Monday, November 4, 2013

Obstacles to Love, Part I

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find 
all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”~Rumi

"All I can say is, Love stinks."
~J. Geils Band

This time the rescue squad comes because my mother has been picking her nose; she admits as much. She is sitting up in bed, surrounded by a new white duvet.  I bought it yesterday—because she insists color and patterns are too jazzy for sleeping—but it looks just like the old one now that it's covered in blood.  I've been pinching her nose for 45 minutes;  she says she doesn't know how long she was bleeding before that.

          "Roxanne, can you tell me who is the President of the United States right now?"  The EMT who asks her is barely older than my own kids, who used to wear costumes like his to go trick-or-treating.  My mother's bedroom is jammed with EMTs in bulky blue uniforms, plus a cop, all waiting for her answer.

          "Of course," she says.  "Just give me a minute." 

          What year is it? What month? What day of the week? None of these questions has any relevance to her, and at the moment, they have no relevance to me, either.  In the ER, they'll have to cauterize again, and in a couple of days she'll pick her nose and hemorrhage again, and if it should happen in the middle of the night, I won't know till it's too late. 

          "Mom, why do you pick your nose?" 

          The EMTs hear me,  whining and shrill, the cop hears me,  and I hear it.  I don't care that I'm interrupting with my own mental test.  No one can help her and I'm fed up with it.  "Why do you do it?" I ask.

          "I just don't know," she says.



Rather than making an appointment to see my old shrink—who must be in his 80s now, nearly my mother's age—I decide to figure out what my dream about the lifesaver means. Instead of catching the ferry to Martha's Vineyard, I end up at a deserted rodeo ground with a bunch of pissed off cowboys. The rodeo's been cancelled and my car won't start so I take pictures of the lifesaver mounted in a big glass case. There's a very important word printed on the lifesaver and I want to remember it, but every photo I take is blurry. When I wake up the word is gone.

          I'm embarrassed later, when I finally remember the four-letter word on the lifesaver: it's LOVE. But it also makes me happy for awhile, because finally I have a doable alternative to helplessness and despair. Love saves us.

          The problem is, I haven't kissed my mother for days. I don't like the way she smells, she refuses to bathe or brush her teeth, or the way her eyes roll all the way back in her skull when she avoids the question, "What would you like to eat for dinner?"

          Before lunch she'll ask, "Do we have anything delicious to eat?" Instead of being charmed or charming, I'm determined to make her tell me what she wants. 

          "We have leftover lasagna, does that sound delicious?"

          "Oh, no."

          "How about biscotti? Blackberries, cantaloupe?"

          "Nah."

          "You tell me something, then." And her eyes roll all the way back before the eyelids come down. "Mom?"

          "I really don't know," she says. "Just anything."

          I bring her a plate with a small square of warm lasagna and when I come back later to remove the dirty dish, she thanks me in a way that makes my throat close up. She's lying down with the covers up to her ears and her eyes are shut. Most of the lasagna is still on the plate.

          I know already that when I'm orphaned, I'll be consumed with guilt, and I will deserve it, and that maybe the guilt will even be my way of staying close to my mother. I know that all she really needs anymore is the full attention of my love. That would be enough to sustain both of us. I absolutely believe that love saves us. But I can't get around the fucking boulder that stands in my way. Or maybe, in my dream lingo, I won't use the lifesaver that's right in front of me. What is the impediment to love? In case of emergency, break glass. What's stopping me?


I fall down a flight of steps at work but land on my feet. Danny leans against the banister at the foot of the stairs, already yakking away about something boring. Sports, probably. Because I've stumbled into him, our faces are too close, but Danny doesn't notice. All he wants is my full attention and he has it.

          Danny's face is so near to mine I can see the muddy flecks in his green eyes and the reddish stubble that covers his jaw. He rubs one eyebrow, the way a child might stroke himself to sleep. He stops blinking and his nostrils flare a little because he's making some crucial point. It feels like he's talking into my mouth.

          I wake up pissed off. Why am I back there again, in dreamland, dazzled, same as always, by his indifference?

          I put a slice of bread into the toaster for my mother's breakfast and make a pot of coffee. While I froth hot milk in her favorite white mug embellished with grapevines, I don't even have to close my eyes. White, beguiling and soft as a cloud, as a pillow, I lean into Danny's face, his warm breath, and I inhale. Just like receiving mouth-to-mouth, or oblivion.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Arrangement of Dreams

"Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream..."

This is what happens every night. Objects are arranged and rearranged. On various sets, perhaps simultaneously, actors deliver their lines in different ways, sometimes making up new lines. Scenes are rehearsed out of order. Sometimes, I myself restart a scene based on new specifications—I want to be young, say, or have the leading man look more like Javier Bardem—but mostly scenes play out against my will and I have no choice but to endure them.

          I've never talked to anyone about this. Every night our dreams are under construction, but it's not what we had supposed. The meaningless, random firing of neurons? Nah. A little taste of the collective unconscious? Getting warmer. A message in a bottle? Yes, maybe something like an SOS or an answer. But who sends the message and why so cryptic?

          I stumbled onto my dream construction site by accident, when a car alarm startled me awake in the middle of the night. When I woke up, I recalled the dream and its construction simultaneously. Like a director who has spliced and edited, I had the finished product before me—the story I could smoothly narrate, with a plot, beginning, middle, and end—but I was also able to recall the messy attempts that had taken place completely out of sequence, not intended for a viewing audience. It was like a really bad first draft. I woke up feeling that something had gone wrong: I saw what had never been intended for my eyes.

          At first I thought, "How interesting, this may be a great discovery in the science of dreams, or...maybe no one will believe me and I'll get locked up."

          My fascination was replaced by deep unease.

          It might be fine if I were a Buddhist, always ready to accept the concept of no-self, to awaken to my new role as voyeur to the hidden machinations of my psyche. But how do I rid myself of that nagging sense that an intruder is afoot—and who am I now, the intruder or the other guy? We enter our private boudoir and sense something amiss, but find everything in its place and untouched. Except the window has been pried open and the curtains billow.

          Like all of us, I have plenty of other, more practical matters on my mind, problems to solve, dire situations over which I have long since lost the illusion of control. No wonder we have nightmares. No wonder we send out an SOS now and then.

          I don't want to waste our time questioning whether this is, in fact, how memory works. That leads to no place of comfort, just wormholes, time travel, and parallel universes. But still, we all secretly agree that we construct meaning out of chaos on a daily basis and rewrite endings to suit our fancy. What if we construct reality according to the whims and ideals of someone else—some petty director who hides behind his work?

          By the time The Wizard of Oz mutters, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," we no longer believe the lie. And though we've never been formally introduced, I am already convinced my petty director bears a striking resemblance to Danny DeVito. Who the hell made that up? Me or him?


Maybe I'm the stranger. Science would back me up; if all of our cells are renewed every 7-10 years, than I'm really not who I was, and neither are you.

          I haven't blundered onto the dream set lately, but I do feel like maybe I've been dreaming someone else's dreams.

          For example, last night I drove at breakneck speed to catch the ferry to Martha's Vineyard—my familiar island dream oasis—but then it's like I just drive right onto someone else's dream set.

          Instead of parking on the stand-by line at the Steamship Authority in Woods Hole, I pull up to onto a patch of dead grass that reaches out to all horizons. I'm parked between pick-up trucks near some cowboys who are kicking up the dust with their boots cause the rodeo's been canceled. They're pissed off.

          Meanwhile, I can't start my car, so I get out to take pictures of the lifesaver that's mounted in a glass box directly in front of me like a work of art. In case of emergency, break glass. The lifesaver is imprinted with a single word and I want to remember it, so I take picture after picture, but each image is blurry. When I wake up I'm annoyed that I can't remember the word. Pissed that I didn't break the glass.

          I post the dream as a Facebook status and wait for my petty director to reveal himself, but no one steps forward.

          Later on, when I remember the word, I'm too ashamed to post it.

          In fancy, embroidered script, the word Love decorates the top right edge of the lifesaver. It reminds me of the old sitcom "Laverne & Shirley," how all of Laverne's outfits had a kitschy 'L' embroidered above her left boob, over her heart.


Love saves us. I couldn't have said it better.