As a single parent, I was trying to make a go of it in Laguna Beach, California. My daughter wasn’t even a year old and my partner of many years hadn’t wanted to make it “legal,” so he was back East, as were the rest of my family and friends.
I hadn’t expected to move to California, but when my teaching job in New York ended and a new one was offered out West, I thought: Why not? Isn’t California the place of fresh starts?
But after two months, things weren’t going my way. My neighbors’ cat used our sandbox as its litter. My babysitter burned pots and hid them in places where she thought I wouldn’t look. And my daughter rarely slept.
When I discussed this with her pediatrician, he said to put her in her crib and just leave her there. Instead, I took Kate on car rides into the desert during which she slept, but she’d wake up as soon as we got home. On weekends I felt as if I had fallen off a cliff.
One night, completely exhausted, I tumbled into bed and had a dream that I had gone to Richmond, Va. (a place I’d never been), and that Richard (my daughter’s biological father) was coming to kidnap her and take her into Canada, and I’d never see her again. I was desperately seeking someone who could stop him at the border.
Time crawled on.
Then one afternoon I got a call from an old friend who ran a workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University. He asked me if I’d like to spend two weeks in Richmond next summer.
Kate was playing on the floor, inching toward an electrical socket, but I stood transfixed. Was this a cosmic joke? Premonition or mere coincidence, my decision was clear. Something was sending me to Richmond.
I gave up dating. I gave up hoping. I devoted myself to my daughter and our lives.
Summer rolled round and it was at last time to meet my destiny, or whatever had called me to Richmond.
I was given an apartment in the Gladding Residence Center, a dormitory of cinder-block walls. A rocking chair for Kate had been placed in the middle of the room.
At Gladding there was only one other attendee, a young man named Larry. He was supposed to be in another workshop but the director moved him into mine.
He had a nice smile, bright blue eyes and a caring face. I was in no shape to socialize. I was barely getting through the day. Then another student waved us over, so Larry and I wound up eating together.
“Do you want to have dinner?” Larry asked. “There’s a nice tearoom nearby. I think it has Southern cooking.”
I told him I had to do my laundry.
“I could do your laundry,” he said.
“You want to do my laundry?”
“Well, I have to do mine as well.”
I paused to wonder if there was something creepy about this. Since Kate was born, I had taken care of her. No one had taken care of me. No one had offered.
So I gave Larry my laundry bag, and two hours later he returned with my clothes warm and folded.
That evening we went to Miss Morton’s Tea Room. Over dinner I asked myself, “Is this the moment I tell him I have an 18-month-old child, or should I just enjoy myself for another day or so?”
He asked if I wanted to see a movie. It was blistering hot as we drove, my feet on the dashboard. We watched “Bull Durham,” laughing, enjoying ourselves.
After, as we walked back to his car, I saw his license plate.
“You’re from Ontario?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m teaching in a place called North Bay.”
Slowly the dream came back to me, the dream where I was in Richmond and desperately needed a Canadian to protect my family. It didn’t seem possible, but here we were.
By the next night we were spending all our time together. I knew I had to tell him about Kate and then listen as he made pleasant excuses about wanting a family of his own or not being ready for responsibility.
Over dinner I said, “I have something really important to tell you.”
“On Saturday my mother, my nephew, and” – deep sigh because I knew what was coming – “my baby daughter are arriving.”
Larry cocked his head. “That’s it? You aren’t married or sick or something?”
“I was worried something was wrong.” He smiled. “So what time do we have to pick them up?”
A few weeks later I quit my job and moved back to New York, and soon Larry was flying down from Canada every weekend and Kate was starting to call him Daddy.
I knew this couldn’t go on. When I called to tell him I wanted to break up, he told me he was moving to New York. “It’s not going to work from here,” he said.
Larry asked if I would help him find an apartment.
It’s a mystery!
The next day my upstairs neighbor knocked on my door. A professional mime, she had just returned from doing street theater in Eastern Europe. She was rambling on about a Polish mechanic she had met and how it was love at first sight except she didn’t speak Polish and he didn’t speak English. So she was going to move there to learn the language. Did I know anyone who might want to sublet her apartment?
Yes, I told her. I did.
My grandmother used to say if it’s meant to be, it will be. Twenty-five years later, I still think about that dream. Was it a coincidence or a premonition? Did I foresee this future, or did I make these decisions because of a dream?
It has remained an enormous mystery, and a gift, to me. I do know that I had the dream and I have this life, and at times I cannot tell one from the other.
Mary Morris’ latest novel is “The Jazz Palace.”