“Why do you think you had the dream?” Rachel asked.
“I’m telling you,” Gretchen said. “It wasn’t a dream.”
“Okay. What do you think it was?”
“It was a girl. It was me. It is her. From my picture.”
“Why do you think-“
“I’m sorry, but this wasn’t my idea.” Gretchen said. You told me. You suggested this idea of taking care of myself. Of her. She’s here now I’m taking care of her. ”
“Do you think it’s reasonable, for a capable woman like you, to be so eager for a solution to her grief that she would invent this? To not think of caring for an inner child as a metaphor, but to start believing in a created-“
“She was always here. I don’t think my grief had anything to do with it.”
“She was there. I don’t think my grief had anything to do with it.”
“Is she here now?”
Gretchen was silent.
“Can I see her?”
“She’s right there.” Gretchen gestured to the girl in the corner, her legs in a ring, her fingers playing twiddle games. The register in the wall behind her kicked on and she jumped when the air hit her skin. She giggled and her pigtails shook when she laughed. Gretchen had put them in crooked, but neither her nor the girl seemed bothered by that.
“I don’t see her, Gretchen,” Rachel said. “It’s only you and me in the room.”
“You don’t have to make fun of me.”
“I’m not. I’m really not. I’m concerned. I’m trying to map out what this coping strategy is. If it’s the best avenue for your work and energy now.”
Gretchen wished she could make Rachel see the girl. She’d love to show her that she wasn’t crazy.
Maybe she was.
But, for now, Gretchen chose to play along. Yes. There were only the grown-ups in the room. Yes. It was just a dream that crossed a boundary. Yes. She would come back in two days to talk again.
Until then, she decided that she wanted to really play for a while. So she left. And she took the little girl with her.
Driving through the city calmed her. Not the bridges. The bridges themselves were fine, but the crossing lanes and jockeying frazzled her. The neighborhoods, she liked. Her hands and feet steered on autopilot and she watched the brownstones and the people on their stoops pass her windows.
“You took a long time,” the voice said from the back seat.
“I know,” Gretchen said. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m glad you left. I didn’t like that lady talking about me. It made me sad.”
Gretchen glanced in the rear-view mirror and smiled. The little girl was there, still in her oversized green shirt. Her legs bounced the front passenger seat as she talked.
“That’s why I left,” Gretchen said. “I didn’t want you to be sad.”
“Are you tired?” the girl asked.
“No. Why? Are you sleepy? Do you need a nap?”
“I don’t like naps. They make me sad too.”
“You like to take naps. When you come home.”
“What would you like to do?” Gretchen asked.
“Play,” the little girl said.
“Okay,” Gretchen said. “Let’s go play.”