[ToC]

 

ALWAYS THE SAME DREAM

Andy Mozina

 

In the dream, I'm always eating a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on the green line el train when a woman carrying a boa constrictor gets on at 35th Street. She sits across from me wearing a bobcat print pair of stretch pants and a tiger print top. She has her hair pulled up in an alarmingly vertical ponytail, kind of like Pebbles Flintstone, and get this, after she puts away her smart phone and lets the snake wrap itself around a pole, she busts out a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich—just like mine.
     I always wake up inside my body, on the bed, in the indentation I've made in my side of the mattress. My wife and I lie next to each other like Iowa and Nebraska. It takes me hours of driving across myself to reach her, sometimes.
     There is a cyst in my brain in the left front-temporal region. It appears to be growing. My neurologist is keeping an eye on it. He's been talking of draining it via needle aspiration or burr hole. If necessary.
     The doorbell rings and I'm down the stairs in my blue jeans and a T-shirt that I've laundered to translucency. I have a job as a metallurgist, but I am home today taking a breather.
     At the door is a tall, brown-haired woman with a zig-zagging part down the center of her head. She's wearing a powder blue, short-sleeve shirt with navy khakis and a mannish belt. Her tan arms go nicely with the powder blue. She's beautiful in a straight-haired, smiley-eyed sort of way.
     "I'm here to read the gas meter," she says. Her name patch says "Sherrey."
     "Never seen it spelled that way," I say.
     "Your meter?" she says pointedly.
     "It's down in the basement," I say. "It squeaks when it lets the gas in." I lead her to the basement door, flick the light switch, and let her go down first. "Watch your head," I say.
     In my dream, I am always about to get head from my wife, but something intervenes: all the cupcakes must get frosted, the plane must come to a complete stop at the gate, the jar of tea must steep in the sun.
     The previous owners walled off a darkroom down here, using up most of the floor space. She squeezes sideways between the laundry table and the staircase to get to the meter.
     "It squeaks when our gas comes in. I don't know if that's a problem or not. It probably isn't—"
     My work as a metallurgist often involves determining whether certain coatings on certain metals will fail under certain conditions. It's possible that the mindset I cultivate to do this work has contributed to a hyper-conscientiousness, in all things.
     "It's the dials on your meter that squeak," she says.
     She reads the meter and punches the numbers into a hand-held electronic device.
     "Thank you for helping me make sense of things," I say.

*

When things start to go wrong, there are signs: shouting in the car—check; wishing death for your enemies and massive windfalls for yourself—check; holding yourself hostage until the Stockholm Syndrome kicks in—check.
     Who would have thought that metallurgical work would pale, after a time? Who would have thought that my efforts to promote positive inter-personal relationships among my colleagues would backfire? Now the break room has become hell and my co-workers have taken to calling me "The Poet," though I do not read or write poetry. This all started when I asked certain individuals not to bully me or others at our place of work. I have become a sort of inter-personal whistleblower, on the premises. I fear my expertise in the areas of ferrous metallurgy, heat treating, coatings, non-destructive testing, and failure analysis may not be enough to preserve my job.

*

Every night it's the same dream: I'm juggling fire sticks in my living room when the ceiling catches ablaze. I realize my wife is on the second floor. I yell up the stairs, "Honey, the house is on fire! Time to ramble!" No answer. I leave and walk four blocks to the nearest Walgreens, get a bag of Nacho Doritos, and sit on a concrete wheel stop out front. I call my wife's cell phone. No answer. Overcome with guilt, I don't even finish the Doritos. Always the same dream.

*

Every night it's the same dream: I'm playing in a charity softball game, batting against Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. He's a rightie and she's a leftie, so they pitch together, side by side, each with a hand on the ball. Lincoln and Mother Teresa leave a floater over the plate, and I hit a line drive that caroms off the side of Mother Teresa's head, knocking her down. Lincoln dashes his top hat to the turf in disgust. No one fields the ball, but I'm frozen, unable to run to first or to go to Mother Teresa's assistance. The ball remains in play. Every night the same dream!

*

My wife thinks it's significant that my brain cyst began growing at about the same time I became an inter-personal whistleblower at work. Often when I explain why I feel compelled to confront certain people about certain things, she makes points that echo why my co-workers find me to be a pain in the ass. I have tried to mediate petty feuds regarding design credits, line down time, botched batches; I have inadvertently insulted men who have made insensitive speeches; I have implied that I have noticed hypocrisies among women and men. I have occasionally defended myself against disrespect and hostility. It would be nice to be told that I have behaved well, that I am not, in fact, the problem.
     "Mind your own business," my wife says.
     "Some of it is directly my business. Some indirectly."
     "Let it go," my wife says.
     "I've let go many things," I say. I do not tell her that, for example, I let go the time a co-worker called me a "dick" when, after an inspection, I detailed to him the potential consequences of the non-spec tolerances on a new Touch Control Electronic Transmission Shifter production line under his supervision. She would say that I shouldn't have let that go. My "let go v. confront" decision-making process is apparently broken, with disastrous inter- and intra-personal consequences.

*

There is a fissure in my relationship with my wife through which, I suspect, other women are trying to emerge.

*

During waking hours, I'm down at the hardware store, among the nuts and bolts, trying to finger my way into something small and secure. A woman wearing a T-shirt with a map of Oregon on the back accidentally elbows me and then, impulsively it seems, tickles my ribs. Without wasting time, I take her to lunch at Applebee's. She orders the surf and turf combo with fried mozzarella sticks as an appetizer. I order a chicken Caesar salad and when the food comes, I go to the rest room, where I become emotionally ill, standing in front of the mirror, my hands raised in the air like a surgeon who has just scrubbed and doesn't want to touch anything.

*

Then I'm at the neurologist's office and I'm telling him that this brain cyst is literally eating my mind, and the doctor says, "Inappropriate laughter is one of the seven signs of dementia." I say, "Oh yeah, what are the other six?" And that's when he says, "For this test, you must be completely unconscious." He gases me and I black out.

*

I know I'm going to pull out of this horrible depression because every night it's the same dream: I'm spinning sugar into cotton candy when the doorbell rings. It's a woman dressed as a trout and then it becomes clear she is a trout, only she has the face of Gwen Stefani. Her gills are throbbing weakly. Her biggest fin splays against the door. "I'm suffocating," she says. "My god, would you like some cotton candy!" I scream. She doesn't answer. Every night.

*

At work, I have one remaining friend, a fellow alum from the Illinois Institute of Technology, who sees all of my shit in 3-D, well before I am aware of it.
     "You've got bad mental habits," she told me the other day, having just polished off a bag of microwave popcorn in the break room. "You're going to kill yourself."
     "I am not," I said.
     "It won't be a conventional suicide," she said tendentiously.
     "You're going to kill yourself just by thinking the way you do. The body/mind partnership is tricky. When a person's thoughts get too destructive, the body tries to disconnect from the mind, to protect itself, and ironically this can make you sick. When it gets really bad, the body can stop cooperating with the mind altogether. And this is super dangerous because critical functions like breathing are controlled by both the autonomic nervous system, which is how the body regulates itself, and the volitional nervous system, which is how the mind moves the body. The problem is, sometimes the body overshoots trying to escape the mind, and the autonomic baby gets thrown out with the volitional bath water. See? Worst case, you stop breathing in your sleep and die.
     "So you've got to be careful with everything that goes on in your mind, Jerry. Seriously."
     "Thank you for helping me make sense of things," I said.

*

Every night it's the same dream: in a hurry to buy a Mountain Dew at Walgreens, I run over a four-year-old boy playing with a tennis ball in the street. His body gets stuck somehow in the back left wheel well. I try to pull him out but it's no go, so I continue to Walgreens despite a horrible rubbing sound that seems to emanate from the trunk but I know better. When I pull into the parking lot, there's a police officer waiting for me. "What's that all about?" he asks, pointing to the back left wheel well. Always the same dream!

*

My therapist tells me over and over: there's no point to all of this negativity. What good has it done you? Why can't you think more positively? And so I do. But then night falls.

*

I spend a nervous morning drawing with a ballpoint pen the flags of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Then my wife drives me to the neurologist's office. It's time to aspirate the cyst, to be on the safe side.
     "Things can only get better," she says.
     I no longer tell her what's happening at work because I cannot bear to have her side with my enemies. This has improved our day-to-day relationship, but at a cost.
     "Sorry for all of the shouting," I say. "I haven't been myself."
     "I know," she says. "That's just the cyst talking."
     We pull into the parking garage of the hospital and switchback through several dimly lit levels, looking for a spot.
     "God, I hope this does it!" I exclaim and burst into tears.

*

It now seems clear to me that bad dreams help us to develop a healthy relationship to guilt: when we wake up from a bad dream, the relief we feel is so profound that it is one of the higher pleasures of being alive. The experience of the bad thing is so vivid and the realization that it didn't actually happen is so pleasurable that you get positive and negative reinforcement in one intense package: you welcome the innocent feeling; you want to avoid the nightmare at any cost. It is always the same dream.

 

 


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This one slowly revealed itself.