By Tina Cabrera

Things have a way of coming back to me. I mean tangible, concrete things like fountain pens, sunglasses and figurines. Like you, I have lost pets and people in death. They have a way of returning too, though intangibly. When they return, what are they exactly? I find them difficult to identify with any kind of certainty, because they do not return physically. These I seek to de-scribe, hoping to give them a form, shape or voice that I recognize, if only to confirm that some-thing of what I have lost has really returned.

When my pair of sunglasses was returned to me, it was immediately easy to identify: Bausch & Lomb label on inside of arm; top bar made of rubber; rimless lens edge. Yes, maybe someone else had glasses just like these, but no one else had claimed to lose a pair of Bausch & Lomb sunglasses on Wednesday morning on the first floor of the National University Spectrum cam-pus where I taught. Add particular details such as tiny pin scratches on both lenses and you could forego any doubt that this pair belonged to me. How did I feel when my sunglasses were unexpectedly handed back to me? I felt grateful for my luck and for the kindness of a stranger.

This particular pen I write with now, I readily recognized as mine both times it had been lost and returned. It is a rich-red colored Waterman ink-pen, my name engraved in silver now smudged, unrecognizable to anyone but me, this pen that traveled with me through two states and which I had lost twice and twice regained. Though you might think otherwise, this pen is irreplaceable. Certainly, I can buy another one like it, but not one with these unique markings. Not one that identifies as my first expensive pen purchase, that bears the wear of the years or my writing ca-reer.

The other night, my sister who died of lung cancer three months ago tried returning to me. When I awoke, it was in frustration and tears. In the dream, she made a movie and showed it to me. Each scene of dancing and singing transitioned to the next smoothly, and amazed, I asked if she had always had this artistic ability. She said yes, and as she spoke to me, she handed over the camera so I could give it a try. Not having the same filming skills, I handed the camera back to her and continued to watch the movie, image after image. I believed. While in the dream, I believed this was my sister.

When I awoke, though I knew I had dreamed about my sister and could repeat the words I had spoken to her and that she spoke to me, I did not recognize her. Feeling bamboozled and fooled, I said no, this is not my sister. My sister Dyna had no ability to make movies, nor had she any interest in art. Even if I wanted to believe that perhaps my sister had secret abilities or interests I was not aware of, she was not here to confirm, to speak to on the phone, to visit, to hug, or to touch on the shoulder.

This isn't the first time Dyna has returned. When she first died, she came to me in dreams as if she was and wasn't alive at the same time. Once, her visit was secondary to my mother, who died of cancer 16 years ago. In the dream, my mother sat in a wheelchair, her face gaunt and fallen. Dyna stood next to her, small in stature like a sickly child, patches of hair missing. Fright-ened, I asked her why Mama looked so ill, and Dyna said that she had been given the wrong medication.

This was wrong. When awake, I said - Mama was never given the wrong medication, though she did briefly use a wheelchair in her final days. I said, the Dyna in my dream had been an im-postor. Dyna had never shrunk in form, even when she was ill with cancer, though she had lost most of her hair. The Dyna I knew had always been youthful looking, beautiful, until of course the cancer ate her away.

My cat Cleo, who died last December of cancer too, who had to be put down at 8 years of age, returns to me from time to time in day dreams, in flashes of memories. I immediately reject these because though the image looks like Cleo, it doesn't sound like Cleo. The Cleo of most daydreams is mute. One of my friends used to say that Cleo made a soft, sweet sound, not a meow, but I cannot re-make her sound in my mind. When Cleo appears, it's in patches of white and gray, the primary colors of her fur. Her glossy, sad eyes, asking me why I was doing this to her, waking from sedation, only to be injected with the drug that would instantly kill her. The growling sound she made as I held her one last time, telling her I was sorry, so very very sorry. This return of Cleo is something of her, yes, the sick, dying Cleo. But is this her essence? I try to remember moments of the living Cleo, but the memories resist, as if coming to fruition would only bring unbearable pain.

My mother and my sister return to me in daydreams too. Like Cleo, when my mother who has been dead now for 16 years returns, it's usually in her miserable state of illness, or in a difficult experience shared between us. Even the tender moments return in a memory fogged by time, where the scene starts and re-starts and falters. Then I'm forced to question whether the memory happened at all, or if it happened in the way that I'm remembering it. When we were little, did Dyna really speak to me in a sarcastic tone, deriding me when I accused her of killing my hamster? Did Mama yell at me the entire time we drove in her car on the way home from the Kingdom hall, in the early days of her cancer, when I told her I wanted to spend the weekend with my friends? Did she yell in such a rage that she nearly swerved into traffic? Did Dyna really say she loved me when I held her hand that time in the hospital? Did Mama really say I love you guys now let me go? Something of my mother. Something of my sister. Things that I resistantly recognize. Are these the returns I want to hold onto, the essence of what I have lost?

How do I feel when ones I have lost return in some form or fashion? Fearful, as they often slip from my grasp. Not grateful, because these attempted returns create a longing for ones that are visceral, that I can touch or feel or stroke with my hands. Ones that I can talk to and who can talk back, not rehearsed or regurgitated conversations from the past, but spontaneous and fresh in the living present. These returns seek to replace the irreplaceable, tangible beings I have lost. I reject these substitutions.

What would happen if I gave them time to be fully realized, gave them room to grow as they do unrestrained in dreams, in the unpredictable space of memory?

When someone returns in a variegated form, one difficult to identify, what if, what if I can be the patched blind eye that pulsates at the precariousness of life?