But first, a recurring memory: we decided to buy our first house in Boerne, Texas, while checking out another home closer to San Antonio. I remember we sequestered ourselves in their boy’s bedroom, sat together on the kid’s twin bed, and contemplated making a serious offer. It took us some time. We suspected the agent was hopeful that we were thinking about bidding on THIS house. I can almost remember details from the room . . . almost. And I keep remembering this scene, perhaps because it was one of the biggest decisions we’d made, and we made it together. (You’d think I would remember when we decided to make a baby together, but nooop.)
Dream last night: we were looking at another house, perhaps also in Texas. It was on a flag lot that tapered in the backyard — sort of trapezoidal layout, broad end toward the street, narrow end behind the home. I thought the lot’s square footage (something like 6800 sq ft) seemed a lot lower than what I really wanted. I imagined what the backyard might look like, but when I went to check it out, it was disappointingly small, dark, and poorly groomed.
The agent had some sort of faux European accent. She was fixing coffee in the kitchen for Karen and was boasting about how she had saved this special flavor for her. Seemed like a BS artist. I checked out the master bedroom: dark, but very large, and I could imagine us filling it up with reptiles and tarantulas. I worried that that might sell Karen on the house, since I wasn’t too impressed with it so far.
But it was nice, overall, being back in that pre-Jake world with a relatively normal (healthier) Karen, planning our lives together.
Two in the last two days, but these haven’t felt like supernatural visitations so much as lectures from my subconscious. Fuck you, subconscious.
I found her in a hospital bed, but she looked good nonetheless. She reminded me of how she looked in her hospital bed after she’d delivered Jake. I looked at her wristband and the date was October 2014. So: not dead yet, but not long for this world. Post strife. I was back in time and I had another chance — to apologize, to profess my love, something. I was tearful, agitated, and she knew something was up. She got out of the bed and we walked together — dream transition, now we were in our house, putting our shoes on. I hugged her and told her, “You mean more to me than anything. You know that, don’t you? Tell me that you know that.” But she wouldn’t respond. She wanted to talk about a project for the backyard. “You need to do something about that big pile of soil. Build that island already and be creative. I know you can do it.” We talked about looking on the internet for images so she could show me what she wanted.
That X-Files poster has always struck me as sad verging on pathetic. I want to believe seems a concise way of saying, This is something I wish were true. I know it’s not, but damn it, I want to believe. That’s how I feel about life after death. I want to believe that Karen has some sort of existence outside of my own mind, that she’s really out there, watching over me. Because that means I may see her again and say all the things that went unsaid. Hard to believe there’s anything left to say, after all the talking we did. But maybe what’s missing is her belief. Such a simple statement: I believe you.
I dreamed last night that Karen had been away a long time. It was late at night, the house was dark, and as I went through the doorway into my bedroom she was standing at the verge. I made some sort of startled exclamation, then hugged her tight. After a while, she hugged me back. And then we went to bed. She was back.
Maybe she’s happy with me for taking care of the tarantulas yesterday (but I’ve done that many times). Maybe she approves of how I’m handling things in my life. Or maybe it’s all just random meaningless chatter. But I want to believe that was really her. It felt real enough.
I’ve written before about THE dream, which is more of a recurring location — no, a destination — that I’ve revisited throughout my adult life. Always, it’s to the northwest. Always, it’s at least a couple hours’ hike before I can get to my destination. I used to be able to start that hike, and once, once, I made it to the cave.
I’m using the word “destination” because for years, now, it’s been so bloody difficult to even get a look at that rocky landscape. The other night was no different. I was young, high school perhaps, and I had gone to the house of a girl I liked. There wasn’t much daylight left but she agreed to go out with me on a hike. We figured we could walk for as long as the sun stayed up, and then there would be enough twilight to make it back before nightfall. We’d go as far as we could, then return.
That’s what we did. But we had barely started the trail when she pointed out she hadn’t worn the right shoes, and the trail was not as compact as I had recalled, and could we please just leave?
I woke up wondering when I’d have the chance to return. And I wonder, as I always have, why this destination has such a fascination for me, and whether I’ll ever make it there before I die.
Great dream last night between 1:00 AM and 1:44. I know the times because I was awake before and after the dream. I wanted to write it all down afterward, but I went back to sleep instead, hoping to get back into the dream. Instead I had a nightmare about Karen. Fuck you, subconscious.
Anyway, in the dream, I lived in an apartment complex with this very cute girlfriend. Everyone was friendly and wanted to get to know me. Everyone was my kind of people: gamers, nerds, folks who raised exotic pets. There was a guy raising baby monitor lizards. There was another guy who had flooded out the basement parking area to create an enclosure for alligators. Life was good.
Sometimes I wish I could shirk my few remaining responsibilities (to work, to Jake) and go off on the equivalent of a walkabout. Just travel, get lost, meet people, see new places. Like people in my generation once said — “find myself.” Find out who I am without Karen. One of my co-workers told me I had to become comfortable being by myself. She’s by herself. I’ve never liked being “by myself” and doubt I’ll start liking it any time soon.
I’m hating every part of it. Being alone, feeling that pressure in my head coercing me to do stupid things. (Haven’t. Yet.) Looking. Dating. I don’t want this. I want my wife back. I want her back whole and sound, not damaged and pain-racked. Yeah, I don’t want much.
I said in her eulogy (and I’ve said it here, too) that she’s been boycotting my dreams. That’s not entirely true. A few nights ago she was there beside me, and I told her I loved her and wanted to hear her say the words back to me, but it was my damaged, terminal Karen I was talking to and she was too obtunded to respond. Thanks, subconscious.
Just woke up from a dream in which she was alive and whole and well and we were tending the tarantulas together. She needed help with a particularly large tarantula who had given birth. There were a bunch of little tees in the cage, and they very nicely weren’t rushing out when we opened the lid. Karen made a motion to pet the big mama when the bit Tee hissed and went into full threat display. She said Oh, come on, and tarantula whisperer that she was, started petting the mama like a dog or a cat, and mama settled right down.
In the dream, she’d been away for a while. In the hospital, I think. And I’d been making plans without her — lunch dates, dinner dates, all of that, and these things were coming up, soon, just as they are in real life. I had this sudden jarring realization: what the hell am I thinking? I’m married. I was about to confront Karen and say, You need to tell me what you want me to do. Is this a marriage? Are we going to have sex any time soon? Because it’s been a loooong time, Karen, and I would really rather it be with you. Cajoling. Threatening.
From there I drifted into a twilight sleep in which I kept thinking the same thing: Why have I set up these dates? What the hell was I thinking? I’m a faithful husband. Why would I do such a thing? I’ll cancel everything, even if she won’t answer the question.
Then the truth rushes in, like it always does.
So (in last night’s little adventure), this man comes to see me because he’s unhappy with the rhinoplasty my partner did for him. This is preposterous on the face of it, because my partner has twenty-five years of cosmetic surgery experience, and I’ve done, what, maybe twelve rhinoplasties in my entire career, ten of those during training? But whatever. The guy wants an opinion.
And, indeed, it’s a botched rhinoplasty, which is again preposterous because my partner does great work, but hey, this is a dream. This fellow has no tip support and the nasal dorsum has been over-reduced. It’s amazing that his nose hasn’t sunk two inches into his face. I’m shocked that all he wants is his money back (preposterousness #3 — this is the Kize — so you want your co-pay back? Sure!), but then he pulls out a ten-inch hunting knife, very shiny, and says he wants to see my partner.
I locate my partner in one of the other exam rooms and innocently (evilly?) tell him, “One of your patients has a question for you.” But he’s in a snit over something going down in his own room, and leaves in a huff. So, great. I have an angry patient in my room looking for sweet, bloody revenge, and my partner’s gone from the building.
When I get back, some young Vietnamese kid is delivering my patient an automatic rifle, but there seems to be some disagreement, everyone’s getting louder, and right then, close enough for me to get splashed with blood, my patient stabs the guy in the hand, screams, “Just give me the goddamn gun!” and grabs the rifle.
Clutching his bloody hand, the kid races over to the other side of the room, pulls out his cell phone (no doubt with a third hand), and starts screaming into it in Vietnamese. My patient, meanwhile, is loading a clip into his rifle. Thinking fast, the kid jumps onto a table, grabs a handful of window curtain, and when the rifle-fire shatters the picture window behind him, he swings out and down using the curtains as a tether.
Sadly for him, we’re several stories up, and he has to release the curtains to fall into the ocean below. (Yes. In Bakersfield.) He makes a splash, and I see him start to swim away, but then a nearby submarine fires two torpedoes his way.
I turn to my patient. “You want a refund? NO problem. But here, look at this diagram, I’d like to explain to you exactly what the trouble is . . .”
Moral of the story: Not all male rhinoplasty patients are nuts, but you have to wonder about the ones who come to their appointments with ten-inch-long hunting knives.
I gave up understanding my dreams long ago. Just when I think certain dreamscapes have reproducible geologic features, those features are upended: I made it back to the canyon, a place for decades defined by its remoteness, but this time I found a sports rental outlet, a Starbucks, and fast food. And just when I think my dream self follows certain rules, those rules are broken.
You see, I can’t punch people in my dreams. Whenever I try so much as a self-defensive kick, I become floppy, ineffectual. A toddler could overpower me. But not the other night: I was a gladiator participating in a team melee. Fighters on the other team weren’t taking me seriously — I had no armor, no weapon, and I was, well, me-sized. But then one of my opponents got body-slammed and his little dagger went flying. I dove for it, got it, and still no one paid attention to me.
Whereupon I killed at least four people (that I can remember) by knifing each one in the carotid.
This dream-me was most definitely not toddler-safe.
Not to be confused with self-abuse.
A bit of background: my undergrad degree is in chemistry. So when I found myself in a college freshman intro chemistry class, I could be forgiven, don’t you think, for skipping the reading assignment? Oh, I had skimmed it, enough that things looked vaguely familiar. I figured I would pick up what I needed to know during the lecture.
The prof, somehow figuring out that I had a BS in chemistry, announced that I would be teaching today’s class.
“Oh, that’s okay, you go right ahead,” said I.
“No, no, I insist,” said the prof.
From my seat in the auditorium, I began working through the course reading page by page. One of the other students raised her hand and politely suggested I get up in front of the blackboard to give a more conventional lecture, since my current plan was (and I quote) boring. I obliged, and began to wipe the board clean. Except it wasn’t a blackboard at all, it was a dry-erase board, and the last lecturer had written all over it with the wrong (i.e. unerasable) pen.
The classroom was mostly filled with sympathetic and patient souls, but there were just enough unruly students to turn the whole thing into chaos. The background chatter would not stop no matter how much I begged. And to make matters worse, there was a widescreen TV next to the dry-erase board, and it was on, and it was blaring. I did not have the remote. I asked that whoever had the remote should turn it off. When that didn’t work, I tried to turn it off at the source, but every time I pushed the on/off button, the genius with the remote turned it back on again.
When finally I had their attention (and the TV was silent), I turned the page on the textbook. What, I wondered, would I be obliged to explain? Hopefully not the Nernst equation or the Henderson Hasselbalch equation. I haven’t looked at those in years. Hopefully something easy, like the concept of a mole.
But no. The next page had twelve full-color images of the monthly birth stones, and rings made from those birth stones. One of the students asked me, “Um, what is the relevance of this to our class?” and I was stumped. So I said, “These stones, see — they’re all matter!” Brilliant.
I think I woke up before the students had finished sharpening their pointed sticks.