- As a toddler, I believed that I could understand the cries and gurgles of babies in a secret language indecipherable to adults. As I got closer to kindergarten, I quietly panicked because this special ability was slipping away.
- I had recurring dreams of flying. I could feel the strain of flapping my arms, pushing down to soar up to the top of the maple tree at the property line. I took this as a sign that my dreams could come true. If you had looked at our front lawn during the summer of 1987, you would have seen a bird-legged little girl frustratedly waving her arms up and down.
- Around the fifth grade, I was convinced that I could read minds, which led me to track down magic books that would refine my skills. Ladies and gentlemen, the not-so-amazing Kreskin!
Sadly, I am now a flightless failed mentalist who has one-sided conversations with babies. Now the only magic power that remains is dreaming. I feel sorry for people who can't remember their dreams, because having mine come back to me is one of my favorite daily rituals.
In the last couple of years, a strange new pattern has developed. Right before I fall asleep, exactly as I take that first step into slumber, an intense shock of fear jolts me awake. I often sit up in bed with tremendous force, gasp for air, feel my heart race, feel a shiver run through my body. I never know why I am so petrified, because there's never anything to remember.
This happened last night, as it does most nights, but it was different this time. I bolted awake, opened my eyes, and saw a tall, thin woman standing at the foot of my bed. She had sallow skin and angular curls spiraling out of her head. She was wearing a thin maroon cardigan over a dress the color of institutional light green, and her malicious grin broadened as she crept forward. She had it out for me.
It was a horrible vision, easily as bad as the childhood fever dream in which I had to save my grandfather's life by singing the Tyson chicken jingle ("Tyson's fee-ding you / like fam-i-leeee") to Bob Barker, who was hosting a game show in my clothes closet. Last night I snapped out of it and escaped that awful woman, but the whole thing felt uncomfortably real.
So now, on the cusp of bedtime, I'm trying to decipher what the scary lady is all about. Why, for the first time in all these years of bizarre jolt-awakes, did I hallucinate her? Just thinking of it is making my heart beat faster, giving me chills. I have no idea why I was so scared of her, or what she might represent.
My childhood self would be disappointed by my lack of special powers. But I feel very fortunate to have a strong subconscious that, for whatever reason, plays tricks on my me. It never runs out of things that make me wonder, which may be the reason we dream in the first place. The subconscious mind is such an exciting mystery, even (especially?) when it makes us see things that don't exist. So maybe that is a secret power that we all have. And with that, I am going to brush my teeth, slip into bed, and see if that harpy dares wake me up tonight.
"Kids give you more energy," he said.
I laughed. "That's not what I've heard," I replied, thinking of Amber and Maysan and all my other mommy friends who gaze wistfully when I speak of uninterrupted Sunday afternoon naps.
"Have I told you my theory of dynamic range?" Brian asked. No, he hadn't. So he grabbed some paper and a pen, and as he drew a sine wave, he explained his philosophy. In music, dynamic range is the ratio between the quietest and loudest volumes. The concept, he said, isn't limited to sound.
"So you know the first time you fall in love," he continued, "and you feel all of these things you've never felt before?"
"Well, that expands your dynamic range, and now you're way up here" — he pointed to the peak of a wave — "but then you break up and it just feels awful and you think you'll never love again. But you do, and maybe it's even better than that first time. So your dynamic range grows again, but it grows in both directions so you have more risk. More to lose, but more to love. It works for all kinds of things in life, and that's why being a father brings me more energy than I had before."
It was more eloquent when he explained it. Trust me on that. And again, I insist this isn't becoming a Morrissey-themed website, but how can you not hum Sing Your Life when you think of this concept? Or maybe that's just me.
Whether my poor focus was due to lack of sleep, numb fingers, or general mental fog, I cannot say. All I know is that I felt like I was dreaming, which is a terrible state to be in if you're behind the wheel of a car. I don't know what was wrong with me, but I could barely focus. This is embarrassing to admit, but I went to turn left into a one-way street and had to do an oh-shit maneuver to get out of it. Later, fter doing the blood draw (didn't faint!) I carefully looked to see if I could turn left out of the hospital. The coast seemed clear, but then a Subaru almost collided into my car. In both instances, it was as though I looked and didn't see something that was there.
As the Subaru and I pulled up to the next red light, I lowered my window to apologize. The man, a NPR-listening type, screamed at me about how I was a stupid woman driver who didn't belong on the road, on and on and on. All I could say was, "I'm sorry. It was my mistake and I'm really very sorry." I repeated this calmly and sincerely. Then, without really knowing why, I blurted, "I'm doing the best that I can." He kept exploding, so up went my window.
When the light turned green, I took a deep breath and pushed the car up to the crest of the next hill. It provided a sweeping view, and since nobody was behind me, I stayed at the stop sign a few seconds longer. The city was still yawning its way awake. It was beautiful.
A dozen years ago, I'd had problems discerning dreamed events from real ones. Dreams and reality bled into each other. I sometimes couldn't remember which conversations I'd had, and which I'd dreamed. It all happened shortly after a traumatic emotional overload, which sounds overly dramatic, but it isn't. Just trust me, okay? I've not had this problem since, but my mind is fuzzy and unfocused in a similar way. Maybe the conscious brain has some stack-overflow defense mechanism that forces it to escape into vivid dreams, or if the brain circuitry becomes so taxed that it can't handle everything at once and goes on the fritz. I'm not sure, but it is an interesting phenomenon to observe. One thing is certain: I plan to consider its meaning from taxi cabs and public transit from here on out.
This is why I managed only half of a smile when a way-too-chipper man boarded the bus this morning. Boy, was he a talker. How'd you break your foot, my wife did that too, hey nice watch, on and on and on. I felt bad because he was friendly in that car-salesman way, but I was tired, and I couldn't inject my voice with enough of the polite interest that decorum silently requests.
He hopped off at Market, and an old man boarded with fishing poles and a bucket in his hands. He looked nothing like my father, but my throat tightened immediately. Even when he was alive, fishermen made me think of our countless evenings spent chasing bluegills at the lake. So there I was, smelling the faint but unmistakable odor of worms in the bucket, thinking, "For god's sake, don't cry over bait." I couldn't reasonably get up and move, because the old man had a sad and tentative look on his face, and I didn't feel like explaining my emotional drama to keep him from thinking that he was offensive somehow. He looked vulnerable and a little worn down, so I stayed and held my breath until my eyes were less wet.
A morning drunk stumbled on a few stops later, and he began roaring at the old man. Something about the fishing poles infuriated him. I was glad, then, that I hadn't moved, and I gave the old man a sympathetic smile. Furious George stayed on for only two stops, then practically fell to the sidewalk. I watched the city go by until we reached the last stop. The old man gave me a slight nod and smile, then slowly climbed off the bus. I did the same, then watched as he sank down the hill toward the bay.
Earlier today, I had to tape some video. Appearing on camera doesn't stress me out too much, mostly because I've never really dreamed about being on the teevee or anything like that. What concerns me is my inability to gauge how much makeup is necessary to keep my ghostly pallor from throwing off the camera's white balance. Whenever makeup artists have dolled me up for the screen, I've looked like an oompa loompa in the mirror, but the camera tones it down to make me look human. When I am responsible for my makeup application, I wind up applying three times as much as I would on any given day, only to look like Casper because it's still not enough face paint.
Today, after saying that I needed more eyeliner, LF helped me come up with bouncy, happy lines to say to the camera. I suggested some wry murderous puns, which would not have fit with the subject at hand. "My heart is blackened and sooty," I joked in asking for his advice. "I'm not sure dark humor will translate." Similarly, my attempt to do a voiceover Slayer-style (reign-in-blood Slayer, not Buffy) was deemed inappropriate for a script about makeup — though hilarious, we agreed. Up with dark humor, we said. (I would watch a show about death metal makeovers, anyway. It sounds amusing.)
I know this is scintillating stuff, but I knew if I wrote about these highlights of my day, it would put me to sleep. And on that note, our work here is done.
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Last night I dreamed that I was in Chicago, but the El tracks looked more like the above-ground stops in Queens. I bought an enormous recipe book that was as tall as I was. I also bought some gifts for the Jayce as a "thanks for letting me crash here" gesture, but when I left the store, I somehow left with many more items than I'd paid for — thousands of dollars of off-white rarities. There was a performance of some sort and my family was there. Scott was tinkering on some project in a concrete-walled room without a ceiling, and he missed it. I gave the giant recipe book to Betty, who loved it. But it was't Betty, it was a more prim and monied version of her, and it wasn't quiet right. I tried to draw a map of Wicker Park for some middle-aged women, but I forgot where Wabansia went, and I couldn't draw Milwaukee at the proper angle. Ivo brought me a sandwich and said it would be OK, but he stuck me with the bill. I woke with this song's line about dreaming in my head:
Annnnd now I really need to peel myself out of bed and make the BEAUTY MAGIC happen. Yesterday my job involved wearing black lipstick on camera. I don't know why I volunteered to do that, but I should look amusingly foolish.
Then I was home, but it was a not-home sort of home. It was Easter and we decided to go to Wal-Mart. (In real life this would not happen.) I was driving with someone, like a younger version of my mother, and she said that M-43) was about to change. It went from being dotted with houses and greenery and billboards to being flat, barren, dry. We got to the Wal-Mart parking lot and a man told us that you can't shop on Easter. So we decided to go to the nursing home instead.
I couldn't find the right door to open. They were a sickly shade of mauve. Teresa opened the door for me, and I walked in, and Dad was there. He was still alive. I tried to hide my shock. He was walking around, his chest bruised and purple, and he was in good spirits. "I'm going to be around a long time," he said, echoing what he'd told me in real life two weeks before he died. I held back tears.
I tried to call Scott (beau, not brother), because I wanted him to meet my dad. "Get here soon," I said. I wanted to ride on the back of his motorcycle, but he had only one helmet, and I knew my scooter helmet had been sold years ago. I sat to the left of my father and put my hand on his chest.
Not that dreams are that exciting to read, but this is more for me to remember it and analyze it later.
* Edited to add, this might make it seem like this is about my current job, but it isn't. It's about a job I had years ago; it still haunts my dreams.
It has been another long day, and now my mother is sleeping in the bed where I slept last night. It's like an exhausting version of musical chairs, but it is a quiet gift to be with my father during his last days.
I didn't read the books, but when Sabs wanted to go see the movie version of the film, I was game. Why not? The actor was pretty cute, I said. So we spent the entire time cracking wise at the screen and slowly developing teenage-style crushes on Edward Cullen. (Byronic hero-lite! Great hair! What's not to like?) It would have ended there, except dummy me looked up interviews with Robert Pattinson. And then it was all over, because Pattinson is more interesting than his character. He likes modernist literature and le nouvelle vague, which made me think that I could take him on my Mies Van der Rohe walking tour of Chicago and he'd like it. (I always thought that was a great date; the guy I took it on was unimpressed.) Worse still, a colleague had interviewed Pattinson — at the very same moment that I was in cultural hell interviewing Paris Hilton — and when I asked her to please tell me that he was a jackass so that I could squash my crush, she couldn't do it. Instead, she said he was endearingly awkward and open. Crap! I love awkwardness!
Sabrina and I agreed that I only needed to find out something unpleasant about Pattinson, and then I could stop blushing every time a new paparazzi photo came out. We Googled phrases like "Pattinson cokehead" and "Pattinson snob" and, in one desperate moment, "Pattinson bad breath." Nothing! If anything, our endeavors had the opposite effect: The more interviews I read, the more I crushed out on his nerdiness. (In one, he alluded to liking older women. Well, hey, I'm an older woman, I thought.) You can see how Tiger Beat things were becoming. One day, Sabs found out that his favorite musician is Van Morrison. So far, this and his smoking are the only things that have cooled things down. That's not a very long list, which is why, very pathetically, my junior-high self has resurfaced to insist that if only we were to meet, Pattinson would be charmed by my equally oddball tendencies, and I'd make a Nick Drake mix tape, and I'd make him omelets in the morning. This is why I am on a strict no-Pattinson media diet. See, I told you it was embarrassing.
I was a damned fool!
Now that school is back in session, my error is apparent. Every night, nocturnal Bacchanalian college students play a game called Let's Congregate Outside Old Lady Tomlin's Bedroom And Recap Our Antics Loudly. Out of courtesy, they leave me in peace during the dinner hour. Then, around 9:00, they trickle forth from their dormitories for a warm-up routine called Loudly Making Plans on Our Cell Phones. Things die down for a few hours as they go to some party or library or other place, with a few stragglers joining the fun between 11 and midnight. Then it's the grand competition: Who can be the swellest swiller to rouse the geriatric grizzle from her slumber? Every night.
I have no way to combat this barrage of post-adolescent chatter, and on my less onerous days I might observe how students have and haven't changed since I was their age. But mostly, they wake me up, and this does nothing but feed my crabbiness. I would like to poke my head out of the window, Egoiste-style, and gently remind them to keep it down, there are old people around here (i.e., me). But since I sleep in the nude (less titillating than you'd think, honestly) I'd have to get dressed first, lest the students commence a new game: Peep Old Lady Tomlin's Headlights.
#1: Mind control. Note that I do not have the power to read minds. I just get to control them. I get to use this power only once a day, to keep me from abusing my power. I plan to use this power for good, although I understand that mind control is inherently against free will and therefore not so good. It's my insomniac fantasy, okay?
#2: Flight. The next time R. Kelly sings "I belieeeve I can flyyyyy," I will appear on stage to surprise him. I will then one-up him by actually flying, thereby embarrassing the perverted chump in question and forcing him into retirement. I fly very smoothly, for what it's worth; it's more of a glide than a clumsy exercise in flapping.
#3: Invisibility cloak. I would use it to sneak around and visit secret, off-limits places. I would also use it to play pranks on the President and to hide hard-boiled eggs under the mattresses of my enemies.
#4: Shape-shifting. I would be able to hide myself as another living being, but not an inanimate object. That's the Achilles' heel of this power. If, say, I were in a panic and transformed myself into a coffee filter, I would have to stay a coffee filter indefinitely, thereby resigning myself to an unhappy life of landfill decomposition.
#5: I don't know what this power should be. I usually fall asleep by the time I get to this one, and the only thing I can think of is some sort of crazy healing power. I would be able to heal people, but then I think that people might bring the Jesus stuff into it, and I don't really want to deal with anything like that.
More profanity plunged into my ears, and from them I pieced together a plausible story: The yelling man had been wronged and wounded by a friend, and he was covering his hurt with anger. "I don't need that sort of fucking 'friend,'" he bellowed. "He doesn't deserve my friendship. He's not fucking good enough for it." It sounded as though he was trying to convince himself of this sentiment. Hypnagogic, I slowly tuned out of his ranting and rolled back into slumber.
It was Thanksgiving, and I was at my parents' house. I was still in this limbo with Phil, who I knew was at our neighbor's house with his family. (In real life as in the dream, our neighbor is the father of my first high-school boyfriend, Ryan.) I wanted to send Phil a text message but couldn't get any service unless I did a stretchy yoga pose. I was nervous because I'd brought my girlfriend, who looked vaguely like Lindsay, to the house for Thanksgiving dinner. In the basement laundry room, I noticed that my parents had installed three black flat-panel televisions that hung upside-down from the ceilings. "We watch too much TV," I thought. Then I went upstairs to tell my family that the fake Lindsay was actually my girlfriend, and that we were at Thanksgiving dinner as a couple. My brother, who didn't look like any of my real brothers, started screaming that I was a sinner and that I was going to hell. My parents were confused. Fake Lindsay sat on my mother's lap, topless. To show his support, my father became a British drag queen; he wore a mousy brown bob and magenta rouge and sat in his recliner.
I walked outside and talked on the telephone with Marcy (who, again, in real life is Ryan's sister). "Phil is here and he keeps looking over toward your house, which is making his girlfriend upset," she said. I let out a loud and long howl, then ran through the forest to the road. I heard someone mimicking my howl from afar. I took a bus for a few miles and then hopped off near a campground where I used to swim as a child. My guitar was strapped on my back, and I walked east on a gravel road. I was hoping to run into Marcy and Phil. I found them playing soccer in the middle of the road, next to apple orchards. Marcy was on the sidelines, Rick was leaping impossibly high as the goalie, and Phil was there but wearing Ryan's face. "Everything is all right," he kept saying. "But your body isn't right," I told him. "And my father is a drag queen now." A car approached the soccer game, and then it all ended.
I hadn't seen Cap'n Joan of Owls in a couple of weeks, so I thought maybe the planets had realigned, keeping us on our normal paths away from each other. But then, I was shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, and there he was sitting with his ladyfriend. Finally I decided to say something. "Why do we keep running into each other?" I said to Cap'n Joan of Owls. "I mean, don't you notice that we're always at the same places? This is kind of weird."
Cap'n Joan of Owls just smiled sweetly at me. "And why are you at Saks Fifth Avenue?" I continued. "I didn't know you liked Marc Jacobs."
With a gentle shrug, Cap'n Joan of Owls said, "Man, who doesn't?" and then walked away.
Oh, I should mention that all of the Saks bit was a dream. But it was pretty convincing, eh?
I separately dreamed that I was friends with Tim Kinsella. I asked him what I'd done wrong, and he gently cupped my chin before saying, "We'll never know." He was protective of me, and he was close enough to the mystery to understand that it really wasn't my fault. In real life I do not know him, but he's close enough to the situation that I would believe him—a stranger—before the well-meaning friends who tell me that I didn't misstep.
Dream: My second-to-the-back-bottom-right (a molar?) was sore and loose. I picked at it with my index fingernail, digging past the gumline and popping the tooth out of its socket. I tasted blood, but when I removed the tooth from my mouth, it was clean and white. Optic white. The underside of the tooth was nubby, and the bumps broke off like meringue.
None of my pants fit anymore, not even the quasi-booty pants that used to make me feel like Jennifer Lopez. They just slip down to my hipbones, which are beginning to jut out like tiny shoulderblades. I'm going to start writing down everything I eat for a while. The problem is that my new prescription, while highly effective, has made my appetite disappear. You know the feeling of having eaten a ton of pie, cookies, ice cream, and chocolate, and then someone puts a giant piece of cake in front of you? And you just feel like that's the last thing in the world you want? That's how I feel all the time these days.