Last night, in bed, I wanted to be dead.
Bedtime was earlier than usual. I'd spent the evening drawing while not paying much attention to the TV, and also making a mess in the den, losing and finding again my three lead pencils and the sharpener I discovered on a shelf upstairs. I'd played the useless but addictive word game I've begun to think of as oracular, annoyed that one game had gotten to the point of offering me the challenge of making a standard English word out of z,x, g, h, and two r's. I'd washed the few dishes resulting from a dinner of leftovers from last night's meal. John had gone on ahead -- he's the lark, and I'm the owl. Mice and voles beware.
Arriving at the sleeping platform (I'd made the bed earlier, because John likes it that way, and I can do so little, it seems, to be of positive benefit in his life. Pulling up a couple of blankets shouldn't be beyond my reach), and lying down in gratitude for the air conditioner, I lapsed helplessly into a kind of emotional regurgitation of the day's despair. Maybe if I'd tried sleeping, sitting up? I went back to the deep-breathing exercises I'd learned (improperly, I'm sure) from the teachings of some crackpot East Indian mystic named (by himself) Osho -- I found this big, shiny brown hard-bound book in a Philadelphia bookstore years earlier, and it bore the improbable title 'Book of Secrets'. I was amused that something so big could pretend to be covert. But it was cheap. And amusing.
So, I tried anal breathing again, pretending that air was coming in where, logically, it can't, and seeing how far I could inflate my capacious lungs, and wondering if my now-automated heart could react as it used to do -- slowing 'way down, relaxing as it were, from its ceaseless, unappreciated labors. I was good for about six of these deep breaths before I lost interest, or was again overcome by this useless, tarry grief with which I seem fated to live.
(Maybe I was upset because I'd just told my sister Barbara -- who lives in Florida and, in spite of my early influence, now thinks in terms of Bible readings and the movement of The Spirit -- that I wasn't going to be able to join her on her trip out to Oregon, to see our brother George. The one who's got lung cancer that he's decided not to treat. The one who's signed his life over to an acquaintance who comes in to pay his bills and make sure he washes himself. The one who's always wanted to have written. The verb tense being of especial importance here. As in, 'It's too bad I couldn't have blueberries with my breakfast this morning. I wish I had planted some.'
Even though George and I were especially close during the very earliest years of our childhood -- him being 2 1/2 years younger than me, and so my first in-house playmate -- from about the time he was maybe 6 or so, our lives diverted into different streams, and he became a kind of irritating, irrational stranger to me. Or maybe I should say that, with the spectacular excesses of his life -- we've lost count of the ex-wives, the children who may or may not have been his own, the guns and hostage negotiations, the dwellings and phone numbers and places of employment -- he merely proved to be who I might have been, if I'd decided to write my entire life in capital letters. I recoil from who I might have been -- someone from whom, to certain others, I might well be indistinguishable.
So I couldn't see any point, really, in traveling six thousand miles round trip, to look at a man for whom I feel such impatient anger. To say nothing of the potential horror of looking into my own not-to-distant future, where I, too, am living in a rural setting, in a collapsing trailer, with weeds in the driveway, and cat food in the pantry)
So, possibly resonating to my own hard-heartedness and/or sibling guilt, I lay down on one of the 'magic blankets' -- the polar fleece ones that instantly return warmth -- and decided that maybe, if I concentrated really really hard, I could simply cease to be a living entity. If I tried to ignore physical sensations, and thoughts, and those annoying little flare-ups of emotion, I might somehow slip out of my own annoying body, and... do whatever the disembodied dead do.
Of course, this didn't work. I kept slipping into fretful dreams about my computer (this very computer) deciding to cease operation just at the critical point, and then I would startle awake again, to realize that I was still lying on my side, on top of a magic blanket, in the dark bedroom, waiting and hoping that, by sheer concentration, I could cancel what has lately become a deeply unsatisfying subscription to this whole bad inhale/exhale comedy.
Then I went to sleep in earnest (quel surprise -- I'm sure you didn't see that coming), and woke up later in the middle of the middle of a vigorous storm of thunder and lightning. What you might expect, as a child, if your parents came home, unexpectedly, and drunk. and find you dancing around the house naked but for your step-mother's costume jewelry, with the stereo playing the Peer Gynt suite at ear-splitting levels, and with saltines spread with peanut butter all over the kitchen counter... Among other things. An explosion in every room. The bright light indistinguishable from being slapped across the face with a strong, open hand. And waiting for the next one. Do we have a fire escape plan? Or is it every cat for himself?
The storm passes. And then there's the dream. If you're like me, and hate to read about other people's dreams, just stop here, now.
I am in a dense, crude village -- an old place, bearing the marks of much trade. I am searching for a particular establishment, and stop into many others in my progress. I have a companion -- a woman, I think, though her gender seems unemphasized by her garments, her femininity betrayed only in her slight, sharp features and a kind of piercing quality to her intelligent questions and pointed arguments.
To make my own point, in this long dispute, I resort to a little book, hardly the size of the palm of my hand. It's a kind of hybrid volume -- some of the pages seem to be of mica instead of paper, and I'm not particularly amazed that, when I turn one leaf or another, I'm looking into the book instead of at it. It changes sizes as we walk and argue. When I reach the book's end, I simply flip it over and begin again, the other direction, and it shows a completely new series of images and problems.
I stop, with my companion, outside a noisy establishment. There's a low, broad table at the entrance, and an array of drinking vessels spread out for the patrons. I pick two, one slightly larger than the other, and watch as they're filled with a dark, thick brew. I'm tempted to take the more generous portion, but there's something about the way the smaller glass sheds a layer from its side, like a crystal cleaving with no one touching it, and I choose this little glass to bring with me. I go down three steps, and duck into the thick-walled entrance way. The heavy windowless door opens.
I'm in a space filled with warm, honey-colored light. The many inner spaces, opening one into another with an enviable ease, are populated solely by men. Youngish men, in their thirties or early forties perhaps. All closely-shorn red-heads (so you know it's a dream), dressed like some of the more important extras in a Scots-themed film with maybe Brad Pitt in it, so the costume budget is good. And lying on another wide plank table, off to one side from the entrance, is a naked, red-headed man, with that translucent, opal-blue skin of the fair-haired. He lies there in complete, sumptuous unconcern, and his flagrant, statuesque nakedness seems unremarkable to his fellow guests.
The air is thick with energized talk. I've reached one of the inner spaces, and overcome with a wordless, but powerful emotion, I simply take my place at an open spot in the center of the floor, and raise my damaged, but still-brimming glass. In a wordless moment, all glasses there, and throughout this place, are brought up at arms' length, and high. There is a peak of tense, virile expectation.
And there you are. At the ungodly hour of six am, I wake up from this unusually rich inner escapade (I know there were other rooms and other encounters, but what little I can remember of them is dark and blurred), obviously still not dead, and feeling powerfully moved by these images, and the emotions that have come with them.
I don't want to analyze this dream, because that seems disrespectful, and a waste of time. Like trying to pin down an uninjured goshawk with a handful of straight pins.
I feel a particular kind of grief -- as though I've just discovered a club I'm now too old to join. I feel voraciously hungry, on a symbolic level. I find myself wondering about the other men in the fairy tales -- the elder brothers who were humorless and cruel. What were their later lives like? What happened to the magic potential that seemed, on occasion, to peek through into my own life? I seem to feel a need for a kind of sub-verbal companionship, or a potentially carnal experience, to which I've never felt entitled. I've been so afraid, much of my life. I've made many embarrassing emotional mistakes, because I wouldn't listen to what I was clearly being told. And of course, what I'm remembering now, and resonating to, was a dream, with all the benefits that dreams bring, and as with genuine dreams, none of the mechanisms for translating -- who knows what? A cramped leg? A breeze from the air conditioner? A half-digested almond? -- the dream's most potent, poignant essence into something that can bear common touch, or withstand the light of day.
I still want to be dead. Maybe this was an unanticipated preview of the kind of heaven I might create for myself. I don't think it's a subconscious call to relocate to Glasgow. But none of us will ever know, will we? This morning, if I thought prayer would help, I would grovel on my face without shame, to find the way back.
© 2012 Walter Zimmerman