Dreamed 1996/10/13 by Chris Wayan
My girlfriend and I and our baby are on a long journey through mountains plains and deserts. A pilgrimage? This part of the West is home to an American Moslem sect that goes on hajj here, not to Mecca. It's such a big deal in this state that everyone habitually sees travel as spiritual pilgrimage, not just getting from A to B. It rubs off--we're not sect members, but we see it that way too.
We camp in a suburb on the edge of a sprawling city. Heading south? West? Ahead of us is a dry plain with no towns or food, though there are wells. We're supposed to carry carrots, strung together like little train cars. The train-lengths are symbolic: some are up to a yard long. We also bring along the ritual toy trains: HO scale boxcars or flatcars. And small trestles, to bridge the arroyos. These bridges have a special name--cantilever? No, a religious term. Canticles? Canticles for our caravan. Carrotvan.
A local shopkeeper, a man of the New World Sect, tells me it's a good day to hajj across the plain. I feared dust storms, but he says "No the air is clear, especially above ground." As opposed to underground?
He points out landmarks miles off--minarets and domes, a huge sign... There's a major shrine of the New World sect out there. Can he really read that sign from here, though, or is he just sure what it says because he knows what it ought to? A holy book, with its exact rules, gives him these navigation points. I'm not Ahl al-Kitab (a follower of one of the book-religions) so I don't have his moral roadsigns--I must navigate morally by the mountains rivers and stars. My only scripture's what I really see.
But in this city, what can I see? Read off the signs I know. Safeway. The House of Chairs. All stores, all so banal--I dislike the book-faiths, but at least they address bigger issues, if formulaically.
We go into a hotel lobby, looking for a room. Our baby, just learning to walk, climbs into a potted tree. Seems to have no trouble climbing. I hover as a safety net, but unneeded. Or so I think.
When the baby's about five feet up the tree, something terrible happens. I'm not sure what--water gets splashed on the baby, I think, and s/he dissolves, breaks up! Our baby melts away. Only two large pieces left, a scalp and hair piece that may retain memories, and a root/stem piece which may regrow into a baby again with care and time--babies are like houseplants, of course. Ask my girlfriend to examine the scalp piece: seems to be mostly hair and some wire things, clips or barrettes, not much skull or brain, which is what we need. She says "None. Useless. Just hair and metal, nothing alive." So all that's left is the stem. I put it in a yogurt container with a little water or juice, hope it'll sprout. But too much water, or too little. Or I forget which container it's in, and lose track of it a while. When I hunt thru the fridge and find it at last, the baby-core didn't sprout. Failure to thrive.
So, finally and for certain now, our baby's dead. I feel little grief, and no closure. Know this is all wrong--I shouldn't feel nothing at the death of our child!
I don't want to try again while I'm numb like this. And I still don't know how it happened--every stage puzzles me. Like I'm blind to the dangers or problems that killed my baby. "Irresponsible and blind to it, like my parents," I think...
And wake, feeling horrible because I don't feel horrible. Because I feel... nothing at all.
NOTES NEXT DAY
This was the quietest nightmare I've had, but one of the worst. That blind, helpless feeling, as it got worse and worse, without my ever knowing quite what I was doing wrong!
Only now, as I type and edit this page, does it occur to me that this may be what my well-meaning but rather inept parents felt about me and my sisters, as we grew from gifted kids into sickly, isolated adults estranged from them. Failure to thrive works both ways.
What a sinking feeling, to wonder if your kids were just bad seeds--or if you were the blight.
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