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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Maybe You Had to Be There: No. 1

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I love to laugh.  I really do.  I mean it!  I love it.  And I love making people laugh.  It’s like a drug to me.  I’ve never used cocaine or heroin or uppers or goofballs or, Jesus – I’m so uncool…I’ll just say “illicit drugs”….but to me I equate enduring gut-busting laughter, or causing it, with that kind of high.  Any of you hard-core drug users out there might disagree with me but you can’t prove me wrong so, piss off.

It’s been a while since I’ve laughed so hard that I felt like I couldn’t breathe and like I was going to pass out, and I really need a fix.

So I started compiling in my head the things that I can remember laughing at the hardest in my long, illustrious life.  This is one of them:

College.  1988?  Probably Midnight.  Eating at “The Junction” with the usual suspects… a bunch of dirt-poor, over-worked, never-paid Theatre students.  This was “our place”.  We OWNED that place.  You could write a check there for a buck-fifty.  ‘nough said.

So I’m eating a taco salad (not their signature dish, but it cost like $ .12 – so it was pretty popular).  I start choking and gasping for air.  My friend “Sue” (I’m protecting her identity, from what I don’t know…but she’s the same friend with whom I shared Super Mario life-lessons) is sitting to my left eating her who-knows-what.

I’m gagging and can’t catch my breath.  Other friends start to notice and become passively concerned, doling out the intermittent, obligatory “are-you-okays”.  Sue doesn’t flinch and continues eating and I was pissed she wasn’t trying to help me.  She was, after all, the only one there who had taken Nursing courses and was, I assumed, my best chance at survival.

I dramatically, natch, grab my throat, look directly at Sue and sputter out the word “HEIMLICH!” in my raspy, nearly-deadness. She. Does. Nothing.

Someone from across the table leans over and smacks me on the back in a pretty half-assed sort of way, rolling their eyes the whole time.  That pissed me off too.  I cough and the offending piece of something dislodges in my throat.  I breathe hard and drink some water, slamming the glass down with a flourish.

Once I compose myself I turn to Sue, and with arms flailing in their ridiculous Italianness, yell…

“What the FUCK!?  You couldn’t HELP ME??!!  I said Heimlich!!!

Without looking up and continuing her meal she said……

“If you can say it, you don’t need it.”

The Closet Superhero

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My entire life I’ve had extraordinarily vivid, realistic dreams.  They are almost entirely in living color.  They occur almost exclusively through my point of view; I don’t see myself in my dreams.  They are almost always cinematically perfect; dramatic cut-away shots of action taking place out of my view which I can still see and hear and understand.  They are almost always breathtaking and vibrant in their realism.  They are almost always unbelievably detailed; extraneous background sounds, smells and textures appropriate to the setting.  They are almost always ingrained in my consciousness upon waking.

Most of the dreams worthy of my morning remembrance, and there are many, almost always involve water.  Lots and lots of water.

And the ones fitting these descriptions are almost always…absolutely terrifying.

I do not drown in these dreams.  But there is a recurrent theme, or thread, running through all of them.  I end up in some sort of building; a warehouse, a house, a shed, an apartment building, a barn…which eventually becomes submerged in hundreds if not thousands of feet of water.  Water rarely enters these buildings save for the leaking which comes through the closed windows and doors.  There is air for me to breathe.  Life is normal inside these buildings.  But only inside.

I’ve had this same type of dream for at least twenty years, a couple of times a year, roughly six months apart.  They are definitely cyclical.  Cyclical to what, I’m not sure.

The last water dream I had was about five months ago.  It went as follows:

It was a summer night, early evening, in Chicago.  I had been to the beach and was walking home.  While I am usually the only person in my dreams, I don’t always feel alone…I know there are other people around I simply cannot see them, but I can usually hear them.  I could hear children laughing and playing in the streets.  It was hot, and I was sweating.  I was very anxious to get home.  I could smell popcorn nearby and realized I was very hungry.  I was wearing flip-flops and my feet ached.  I had a beach towel around my neck and was carrying a bag with a book inside.  I was walking toward the apartment on North Broadway I used to live in alone, at a time when that area was probably not considered the safest place for a woman to live in alone.

A few blocks from home I looked West and noticed huge, billowing, undulating black clouds forming and rolling Eastward.  The wind became strong enough for me to have to brace myself against light posts and buildings to avoid falling down.  I stopped in an inset doorway of a little shop and looked South, and noticed the same types of ominous clouds rolling in from the South meeting up with the clouds from the West where they converged over my head…then the same from the North, and the East.  I was one block from my apartment.  I heard no other people at this point, and there was no sound at all coming from the hurricane force winds.  Complete silence except for my heavy breathing.

I reached the double doors to my building and walked up to the 5th floor.  It was indeed my apartment in every way that I remember it in real life, except in real life that apartment was on the 1st floor, not the 5th.  I put my things down and stood in the dim light trying to catch my breath.  There was no sound anywhere save for my breathing.  I went to the stove and turned on the kettle to make tea.  I pulled my hair back into a ponytail and tried to make sense of the weather outside.  I couldn’t.

I went to the window facing South, and there it was far off in the distance…the wall of water, a hundred feet high.

I began hyperventilating.  I opened the window and now there was no wind, not even a breeze.  Roiling clouds overhead.  Utter silence.  But it was coming.  The black wall of water was moving toward me slowly and steadily, swallowing and making invisible everything in its path.

I started screaming to warn people of its approach, but there were no people to warn.

I was alone.  When I looked again at the street below cars were askew all over as if left there in a mass exodus.  I then realized that everyone knew of its approach but me and had gone to a safe place.

I somehow knew it was futile to try to leave.  So I got a teabag out of the cabinet and put it in my mug and poured the not quite hot enough water into it.  I started humming The Beatles’ “Michelle” under my breath.  And I kept walking to the window to see how close the wall was getting.

Within minutes it was across the street.  I could see it engulf the Walgreen’s, the video store, the bus stop.  It was relentless.

I closed the window and backed up facing it until I was against the living room wall.  Twenty feet, ten feet, five…….and then it slowly pressed up against the glass.  I could see into the rippling blackness which was held at bay only by some thin panes of glass, some wooden doors and some bricks and mortar.  I turned my head to the left and watched it lumber past another window, and then another until the dim sunlight was completely extinguished.  The electricity was still on.  Life was normal inside.

I moved in slow motion toward the kitchen again and stared at the bottom of the back door leading to the porch.  And I stared, and stared, until finally trickles of water started seeping in.  Then the same from one window, and another.  The windows and doors never broke or burst open, they simply…leaked.  A gentle, monotonous reminder of what existed outside.

And then I woke up.

What is happening to me now physically as I write this, is a controlled panic.  I’m breathing fast, my heart is racing, my head is pounding and my legs are shaking ever so subtly.  I’m trying to make myself calm.  It is difficult to write this out as I have.

I have analyzed these dreams at great length.  I believe their meaning goes beyond any simplistic Freudian explanation of repressed sexuality, or extreme stress literally burying me in over my head.

Nope, I’ve come to realize that about every six months or so I quite simply need the shit scared out of me.  Fear is a very real and true motivating force in my life.  I have worked extremely hard at controlling and containing fear since I was young.  I abhor being fearful.  I feel that strength and courage are two of the most admirable attributes of personal character.  And fear is an all-encompassing hindrance to attaining those qualities I so admire.

For me, I truly believe that my subconscious tests me in this way.  I’m one of those people who wonders often:  Would I run into the burning building to save a child while others run away?  Would I stand up to an attacker in defense of my own life or the life of someone I love or care about?  Would I do it for a stranger?  Would I think about it?  Or would it simply be an instinct one way or another?  I like to think I could truly be brave, put fear aside, take action at the risk of my own peril to help myself or anyone else.  I want to be that person.

I want to be strong, and brave, with a disregard for fear.  I want to make brave and strong and bold choices in my life which ultimately have a positive impact on myself and those around me.  I don’t want to be reckless.  I want courage.  Courage of conviction and personal truth.  These are character strengths I strive for and goals I have tried to reach since I was a teenager.  I’ve had only moderate success with these things, but I’m trying.

One of my favorite movies is “Defending Your Life” with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep.  It’s kind of a hokey comedy about some people who die and discover that you don’t go straight to Heaven or Hell, but instead to a type of courthouse where you have to prove to a panel of judges that you lived your life without fear to the best of your ability.  A prosecutor awaits to show you examples of how you instead let fear run your life.  Hence, you must defend it.  If you can prove you made at least continual efforts at true courage in all aspects of your life – even if unsuccessful – whether it was to run into a burning building to save someone or took a calculated risk in the stock market in an effort to better your future or stood up to the playground bully…you move on.  If you can’t prove you lived your life without fear and with courage, you go back and start all over until you get it right.  If you have to go back too many times, eh…you get thrown out as unworthy of progressing to the next phase of existence.

The message of that hokey little movie struck a chord with me years ago and stays with me.

And I think that’s what these dreams are about.

For years I’d wake up from these dreams with dread, in a cold, dripping sweat…crying and gasping for air.  I’d have to turn on every light within reach, rinse my face, and it could take an hour or more to convince myself it wasn’t real, it wasn’t happening, so strong was their impact. Now, I wake up from them still breathing hard, but no sweat, no lights on, no water in the face.  In a matter of seconds I know it’s not real.

In the past, within the dreams themselves, I’d scream and try in vain to run, begging for someone to save me.  Crying for help.  Desperate.  Terrorized.  Unable to react in any way other than a primal version of myself. Now, I still breathe hard, my heart pounds, I feel clausterphobic…but I at least try to warn other people. I make tea, albeit not very hot tea.  I now watch in controlled, panicked silence instead of unchecked, mindless hysteria as the wall approaches.  I now make a concerted effort to be brave.

I don’t know.  That’s how I choose to interpret these dreams.  I suppose they could occur due to simple hormone fluctuations, the time of year, what I’ve seen on the news, sexual repression, the sometimes overwhelming nature of day-to-day life.  I suppose.  But I doubt it.

I think my subconscious self is wayyyyy more intelligent than my conscious self.  And I think oh, twice a year or so I put myself to a “test”.  Yes, that’s what I choose to believe.  And I’m passing with higher and higher marks the older I get.  At this pace I should be ready to prove my inner bravery to myself when I turn 80.  And that’s okay.  So long as I get there.

I’m due for one of these dreams pretty soon, within the next couple of months most likely if history continues to repeat itself.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.  If this time I sit on the couch reading Cosmo and sipping a glass of Pinot Noir as the wall of water encases the world around me, I just might buy the cape.  Not the full body-hugging jump suit with the “C” for courage on the chest or the black, knee-high patent leather high-heeled boots or the mask or anything.

…it’s a deep, rich and blue satin.  It’s pretty and shiny.

I really want that cape.

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