Free cannoli and cheesecake

We were eating in Café bel Italia, Stephanie's favorite Italian restaurant in Madison. We had a window table, best seat in the house, and Steph was seated facing outside, so other than my face, her view must've been picture-perfect.

My view was terrific, too — the sunshine was hitting Steph's face, and she was beautiful. As in my life with her, I loved looking in her eyes and loved seeing her smile. I loved seeing her love.

The pasta was dreamy, which was appropriate, this being a dream and all. We were talking, probably with our mouths full, enjoying our dinner and each other and the dream.

She reminisced about our trip on the ship sailing across Lake Michigan and what a great time she'd had, and about places we'd been to in San Francisco and things we did in Kansas City, and about how lucky we'd been to find the perfect apartment here in Madison, and of course, how lucky we'd been to have found each other in the first place.

We could always talk about happy memories together, because we had so many, so it must've been a long conversation, and a long dream. We had a long marriage, too, just not long enough.

The waiter came over to ask if our meals were satisfactory, and he was Bill Murray. Yeah, the movie star, who's also famous for his chipper and quirky off-screen interactions with strangers. He was wearing the restaurant's silly red silk uniform, and Steph said, "Are you Bill Murray?" but it was obvious that he was, and he said, "Last time I checked."

Of course, he was witty and sarcastic, and instantly we were all old friends. He sat down at our table and suddenly he had a plate of pasta, and all three of us were chatting comfortably.

When we'd almost finished the last few bites of our pasta, he stood up and resumed his role as the waiter, asked if we'd like dessert, and he smiled and said, "I'm paying." Steph ordered cannoli and I had cheesecake, and I don't think Bill Murray had anything because he was gone and the waiter became a waitress who simply dropped off our desserts and the tab, then said thanks and walked away.

Stephanie was sparkly all through dinner. That was her default mode, but in the dream she seemed especially sparkly even for Steph. She was in her wheelchair so this was latter-Steph, but she was healthy, happy, and with me — everything I ever wanted.

We paid and tipped and walked home, and it was a long walk and it was cold, but we were happy and talking and laughing and we said, "I love you" to each other, like we always did.

She asked me to tell her parents that she loved them, too, and I guess that's when I knew it was a dream, because if this was real she'd call them herself. She mentioned that she was cold, and she shivered, and I woke up.

I'd fallen asleep in my chair, next to the un-insulated window, so our shivers had been real.

I sat there, awake but dazed, and replayed the dream in my mind. I remembered it more clearly than most, so I started writing it down, and when I'd finished I noticed I was smiling. I'd been smiling for twenty minutes, I think, and I'll bet if you'd seen me asleep in this chair half an hour ago, you'd have seen me smiling in my sleep.

Without her, here in the woke-up world, there are fewer smiles. Before Stephanie saved my life I had very few friends, lived alone, and spent alone almost all my time alone. That's what life looks like now, again, and it sucks. I can make it alone, though, so long as I remember her every day — and boy, do I.

She pops into my mind often, and sometimes stays a long while. I still like to stand at the Shrine I've made of all her things, and look at the picture of her face on the urn. And I'm with her in my dreams maybe four nights out of seven, and like tonight, they're always good dreams. 

Now I should call the in-laws and relay Steph's message that she loved them. I'm not good at talking to anyone on the phone, though, and they know that, from talking to me on the phone. So I sent them an email instead: "Had dinner with Steph in a dream, and she asked me to tell you that she loved you."

We had our problems, sure, but our 20+ years together were a dream come true. Thank you for that, Steph. Thanks for all the ways you made the world wonderful while you were with me, and especially, thank you for coming back to see me so often in my dreams. Also, thank you, Bill Murray, for treating us to dessert.