12 Aug 07
Dream a Little Dream ...
The night after I got the surprising report that all my blood-cell counts were plummeting radically -- or maybe that very night, June 25 -- I had a wonderful dream.
It was a nightmare, actually. I don't have bad dreams often, or don't remember them -- maybe once a year, if that. I can't recall the last one, or another as curt and ferocious. I dreamed that my father was trying to kill me -- not by some distanced process or firearm, but with his own hands, in direct violent assault. The terror, the intimate betrayal.
Three weeks later now, I remember: Oh yes, Harold had been a wrestler in college, wiry and tenacious. And so was I, thirty years later, though more inclined to quit. The first time I came home, at Christmas break, we went at it on the living-room floor as my mother watched in alarm and my sisters averted their eyes. He was 46 then, still strong enough even in a labor journalist's life to be proud among his dockside friends, still quick enough to challenge my fresher bodily intelligence, hardly grasping how much he needed to prove this and more. If I relaxed my resistance almost imperceptibly at the end, as we arched chest-to-chest above the glorious carpet I had played on as a child, to fall genuinely pinned, this was not the sort of quitting I did sometimes on college mats.
During my two-year letterman career and after, we never went at it again, leaving tacit the actual shift of power growing more obvious as I bulked up and got smarter. Nor did we talk honestly -- how could we? -- about the end of physical punishment, a year or so before my taken fall. His occasional spankings had finally played out as a means of retribution or control by the time it became ludicrous to take a resistant teenager across his knee. But the impulse remained, as I grew more able to challenge his opinions and his thinking, and more inclined to do so. One evening, in the same living-room, during a particularly frustrating debate about how to run society or nail a nail or whatever, he launched a blow, more at my shoulder than my head. Instantly assessing its trajectory and force, I pivoted absently, just enough to take it on the temple, be driven against the doorway pillar, and crumple to the floor, to lie there apparently stunned for long enough to concern everyone, even himself. Poor Pop! He sort of got it, that he was being conned. His body knew that the blow I took was not enough to stagger and stun me, but my act was convincing enough to make him truly aghast at what he'd done, even before my mother's presence made him more ashamed, in ways doubtless concretized further out of my hearing. I was more regretful than proud of the trickery involved; but surely he had it coming. He never lifted a hand to me again.
That is to say, that I actually did have experiences of primordial sorts, of my father attacking me physically, though this is about as dramatic as I can make them up to be. Even so, I think it took me three weeks to remember this not because I repressed anything, but because it had nothing to do with the case.
I found my nightmare wonderful from the moment I woke, in part because I knew it had nothing to do with Harold himself. Rather, I knew more deeply than thought that the parent involved was my own body, which bears me forth in the world. The intimate assault, the betrayal, from my own substrate. What image or metaphor more concise, more deep, more telling might be, to tell to myself? Not even one involving my mother; for She is the Other, which isn't what's happening here.
What was wonderful was not only the deep aesthetics of its phrasing, but also the clarity of the message. Hey, I'm scared to my core, or close enough. No chance to hide this from myself. A relief, of sorts, to be so in touch with my feelings. If I haven't had a bad dream since then, perhaps it's because I don't yet need reminding.
During the next few days, I saw constantly, focus by focus, how vivid and precious everything is. That feeling or perception, whatever, waxes and wanes, lurks close to hand, as always in truth.