In the dream I’m floating in the ocean. Warm, salty water occasionally breaks over my face, does little more than cool my head from the hot sun. The sea is confused, waves coming from all directions, the way the Mexican Caribbean behaves just before a storm blows in all the way from the coast of African. I’m alert, aware that the shoreline is too far away for me to reach by swimming. At the far back of my mind lurks the possibility of a shark arriving to nibble my toes or, you know, bite me in half.
I am not frightened, just aware that I need to pay attention to my surroundings, the way I did for years when I surfaced after a dive and the boat was nowhere to be seen. I have logged well over a thousand dives, on many of which I did indeed end up separated from the other divers and surfacing alone. I am experienced at waiting patiently in a potentially dangerous situation that will almost certainly turn out to be perfectly fine. The ocean won’t kill me, sharks are fascinating and scary as hell, but they rarely kill a diver. What kills is panic.
As is common in dreams, my mood changes in a split second. Clouds cover the sun, the water is instantly colder, the waves bigger, more threatening.
And I am not alone.
Two children float just out of reach, one no more than a toddler, the other perhaps kindergarten age. They splash and scream in full panic. Kicking and floundering on the surface can bring predators, and the instant this thought enters my head, a large gray fin breaks the surface. I am between the shark and the children. Surely this predator can hear my heart pounding like it will leap from my chest. I stop fluttering my feet, still my arms, do my best to float motionless.
The children continue to splash and scream and fight to stay afloat. If I do nothing those babies, who are suddenly MY babies, my precious babies, will be torn apart by this living cruise missile aimed directly at us. If I distract the shark, I will be torn to bits and then almost certainly this apex predator will feast on the tender flesh of my babies for dessert.
I awake with a stifled scream, hot breath and doggie kisses wet my face.
It takes no introspection whatsoever to decipher that the children floating in that ocean are Jack and that the name of that apex predator aimed directly at their exposed bodies bears the name of Jack’s illness — Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.