Dream City Home

Welcome to day 31 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society.  Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They are all listed here.
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To be an outlaw you must first have a base in law to reject and get out of, I never had such a base. I never had a place I could call home that meant any more than a key to a house, apartment or hotel room. … Am I alien? Alien from what exactly? Perhaps my home is my dream city, more real than my waking life precisely because it has no relation to waking life…  — William S. Burroughs

Dream city as home. This idea works for me. My dreamspace, which feels like a place where I live even more vividly, more sensually, than usual, is often architectural in form and setting, with past houses (which obviously do have a relationship to waking life) — especially this one …

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Maine house, Feb. 2001
waterborokitchen
partial kitchen, Maine house, 1994
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Thanksgiving in Maine house, 1995
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fireplace and living space, Maine house, 1994
stairsandwarmingovenWaterboroMaine
stairs and warming oven, Maine house, 1994
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Christmas 1996 (with Cactus) in Maine house

… and apartments, hotels, restaurants, frequently other people’s houses, auditoriums, hospitals, bridges, schools, bathrooms, meeting rooms, buildings and built spaces that I don’t think I have ever been in except in dreams (and there they are typically recurring settings) — all common in my dreams. Of course, dreams have to be set somewhere, like plays, but what interests me is the transformation of knowledge and memory of the building, and the exploration of it in the dream, and how often dreams are set in places I don’t recognise except perhaps from previous dreams. (This dream, e.g., about my dad a year or so after he died, takes place in several buildings I’ve never been in in waking life.)

My “dream city” feels like a multiplicity of places — some real, some not real as far as I know (or at least not remembered by me in real life) — that are significant for various reasons: because of my emotional and aesthetic memories of a real place; because of the feeling evoked by its architecture or layout; because of some association with it through other people’s stories (what my imagination conjures — from novels, from what friends have described, from song lyrics or lines of poetry, from what I’ve heard on the radio — or what my eyes have actually glimpsed, momentarily, in paintings, on TV or in movies, riding past, etc.); or who knows what reason.

DeliveranceChurchinYemasseeSC29Dec2013
Yemassee SC Dec. 2013
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Rocky Mount MC Dec. 2013
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somewhere in Rhode Island, Feb. 2008
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somewhere in Connecticut, Feb. 2008

Why do buildings and other places resonate and spark imagination? Why do they “make us” feel a certain way, evoke moods and sensations (e.g., “haunted houses”)? Is it because they contain us, hold us, bring us together or split us apart, both exclude and include us? Do they somehow form an external correspondence to our interior spaces?

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More to Burroughs’ point, my sense of homelessness, placelessness, alienates me from real life sometimes. My family moved often — due to my dad’s corporate life promotions and transfers — so when asked, e.g. as a security question on a financial site, “what is your hometown?,” I have no idea. I have no hometown, and my home is pretty much where I am at the moment, so in one sense I feel “at home” almost anywhere. But coming home after being away feels jarring — home is familiar, a place I know well and am comfortable, but re-entry to normal life after being away feels oppressive, constrictive; I feel restless, like I’ve lost something. I think it’s partly that on the road (hotels, motels, trains), there is much less stuff and therefore less emotional tiredness brought on by the emotional and physical demands of stuff.  But I think it’s more than that, perhaps something to do with the way, as I’ve mentioned previously, that travel disrupts, questions, and subverts conventional thought and behaviour. Coming home, I feel the demands (that word again) reinstated, the sense of what I am expected to be and do limited by the circumference of “home.”

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Unlike Burroughs’ experience (“I never had such a base. I never had a place I could call home that meant any more than a key to a house, apartment or hotel room”), I have in my life almost always had a base, a room, apartment, or house to come home to day after day — and yet these places have always felt transitional to me. (I’ve written about this before, 5 years ago, in Oct. 2012). I can’t help but notice that all our lives and all our places are transitional, ephemeral, not made to last. In the short run, someone will dig up my garden or terrace it, a storm or fire may take out trees and destroy homes and towns, objects and materials constantly wear out, living things die (some exceedingly quickly, others at a slower rate) and everyone I know, including me, including friends’ children and their children, including all the animals now alive on earth, will die soon. In the long run, all bodies, all buildings and things, all governments, all human constructions will disappear and wild nature will take over, as it is wont to do now when given half a chance.

seaweedgrowingonseawallrockSeasideInn29Dec2014
seaweed growing on rock, Kennebunk ME, Dec. 2014
ferngrowingoutofbrickColonialParkCemeterySavannah18Dec2015
fern growing out of rock, brick, in Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah, GA, Dec. 2015
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trees growing out of rock ledge, Northern Rail Trail, NH, April 2015
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watermelon plant growing on beach, Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2013

And in the longer run, land, sea, and all mortal beings, all species of flora and fauna, will disappear.

Which is why perhaps a heterotopia appeals to me so deeply … the placeless place, neither here nor there: a ship between shores on which an ad hoc society exists only as long as a cruise or passage; a tourist town, which shutters up and closes down after a few months; a public garden, where antiquity meets modernity (and as Louis Marin says, “the unsurpassable contradiction, where art and nature, artifice and truth, imagination and the real, representation and being, mimesis and the origin, play hide-and seek”); a museum (hard on the back and wearying though they are), where the past is reinterpreted by the present (“Foucault’s museum is not a funereal storehouse of objects from different times, but an experience of the gap between things and the conceptual and cultural orders in which they are interpreted”- from Beth Lord); a cemetery, where past and present collide and almost all of us have a relationship with it. A place, in other words, where here-there-everywhere and now-then come together in some ambiguous, disturbing, provocative way. A place that deviates from conventional norms, a constant reminder that ‘normal’ is always and everywhere just a temporary construct. These heterotopic places are where I feel I belong, if one can be said to belong to such a place, because they match my sense of what’s real.

momsspotinEvergreenCemetery13Dec2014
my mom, Evergreen Cemetery, Roanoke, VA, 13 Dec. 2014
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Dad’s ashes, scattered in Mt. Rogers National Recreational Area, Virginia, June 2013

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We each exist in a place now, places that seem real, solid, geographically tangible. At the same time, or in another time that runs alongside the chronology we obey, we are placeless, standing at a threshold, that liminal space, waiting, one foot here and one foot there, waiting, inhabiting multiple realities, multiple places and times in one moment, in one space. That’s how it feels to me, and I guess it’s why hotels, motels, lodging, and the movement of travelling resonate for me, reminders of the non-linear world beyond and inside and overlapping this other world we are inexplicably placed in. They remind me that we’re here for the moment, we’re in this spot in each moment as we move toward another spot in each moment, places we’ve never been, or have visited in dreams and in memory.

We live out of suitcases, uncertain in the middle of the night how to find the bathroom and the lights; we wake up disoriented, aware of strangers coughing, flushing, moving about next door; we check ourselves in the mirror before opening the door and stepping through.

MollysinkmirrorConservatoryLongwoodGardens13Oct2017

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Thanks for traveling with me on this part of my journey.

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The Nature of Dreams, or, Dreams about Nature

My dreams lately have been beyond vivid (which is their usual style). They have been vivid, persistent, disturbing (unusual for me), and nature-focused.

Last week, right after my mother died (I think … it’s possible it was right before) I dreamed I had mushrooms growing out of my body. I noticed raised patches on my legs first, like small skin lesions, then on my torso, and as I discovered them, they grew. Then I noticed a very large one, without the stem, above my right breast. They were pretty at first but also disturbing, especially the speed with which they spread. I couldn’t understand how it happened so fast, and I was wondering how to remove them without damaging my skin.

underside of Amanita flavoconia mushroom (Kezar Lake, Aug 2014)
underside of Amanita flavoconia mushroom (Kezar Lake, Aug 2014)

Of course, I googled it. Dreaming of fungi or mushrooms growing from the body has many meanings, surprisingly, since it seems like such a specific symbol:

  • “When there is a fungus on the skin or protruding from it, there is emotional distress or physical distress, or your body is literally trying to fight off an infection.”
  • “To see fungus in your dream represents negative emotions that are expanding and growing in your unconscious. You need to find a productive way to express them before it grows out of control.”
  • “Mushroom – soon you will do something that will surprise everyone around.”
  • “Represent a short-term positive eroticism.”
  • “To see mushrooms in your dreams, denotes unhealthy desires, and unwise haste in amassing wealth, as it may vanish in law suits and vain pleasures.”
  • “See mushrooms in a dream – to long life and good fortune.”
  • “Mushrooms can grow anywhere, on anything, in any condition and in any climate. If the mushrooms in your dream appeared by surprise, or were given as a gift, this may indicate some exciting changes in your near future. If your psyche is alerting you to some changes, you might want to keep in mind that change also requires us to be versatile. If you are uprooted you can easily plant yourself somewhere else. Mushrooms can also represent our soul in this way and may mean that someone is ready to expose their soul to you or adversely you may be ready to share that part of yourself with someone else. In the way that that mushroom represents a soul, it also represents longevity and rebirth.”

Additionally, we talk quite a bit about fungus in my permaculture group, as mycorrhizal fungi networks are key to soil and plant health in a complicated, complex way that amounts to: fungi is necessary for most plant growth.

maybe Hypholoma capnoides (conifer tuft) fungi in moss (Kezar Lake, Oct 2014)
maybe Hypholoma capnoides (conifer tuft) fungi in moss (Kezar Lake, Oct 2014)

And this year, I have been obsessively focused on fungi every time I’m outside, taking hundreds of photos of them. Though I don’t eat them, I am enchanted by their beauty and variety.

So, who knows?

This morning, I awoke from an involved dream in which I was teaching my first adult ed class on insects. Unfortunately, I knew very little about insects (even less than in waking life) and apparently had not researched the topic or made a class syllabus. Some of the class members knew much more, including a man who raised roses and spent a large part of the class — which was a field trip, outdoors, to find insects — talking about aphids and how to control them. Some in the class grew yellow or pink roses, while others didn’t grow roses; all were obviously disappointed that I didn’t lead the class better. One man left within 15 mins of our field trip beginning. I was carrying an insect reference book and trying to keep up with what others were saying and what I was supposed to be teaching. I thought we might check under rocks and logs for some insects, but then I doubted I could identify them or say much about them beyond an ID.

greenaphidsonaweed2Oct2013I’m not even sure what to google for this dream. It was about teaching, badly, or generally being prepared and not knowing what one is expected to know, but the insect and aphid aspects also seems important to me. I do spend a lot of time in waking life trying to get various insects identified from photos (via books and online expert sources),  though less at this time of year than in spring and summer. I don’t grow roses but have consistently had small yellow aphids on asclepias (milkweed) plants.

“Bugs” obviously connote feeling bugged, annoyed, but this dream didn’t feature a bug per se … more the absence of bugs. Instead, we merely talked about them, and particularly about aphids  — “If you dream a lot of aphids, in the near future you will meet on your way a dishonest person, which at first will seem honest and trustworthy” and “Aphid teaches the importance of nourishment; spiritual, emotional and physical. Are your basic needs being met? Is it time to jumpstart your metabolism?” for two interpretations. And I think at one point I told those who were there to hear about butterflies that we would talk about them but that other insects (and I was unsure in the dream, but not in waking life, if a butterfly was even an insect, which shows how little I knew) would also be discussed.

Connecting the two dreams, perhaps, I found this interpretation of “aphid,” which seems like it could apply equally well to fungi, which uses waste products to facilitate growth and which is resourceful in an ever-changing environment:

“Part of Aphid’s medicine is about self-empowerment. You have all that is needed within and it’s time to seek and find. She demonstrates resourcefulness, riding the winds of change and making the absolute best of the situation. Use what is considered a “waste product” to your sweetest advantage.”

Not sure where that leaves me, though. Except instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, there are fungi and aphids up there. Ho ho ho.

Dreams, Memory, Dementia

kitchen in house in 1995

I’ve been wondering lately if there is some correlation between vivid dreaming and memory loss or dementia.

My mother has Alzheimer’s, and she’s at the stage now where she imagines (?) that she is making art projects with her mother (dead since 1965), that she is in the thick of raising my sisters and me, that her father (dead for more than 20 years) is a regular part of her life. Her life these days is peopled with historical figures and constructed from historical events, as if some kind of solid wall between her past and her present has dissolved and allowed the two to co-mingle.

What is the nature of that wall, I wonder? How solid is it, really? Is “dementia” another word for “nirvana,” for living in the moment without delusion, if only we weren’t so tied to the convention of time? (Except that in the state of nirvana, desire and aversion are said to be extinguished, and that’s not so for my mother. Yet.)

Sometimes when I wake up from dreaming, I feel quite sure that the past is present, that I have been interacting with people, places, and events from 10 or 20 or 30 or more years ago. And sometimes, that feeling doesn’t disappear after a few seconds but follows me throughout the day. It feels almost real, that I was just having a conversation with my ex-husband, that I was just wandering through a house I last lived in in 2002, that I was hugging my dad or calling out in a panic for a bulldog who is lost (and who died in 2003).

It seems that there is a fine line separating me from my mom:  I feel a bit disoriented and bewildered when I wake up feeling that the past is clashing with the present, because it both feels real and yet external cues tell me it can’t be real; whereas my mother accepts this intersection or collision as fully real, and external cues don’t persuade her otherwise.

(Photo: 1995; kitchen in a house I dream about frequently)

So Pedestrian

Morning Edition ran a story this morning, Americans Do Not Walk The Walk, And That’s A Growing Problem. 

Sort of a fluff piece, since it’s not news to anyone that Americans don’t walk much. But some of the comments were (sadly) amusing:

“We’ve engineered walking out of our existence and everyday life,” Vanderbilt says. “I even tried to examine the word ‘pedestrian,’ and it’s always had sort of this negative connotation — that it was always better to be on a horse or something, if you could manage it.”

… and true:

“[T]he core problem — of too many people living too far away from the things they need.”

… and point to a systemic and literal devaluing of walking and bike-riding as means of transportation:

“As a Federal Highway Administration study noted, ‘In 2009, about 2.0 percent of federal-aid surface transportation funds were used for pedestrian and bicycle programs and projects. However, those two modes are estimated to account for almost 12 percent of all trips and represent more than 13 percent of all traffic fatalities.’

(Though maybe state and local funds pick up the slack?)

Coincidentally, last night I dreamed I was on one of those Segways instead of walking and while it was fun, I was thinking as I was using it that I really should, and could, be walking instead.

I do walk a lot, for recreation and also for practical reasons, to get to the library, stores, coffee shop, post office, an adult ed class, etc. Lately, I’ve been taking 3-4-mile walks alone, with spouse or with a group of older women (almost all in their 70s) who like to walk and bike several times per week. I’m glad to live in a town that’s walkable and to know people who enjoy walking.

Photo #16

dad walking, HHSP, florida Feb. 2007
dad walking, Hickory Hammock State Park, Florida, Feb. 2007

I wrote this piece in November 1993 — more than 18 years ago.

At Home

My father called last night. He’s finally changing his will and he’s made me executrix. The term surprises me, and before I can stop myself, I flash on Electrolux vacuum cleaners, then high-priced call girls performing exec-u-tricks for CEOs. I don’t think about what it really involves until after we hang up, and then I can’t stop thinking about it.

Dad and his girlfriend, Nancy, are renting a house on the Carolina coast for three months, then they’ll decide what to do next: either house-sit in a Michigan lighthouse, or build their own log cabin in the western Virginia hills, with the idea of living in it half the year and travelling during the rest. Either way, he’s still looking for a home, temporary or less temporary. He’s spent the last 10 years hiking, living in the woods, living in other people’s houses while they’re away – usually without a telephone, so my sisters and I never know when we might talk with him again. We make up for it by talking about him, comparing the evidence of our lives and finding him both mutable and constant.

Lately, Dad talks a lot about money. He never used to mention it, not specific dollar amounts. Until I was 25, I had no idea what his salary was or what the house cost. If I asked, he’d say “Oh, we have enough. You don’t need to worry.” Now, he brings up the subject while we’re talking about breakfast or the Orioles. He tells me what his 401k will mean for my sisters and me when we split it three ways. He tells me how much money he settled on my mother in their divorce last year, and how much she’ll receive from a life insurance policy. I write it all down for later.

I remember when I first realized my father wasn’t all-powerful. I was 7 and my mother, who never listened to me, was vacuuming around me one evening while I talked. I packed a few stuffed animals and fewer clothes, and I told her I was leaving. “Goodbye!” she waved, stepping over the cord into the living room. I slammed the door, walked through the dark to the back yard, and stood under the redwood deck Dad had made the summer before, wondering where to go now. The mint grew thick in the shade, the aroma so strong I’m overpowered even now when I pull it out of my own garden. I heard the front door open and close, and then my name yelled into the night. I heard him coming towards me and as soon as he got close, I took off. It felt like a game, then. We ran three times around the house but I was more agile around the corners and stayed well ahead of him. He couldn’t catch me. I felt powerful, strong, safe in my youthful body. It was only later, in bed with my animals, that I felt a cold sliver of fear near my heart.

I feel the same chill now, sometimes. When Dad and Nancy visited this summer, we played 4-card stud, 7-card draw, hearts, and any other card games we could remember most of the rules for. Suddenly, Dad got a charley-horse and fell writhing to the ground. I ran to get the analgesic cream. After Nancy and I rubbed it into his calf, he was able to stand up again, but he seemed a little shorter, a little stooped. I don’t think I had ever witnessed his pain before, so direct, so unmitigated.

When we talk about his will, or the house they may build, I know that hiding just beyond the circumference of this conversation is another conversation, one much more difficult to navigate.

I had a nightmare the other night that my father killed himself. In the dream, he had made a promise to me that he would live out the length of his days. Everyone in my family dies young; few have lived past 65; and he knows I’m anxious that someone break into old age, just to show me it can be done. But, in the dream, he kills himself and the promise is broken. In life, he’s made no such promise, and even if he had, I couldn’t hold him to it, no matter how strong I am or how weak he becomes.

Eventually, he’ll find his home and he’ll want to stay there.

Photo #6

old house front porch
front porch of former house

Last night, I dreamed about our former house for the first time since we moved from it almost 2-1/2 years ago. I frequently dream about the house we lived in for 8 years before that one, an amazing board-and-batten post-and-beam on 10 acres in the country, with lots of built-ins and a lovely wood smell that I always noticed when we came home from being away for a while.

But I didn’t really like this Victorian that we lived in for 7 years. I like crisp, clean architectural lines, and open spaces, and this house wasn’t like that. It had redeeming qualities, though: its spacious renovated bathrooms, a bounteous well-planted garden with mature trees, the wide front porch, front and back staircases, a sumptuous dining room, and a very large deck.

But the best thing about this house, for me, was the town it’s in. And that’s really what my dream was about. It took place now, and we were buying this house back from the people who bought it from us. But I don’t recall being inside the house in the dream, just in the driveway and on the front porch, where I could interact with friends, neighbours and acquaintances who were walking or driving by. I felt happy to be back, to walk those same sidewalks, hang out at the local coffee shop, and be surrounded by friends and people who know me, something I don’t experience much in our new town.

The night before this, I dreamed about North Korea and I woke up in the middle of the night puzzling over why or how the North Korean people don’t know what’s going on in the rest of the world. How can they really believe the lie that other leaders fear and admire their leader and envy the fortunes of North Korea? I know the propaganda is strong and the boundaries almost impermeable, but there much be some people who get in or out, physically or virtually, maybe through ham radios or rigged-up TVs … It kept me awake for a while, thinking about this. About starvation and prison camps, and the power of propaganda.  Someone thinks that they know the truth about the world when they know so very little. And maybe that’s my situation, too. Not necessarily because the government is lying (though no doubt it is, at times) but because, like any North Korean (I would imagine), I’m conditioned and biased and I believe most easily that which I want to believe.  It takes effort to believe something else, even when confronted with evidence.

I think dreaming about revisiting houses must be a metaphor for something. Maybe the house represents a remembered self, from one time and place; and in dreams, we re-examine life through those successive selves, with the eyes of today. It feels like a gift, to observe the former self without much attachment, and at the same time to re-feel and re-member the smell of that wood, the texture of that countertop, the way I felt in that house … I don’t know, though, whether these dreams reinforce my biases and my life narrative, or whether they present evidence  that my conscious mind has forgotten or ignored, which might challenge my biases and give me new eyes.

Dream: Dad and Sisters at the Beach

(I’ve had numerous dreams about my dad that I haven’t written down, but I dreamed this one right before waking up this morning and decided to type it up while it was still in my consciousness.)

My sisters and I are sunning ourselves at Dad’s condo by the ocean, on a sort of inside-outside terrace. The condo is on the 2nd floor or a bit above, not the ground level and not very high up. Dad is sunning with us, too. I think: I can sun like this at home; I want to go down to the beach and lay out there since we’re at the ocean. I say this aloud to everyone, go into the bathroom to pee and get my clothes (which I put in a tote bag, though then that seems odd – why don’t I just leave them there?, I wonder), and come back out to head down to the beach.

Dad and my sisters have decided to come, too, and M2 and Dad are already on their way, so M3 and I walk along together. She is wearing white cotton capris with drawstrings at the knees and the bottoms (not something I would characteristically associate with her). Along the way I’m thinking about where we are going to have dinner on this last night at the beach together … some place really fun, I hope, and wonder when we will talk about that, because I want to spend the afternoon anticipating the good meal we’ll have. Then I realise I can anticipate it anyway, without knowing exactly where we’re going, because any place we choose will have good food and be fun.

M3 and I arrive, but we’re not at the beach; instead we’re in a big sort of open-air auditorium. We pause, looking around the rows and aisles for Dad and M2, and I soon see them, sitting in seats in the left front area. When I get to them, both of my sisters and my dad are sitting in the seats, with Dad on the aisle, but he is getting up because he is about to leave anyway. He gets up to give me his seat, but I don’t want to sit in the auditorium, so I follow him, though he doesn’t seem to notice because he takes off so quickly.

We walk through the building. In the middle of an atrium area, a man is lying on his back in a hospital bed, raised up a bit to talk, but it’s obvious to me that he is dying. He has a full head of dark hair and is wearing a dark bluish suit jacket that’s wrinkled and slouched around him, over a similarly wrinkled white dress shirt. For some reason, I think of Charlton Heston.

We continue outside to a white concrete walkway that is winding around the periphery of the auditorium. I hadn’t tried to get Dad’s attention when we were inside, to let him know I was with him, but once we are outside and it is just the two of us, it feels weird to be following a few steps behind him without his knowing. He’s dressed in khaki shorts and a short-sleeved top and is barefoot (typical of Dad), and he is whistling as he walks his usual rapid pace along the pathway. I call out to him: “Dad! Dad! Hey, Dad! Dad!” But he doesn’t appear to hear me. I think about calling out his actual name, but I don’t want to have to do that; I want him to respond to “Dad.” We step off the pathway into some straw-like grass that I think may hurt my (also) bare feet but it’s OK. This is the way to the sandy beach.

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When I woke up, I thought that maybe he hadn’t responded because he didn’t recognise my voice and didn’t realise he was the “dad” being called, but then I remembered that I hadn’t seen anyone else outside with us. I felt sad.