 4:13 pm

      Sue Andrews, I’ll be down that way in 2020. Need to see you all.

  • January 16, 2020 at 9:07 pm

    I’m sitting here waiting in a doctor’s office after reading your story and just feeling all that energy around me…a lot to take in…will require a re-read.
    I love the pictures …oh I’m so glad that you have all that to be joyfull about…Gen and the boys (and girl)…,I even love Sam’s photo!?
    I’ll be in touch soon…Thank you for sharing.
    Many hugs and much love ❣

    • January 17, 2020 at 4:11 pm

      Linda Laborde, Speaking of well-worn hearts my dear – I love you to pieces.

  • January 16, 2020 at 10:29 pm

    My dear friend, our journey runs parallel. Blessed with a roof over our heads but it’s not HOME
    Lost and isolated, missing our lives as they were before. I miss you so much it hurts. We must get together
    Soon..much love for you and Sam. ❤

    • January 17, 2020 at 4:10 pm

      Desiree, the shop, an afternoon nip of Tennessee Honey Whiskey and wicked giggles – one of those pop-in memories that send me into a tailspin.Say hi to Bryce. We are so lucky to have these good guys in our lives.

  • January 16, 2020 at 10:50 pm

    Dear one, you continue to amaze and inspire me. You are such a blessed talent. Thank you for sharing you with us.

    • January 17, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      Thank you Sondra, Sending love your way.

  • January 17, 2020 at 7:42 pm

    Last night, while getting ready for bed, I took out my most favorite sweatshirt. It’s grey and tattered, says Old Navy on the front, frayed edges on the sleeves and neck and holes on the seams. You gave me this sweatshirt when I was pregnant with Grace, 11 years ago. We were having dinner at your house in Fallbrook. I thought to myself as I was putting it on, she probably forgot about this sweatshirt. I’m sure you bought it at a thrift store. But, the only thing that matters to me is I kept it all these years. And until now, I didn’t know why. Just never thought about it. But, now I know. It’s like a tether- to love ❤️

  • January 17, 2020 at 7:44 pm

    By the way, it’s Nicole who wrote the above message. Not anonymous. Smack my head. 🙂

  • January 17, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Sheri. Sigh. Your words invoked in me a sense of loneliness. Where I searched for the comfort of long views and the open sea, I found the pressure of too-close-too- real breath upon my neck. It’s just where i am, I suppose. Gut-knotted and indecisive. But I would live in your pantry!
    Thank you for another trip inside.

  • January 17, 2020 at 10:41 pm

    So well written, as always. I’m sorry that you are having such hard times. Maybe when it gets warmer you might feel better. Glad that you got to spend Christmas with your family. Hugs

  • January 18, 2020 at 4:26 pm

    Reply to Nicole,
    I love you so much. I do not remember the sweatshirt, but am in love with the picture you painted, see it so clearly. I can even see the tether of light where the love rides between us. Think about writing – just a little. You have a gift to share.

  • January 18, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    Reply to Dawn,
    I feel like I got an A in writing class when I read your response. You know you are the voice I hear in my head while crafting a story. You are the master teacher. How grateful I am that our paths entwined and I could soak up a bit of your wisdom.
    Ah yes, the pantry. It just feels good in there now. Sam had to tear up and reinforce half the rotted-out floor. All the bad juju is gone. You can come live in my pantry anytime.

  • January 18, 2020 at 4:50 pm

    Reply to Cathy Hales,
    Yes, the Spring always brightens my spirit. Sam, my earthy Capricorn, planted lots of bulbs in the cold ground and I can’t wait to see their little fingers of green poke up through the soil. Take care my friend.

  • January 20, 2020 at 4:29 pm

    You are the Boneyard Girl – Reassembled.

    Cheryle Clinite

    • January 25, 2020 at 6:40 pm

      Reply to Cheryl Clinite,
      That’s how I felt about the Boneyard Girl too. Rather than trap the possums and relocate them, the prior owners chose to poison them. We found the empty poison boxes close to their bones. It made me sad at how common and accepted it is to be heartless. Putting the bones back together gave me a sense of resurrection.

  • January 23, 2020 at 12:10 am

    I am never ready for your stories to end. My heart and soul are mesmerized, shocked and soothed. I feel you.
    A new decade begins…..thank the Goddesses & Gods!
    I love the pictures and understand Sam’s faces…..there isn’t a picture of me, in this life anyway, without a “get that flipping camera out of my face!”
    face. I love you.

  • January 23, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    Reply to Jill Estensen
    I love you dear friend. Thank you for being part of my life. And yes, I hadn’t really thought about the significance of the new decade. I always do better in even number years.

  • January 25, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    Oh, my dear Sheri! Your honesty and openness about your journey is both heart-wrenching and welcoming. Allowing your heart to open and to examine it is so difficult, without the protective cover we so often put on and zip up.
    I have watched so many, cried with so many, prayed for so many through this time.
    I will continue to cry through your pain, smile at your triumphs and pray that my spunky little Sheri returns to that lovely studio to create as only you can.

    • January 25, 2020 at 6:59 pm

      Reply to Roxanne Parsons
      Thank you Roxanne – angel soul. Many of us do the inner-work quietly without fanfare and the shifts happen. I happen to have the need to share my process in story form. I sit down to send a simple update, give my friends a slice of my current life and it turns into this deep-digging, soul searching process. I’ve quit asking myself why – I just let it weave into the blanket, messy at times, but twisted through with colorful threads

  • January 29, 2020 at 12:00 am

    Hi Mom,
    I love your stories so very much! They are captivating, enlightening, sad, happy, loving, forgiving & so much more! But mostly just beautiful to read! Thank you for sharing. My heart feels a little more at ease knowing that the scars are supposed to be there. It makes me who I am and I am who I am!!! Love you so deeply!!

  • January 29, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Reply to Genevieve
    My Genevieve,
    You heal my heart by a simple phone call. It happens time and time again. It is good to be loved by you.

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