When the tragedy (actually it's The Tragedy, in the local vernacular here, it's always The Tragedy you can hear the capital letters in people's voices when they speak the words) occurred, I was in shock for the better part of a week. Everywhere around me, people wanted to talk about it, to cry, vent their anger, their confusion, their loss. And me, being an empath felt everything they felt, I had to eat those emotions, drawing them into myself, out of them making them feel better. I'd hug them, smooth their hair, pat their shoulders, hold their hands, murmur to them that I understood.

Waking, I put on a strong face for my friends and co-workers, because that's what they expect of me.

But in my dreams ... such as last night's dream, I'm not so strong, I'm not so effective, I'm not so inhumanly understanding:

Dave and Matt are back in my life, and everything's better, none of the bad stuff happened, we're friends, we love each other, we're reunited and in joy at being together. We're in my house, talking and laughing and hugging at how better we all are because none of the bad things we did to each other really happened, it was an alternate reality, a bad dream from which we'd just awakened. So to celebrate our joy, we walked outside, running and laughing, dancing in a swirl of newspaper rain. We kept walking down the street, leaping, running, laughing ...

Two blocks later, we're in downtown New York. The World Trade Center is gone, but life is not. People are moving on and rebuilding. This makes me even more joyous, as I have my friends, the sky is crystal blue, and The Tragedy didn't beat us into submission after all, and this makes me so happy, I cry.

Then I hear the scream of a jet's engines, and my tears of joy turn into a cry of fear. I know what's going to happen, I know it I know it I know it, and I don't want to look away from my friend's face, I don't want to look up into the sky, but I can't help it, everyone else is doing it. So I look up ... and a jet slams into the Chrysler Building, exploding. And everyone's screaming and stampeding and I can hear them and feel them and I feel terror and rage, and the building is falling and it's going to fall on me if I don't run. But I have to be strong, I can't run because if I run, then everyone that I think depends on me will turn away from me. I can't stay there, though, the stampede of humans running away lifts me off my feet, I've lost Dave and Matt in the crush and all I want to do is find them or die in the collapse. I'm helpless to do anything but be swept away.

I make it, I'm alive, and the air is choked with dust and debris but I'm alive, and thankful and I want to help and comfort those less fortunate but most of all I want to find my friends, to be reunited with them.

When, finally, I do find them, the dust vanishes, the sun reappears, the sky is blue again and we are starting to feel like it's okay to be happy again. So the three of us reach for each other ...

And a Cessna flies over us, dumping a white powdery substance that covers us, gumming our eyes shut clogging our noses, our throats, we're choking, and dying because the powder is full of death and I'm blind and sick and broken and ... dead.

I wake up, a scream barely suppressed. I let it out anyways, to prove to myself that there's nothing physical in my throat to stop it.

I need to let people know I'm still scared. So I tell you. I'm still scared. But I won't let that stop me from living, and I won't let it stop me from feeling the same kind of joy I felt last night in my dream. I won't let being scared make me lose hope.