When I was a sophomore in college, living in Rio de Janeiro, one of my childhood friend was killed in a car accident in Albuquerque. He was driving home from a play when a drunk driver being chased by the police ran a red light and slammed into his car. He was eighteen years old.
My friend's name was Manoa. We met in elementary school, when he was in fourth grade and I was in fifth. We shared a classroom back then, as the Montessori school we attended was very small. We were both eventually accepted to the same private school, and played together in the jazz band for several years. Manoa played saxophone, and I played piano.
If I remember correctly, Manoa was half Filipino and half Isleta Pueblo Indian. My mom sent me the newspaper clipping about his death, how the community had lost such a promising young star in such a seemingly unfair way. My mom told me about Manoa's funeral, how he had a traditional Isleta ceremony and was wrapped in a woven rug. She relayed to me Manoa's mother's words, that life would never be the same without their only child, but that the family somehow was able to find solace in their spirituality.
Last night I dreamt of Manoa. It was so clear, so moving, that I actually feel that Manoa came to me in my dreams here in Mozambique, halfway around the world from New Mexico.
I dreamt I was at a house party near the beach, waiting for a group of friends to arrive. Eventually they did, and in the midst of the familiar faces was Manoa. He was dressed in jeans and his long black hair was tied back in a ponytail. He looked exactly the same as I remembered him, though somehow older and wiser.
"Are you really here?" I asked.
"Yes. I am here."
I ran and hugged him, amazed to feel the warmth of his body, and the strength of his arms as he returned the embrace.
"Can other people see you?"
"No, just you."
But that wasn't quite true. My friend Sam was at the party, a Puerto Rican santero I met a few months before moving to Mozambique. Sam wore beaded necklaces for Ogun and led weekly drumming circles.
"I can see him, too," Sam told me. I know he is here.
The rest of the party-goers were oblivious. I wondered what I looked like from their perspective, desperately hugging thin air and resting my head on a non-existant shoulder.
I looked up at Manoa and said, "I'm sorry for not sticking up for you more. I should have been there for you."
Manoa used to be quite overweight in elementary and middle school, and he wore his hair in a thick bowl cut. The popular kids used to make fun of him, especially during PE when Manoa would quickly get out of breath while running around the football field. The kids would say he looked like a gorilla, nostrils flared, dark skin and hair glistening with sweat.
I did stick up for Manoa many times, but I could have done more. I still feel bad about it.
"It's okay," Manoa told me, "you were there for me."
I hugged him even closer. It seemed like the world around us had stopped, and all I could see or hear was him, his breathing, his deep brown eyes. It was so real.
"I love you," I whispered. "I'm so glad you are here."
"I love you, too," Manoa said. "I always knew I would love you, and I always have."
I woke up and immediately felt that Manoa had come to me. I've dreamt about him before, but it was always in the context that he was still alive, had never died, was just another character in the random cast of my unconscious thoughts. This dream was different. I knew Manoa had died, and that he'd come back only for me (and Sam, the santero) to see. It was very real, very moving.
I told Rico my dream and started crying. It was a bit odd to tell my husband that I'd professed my love to another person in my dreams, but it was true. I did love Manoa, and it was absolutely the right thing to say when he appeared to me. I knew he loved me, too. A very different kind of love than the one between a couple, or even the love between family. This was almost a divine love, unconditional, forgiving, pure.
I wonder why Manoa chose to come to me. We were never that close while in school, and completely lost touch when I moved to Brazil. I suppose, should one believe that these things are real and not just a random result of brain flashes, some things we just have to accept, even though we don't understand their meaning or purpose at the time.