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In the year after my sister died her brutal and sudden death, the same year I realized but did not yet understand the full extent of “alone-ness,” I had a recurring dream.

I was a grown woman. My body had the long pale limbs of a phantom; it was nothing but bone and white skin. I had hair, dark as a moonless night, hanging in rivulets to my hips. The face of this woman, this woman who was me/not me, was all carved cheekbone and wide watching eyes. The eyes, yes, I remember vividly, of a solitary animal. Not a hunted one, but one who hunts.

The me/not me woman was a confusion and a draw: I looked nothing like her, but I was her, or was to be her. At the time of this dream’s visitation, I was a beautiful, round, apple cheeked child, with full hips and breasts and tanned skin and a rose stained mouth and frightened kohl lined eyes. I was as full, as voluptously full, as this woman was empty. But she was not empty of soul, as I think, perhaps, I was at the time. She was empty of need. I loved her.

The image, which was a story but also a blurred picture that wavered and shimmered in my young mind, returned night after sisterless night. Preparing for sleep in my huge bedroom, silent save the occasional startle of traffic beneath the window, thoughts drifted and embedded themselves in my mind: the bed across the hall was empty. That bed had just months before been inhabited by this being of my own blood, this being who indeed was so similar to me I was able to give to her the marrow of my own bones. Bone and blood, bone and blood, we were joined, like twins, like clones. But the blood we shared turned sour and toxic in her beautiful young body while mine continued its hearty path…how did this happen, how had my bones not saved hers?

No one, of course, understood. No friend, no mother, no father, no teacher, no lover. Always a solitary child, I shrank further and further into an empty cave. Nowhere, safety. Nowhere, companionship. Until the dream.

In the dream I could follow the me/not me woman as if watching a film. Never did she address me, though I sensed she knew I was there. She lived alone in a small, three of four room cottage above an angry ocean. Storm, grey rocks, grey cloudfront, white rushing crests of sea. The wind blew almost all the time, but it was a wind one soon got used to, even appreciated as an element bringing purity and renewal to the rocky shore.

The cottage was high above the sea; I remember a lane leading down to the water. It was steep and sanded, and connected directly to her front steps. The cottage was spare to the point of emptiness, save for brilliant white walls, pale smooth floors, books and, most importantly, music. Music was everywhere; it permeated the wind strewn air like a touchable substance. The music was power. It was joy. It was contentment.

Nothing happened in the dream. The me/not me woman spent her days in solitude, surrounded by music and sand, which she would sweep over and over again, brushing it patiently out the door, which she left forever open to the mercurial sea.

This dream has stayed with me as one of my great companions, a tremendous friend, over the many years since its first appearance. I have thought about this woman sometimes as a creature outside myself, almost as a goddess, or guiding archetype. She carries very much the solitary, sensual strength of Artemis within her. Sometimes, however, she is just me, and I know she presented herself to my young grieving mind as a hope, a visionary wish, that one day I might possess my solitude as something strong as the sea, something chosen, something with an element of fierce sensuality and at the same time completeness, in need of nothing. It is a dream of self-containment.

My outer life shows all the marks of someone who went down a very different path: I am married, I have three children, and animals and even a tiny palm-full of friends. But I know she is there, and sometimes, despite the happiness of motherhood and a deepening love for my husband, I am convinced that she is all that is and all that ever will be.