I AM THREE
Dreamed 1957-58 by Chris Wayan
In my earliest memory, I'm running over red desert sand. Dust plumes up behind us. We move so fast our manes stream behind, yellow and brown and white against the deep deep plateau blue. The herd runs north, toward the foot of a fluted shiprock. Hogans nestle there. But no smoke, noise, animals, or looms--just bare poles and walls. We prance up warily, explore. The log octagons are roofless, long abandoned. I nervously peek in one. Sheltered from the wind, it's a pool of warmth on this cool fall day. I look up--without the distraction of a horizon, my attention focuses on the indigo sky. It seems very close and about to talk. We wait, but there's only a great silence. So we wonder a little, then shake our manes out and run on, over the red plain, down to the Slickrock where hidden rivers flow.
I went back there often over the next few years; my human nights were brilliant desert days. I put on pajamas each night because the parents expected me to, and took them off when they left me alone in the bed. As a horse, I couldn't wear pajamas! They'd get in the way. I wasn't clear about having other bodies yet.
This is the earliest memory of the three. It's the happy one; put it at one margin. The other margin had its dream, and it too recurred.
I'm in a gray slick scary spacetime with blurred edges and my field of vision is fixed. Like looking through a microscope, but sharper. Sharp enough to cut. There are hard singing wires crossing the field, like a music staff. No, like phone lines on the poles when you lie on the back seat of the car and look up--no horizon, just sky and wires looping, pulsing, crossing and uncrossing--change, but always the same number of wires rearranged. Here in the gray dream I know they're moving like that, though they stay rigidly even. I know because sometimes a tiny tight knot drifts into the field, crosses, and exits.
And while I see a knot, I feel something horrible. I know that my brain has an opposite to the pleasure center, because that's what got hit. Not pain: worse. Four hours to dawn and I can't sleep, I'm trapped in the stifling room and the crowd's around me and I have to suppress the scream, in the middle of the twenty-mile stretch over the Bridge my leg on the pedal is going to sleep but I CAN'T stop, its the funeral, and I feel nothing and it sinks in at last that this is what I'm going to feel--from now on. Like that, only slammed into you like the watercolumn from a firehose. I'd do anything to avoid it, make any bargain, but none's ever offered. I tried to hurt myself: pain would distract me. But I had no body, only awareness--that I couldn't blunt.
Sometimes more than one knot appeared. I didn't care; the torture couldn't get worse. It might even leave more empty stretches. Just a dull hope; I never knew.
Between these margins of freedom and torture lies my third early memory. Three is all I have.
My godmother gave me a book, "The World's Religions." Mostly Christian flavors, but it had a Greco-Roman chapter. Except for my free horse nights, Hades spoke to me the most, felt truest to my stark life in suburban America. Hecate at the crossroads, Cerberus by the narrow door down.
Our house has no cellar, but in the dream it does, and I have to go. I don't want to. I know the demons are waiting. I go behind the oven. There's the door down. In the day it's the door into the garage, which I always fear, and shame myself for fearing (decades later I learned the garage really was deadly: I'm violently affected by oil fumes). I open the door and look into the underworld. The river Styx has flooded our cellar... crackling from shorted-out wires, oozing with mud. The steps down are wood. There's an alcove on the left; I can't see in, but I've done this before, and I know who's there--a monster will blast fire at me, to shock me so badly my heart will stop. That is its purpose.
Below me, a tiny boat drifts into view, as slowly as a nightmare knot. A sad and sallow demon poles it. Charon. It was once a tiny steamboat, a Huck Finn side-wheeler, but the rotting thing is awash to the gunwales; the fire that was meant to power it is just a few red coals above the dark murk. Charon looks up. Our eyes meet. And we understand each other. He's as trapped as I am--I'm a dream pilgrim and he's on the staff, but the world is fixed and we're both locked in. I realize he's my Guide or Soul, and the sunken boat is me, driven underground, almost drowned, by the sterile suburban family, society, time, world I can't escape. We each have a role--no choice. No devil's bargain offered.
He looks behind me, tired, and I realize it's time for the end of the play. Even though I know what's there, what has always been there, I can't stop my body's rush of adrenaline terror--or the damage it does, injected into my fragile system like acid. All children know what's behind doors at night unless you peek round them as you go through. The Door Monster, looming twice my height, locks great claws around me and starts dragging me down into the dark river forever. The last coals of my soul will go out. I grab the doorframe and won't let go. I am not scared now, just determined, and I know with a strange sudden sympathy that the Door Monster has no options either. I cling and I fight and... if I hang on with all my strength, it can't quite pry me loose. But I can't break free, either. "I'm stuck between the day and the night!" I think suddenly, and wake.
These three are my earliest memories. I don't recall much else but endless books, till school at six. Of course, there wasn't much going on. It was the 1950s. The three memories are enough, for they sum up my childhood: free creature in a land without human beings, for where they are, we're owned; the wires of double-bind, pinning me like a squirmy worm, who can't escape that intolerably rigid age, that drove so many dreamers mad; and the spark sunk close to drowning through a decade of cellar hells.
Monsters all, just doing their jobs. Like I said--it was the 1950s.
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