Wednesday night I had a dream about my father and Billy Joel. You know that song, "She's Always A Woman" off the Billy Joel album The Stranger? (I loved that album, although not so much that song, but whatever. I feel like that song was a huge part of my childhood; I heard it all the time on the easy listening station my parents tuned into on the car radio.)
In the dream, my dad was one of those guys from Allerton, Pennsylvania who works for a living in the mines or construction, whatever: you know, a real Working Joe. (This is not who my dad was. Don't get me wrong, he was a Working Joe for sure, and often he worked too hard. But although he comes from really humble beginnings, he's a white-collar clock-puncher.) I never saw him in the dream; I was driving my mother around--though I never really clapped eyes on her either--and the song was playing like a soundtrack:
"She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes,
And she can ruin your faith with her casual lies..."
The woman in the song, she was the Other Woman. My father was having an affair with some uptown girl, and Billy Joel was narrating. Meanwhile, I was taking care of my mother like she couldn't get herself around, and I never actually saw either one of them: my dad in dirty coveralls with a metal lunchbox, in the arms of a woman who smells like rose petals and fine things; my mother, slow and sick, silent in her own mind, unable to care for herself. The fact that my mom was so far gone made my awareness of the affair a real bummer. I don't know how I knew; I couldn't see my father or his woman, eating together, talking and laughing, making love (thank God), but I could feel them. I could feel the affair, I could feel how madly in love my father was with this Other Woman.
Now, none of this is based in my real life experience. As far as I know, my father was always faithful in his marriage. There were lots of reasons why my parents might have sought comfort and affection in from people outside their marriage, but I don't think that either of them actually cheated. Of course, given the m.o. of my family, it's entirely possible that one (or both) of them strayed and kept it from me in order to preserve some false sense of family connection. But I don't know this to be true, so it was a strange dream.
I'd also learned about a friend who'd recently lost faith in her father based on some behaviors and choices that he'd made. So maybe I was just processing some of what she'd told me, and someone was playing Billy Joel somewhere, and I was conflating the song and my father and her father and all kinds of ways fathers can disappoint their daughters.
My therapist says that in our dreams all our characters are versions of our own selves. Recently I've begun to dream about my parents as they look, as opposed to beings or characters that represented my parents but were safer to look at. I've been thinking about marriage a lot lately. My parents' marriage was... complicated. Not happy, but not horrifying. My mother expressed a lot of regret to me those times when her husband was far away. She always finished with, "but I don't regret marrying your father, because then I wouldn't have you!" I'm sure she said this to try and nullify the discontent she was experiencing, but really, it didn't help at all. When I was a girl, I was scared to death that my parents would get divorced. Now, I wouldn't mind it so much; it might give them both the chance to really get to know themselves as individuals, to unearth some truth, after so many years of colluding into a common relationship that required denial of a lot of ugly stuff, as far as the three of us were concerned. I don't know anything about divorce, except that it's expensive and painful and has the potential to be incredibly damaging. And anyway, I doubt that they'd ever get divorced; I think the investment in the reality that they've agreed on is worth more to them than anything else.