Last night I had an incredibly vivid dream. It started out like many of my dreams have since October 19: I need Emily, but I can’t find her. In last night’s variation, I was in some sort of garden or greenhouse (there were plants everywhere), and I had something I needed to show her. I kept calling her name as I weaved in and out of plants and grasses.
Every other time I’ve had a variation of this dream, I never find her. But, last night, I did. As I called her name for what felt like the millionth time, I saw her at the opposite end of a row. We ran towards each other, and I scooped her up into my arms.
As we hugged, I could feel her arms around me. I pulled her in as close as I could, as if we had been separated for months instead of what was likely minutes in the dream. I kissed the top of her head. I could smell her hair. It was one of the most incredible hugs I’d ever shared with her… and then it was gone. I woke up.
Of course, that dream has been on my mind the entire morning, because I can’t help but miss her hugs.
The First Real Hug
Emily’s love language was definitely not physical touch. During the first year and a half of our friendship, I think we exchanged a few awkward side hugs and high fives, but that was it. I just assumed she had reservations about hugs because of her past, and I didn’t mind.
But one day, something changed.
I can still remember the first time Emily gave me a “real” hug. I literally remember every detail, from where we were to how it made me feel. Part of that could be because it seemed so out of character for her and caught me off guard, but the other part of it was definitely because I knew how I felt about her at that point despite not having said it out loud to anyone.
Emily was in the process of moving into a new apartment in Antioch. She’d moved out of an apartment in Smyrna a few weeks prior, and I’d helped her move things out and stored several things in my garage. Moving day had finally come, and she spent the day moving all the large items in with her parents. So that evening, I loaded everything up into my minivan and made my way to her new apartment.
When I arrived, the four of us (me, Emily, and her parents) unloaded the minivan and hauled the remaining items up to her third floor unit. Once we were done, we stood in the parking lot and talked for a few minutes. Then, as we said goodbye, Emily wrapped her arms around me and gave me this incredible, albeit brief, hug.
It was one of those moments where the world stood still. My brain was perplexed, yet my heart was beating so fast that I could barely breathe. I smiled the entire drive back to Murfreesboro.
Hugs for Hard Days
After that first “real” hug, embraces did become a more regular part of our relationship. They still weren’t an everyday type thing, but I didn’t expect them to be. However, there was one time hugs were always offered and accepted — when one of us had a hard day.
We both dealt with our fair share of hardships in 2020. For the first half of the year, I was the one who often needed hugs as I dealt with loneliness when my kids spent time with their dad. In the second half of the year, Emily was the one dealing with hard times as she started grad school and went back into eating disorder treatment. But, anytime one of us needed a hug, the other one was there to offer it.
As we entered 2021 and our friendship evolved into a romantic relationship, hugs became far more frequent. Yet, the offer always stood for those special embraces on the hard days.
When Emily had her end-of-semester meltdown, I held her. When I hit a particularly rough couple of weeks during trauma processing with my therapist, Emily wrapped her arms around me and helped me ground myself. No matter what happened, hugs were always there.
All Hugs Are Good Hugs
Of course, not all of the hugs Emily and I shared were tied to hard moments. In fact, many of them were quite the opposite.
I have many pictures of hugs where I’d stand behind Emily and wrap my arms around her. We did this on the beach, we did it as we watched karaoke performances at Lipstick Lounge, and we did it as we stood in line at places like the grocery store.
There were also times when we’d hug after being separated for several hours. Nearly every time Emily returned home from work, we hugged and kissed. When Emily left to take her friend to inpatient treatment in Denver, we shared a long embrace (both times). Even when Emily would leave the house to run an errand, I’d sneak a quick hug and tell her how much I loved her. Every reason was a good enough reason to hug her.
Will We Hug Again?
When I woke up from that incredible dream last night, the first question that popped into my head was: Will I ever get to hug Emily again?
I’m sure many of you think that question sounds silly, given my beliefs. In fact, many Christians would say, “If you believe in Heaven, then, of course, you’ll get to hug her again!” But to me, the answer to that question isn’t so simple.
I’ve done a lot of reading and research, and I’ve learned that there aren’t any scripture passages that outline what Heaven is like. There aren’t any mentions that I’ve found of being reunited with loved ones or living out a life anything like what we do here on Earth. There are no promises as to what’s on the other side, and that’s a hard pill to swallow… At least for me.
But, even if we are reunited with our loved ones, the other burning question has plagued me for over two decades: Am I worthy of Heaven at all?
Again, some would say that the fact that I believe in God is enough to save me. But, I grew up Catholic, so it’s not that simple. There are also a lot of aspects of my past and present life that make me question my worth every single day and make me feel more like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter or Angel from Redeeming Love. I see myself as a sinner, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be pure and good enough for eternal life.
And yes, I know that Emily would be arguing with all of these things I’m saying about myself right now. I know it because we had nearly this same conversation just a few months ago when I had a meltdown in the middle of a sermon about Hell at her home church in Knoxville.
For now, though, I do know that my hope for a future where I get to hug Emily again is a major motivator for me. And, because of that, I’m trying to live the best possible life and do what I can to become a better person. I just hope that, someday, it’s good enough for God and good enough for Emily.