A slow nightmare on indulging in grief, dreamed 1993/5/1 by Chris Wayan
WHO SABOTAGED WHO?
My parents are taking us on a trip. Or are we moving? Will we ever come back? Hard to pack when you don't know what for.
I'm trying to roll up a huge silk banner of mine, a dream-painting. Frustrating. It seems heavy for silk. And my sister Miriel keeps "helping" just when I don't need it and the whole bundle falls. "Why are you sabotaging me?" I finally ask. She retorts "Why are you trying to steal my sleeping bag?"
I look again. The backing behind the banner isn't a piece of quilt or comforter as I thought. It really is her old sleeping bag! I need to separate them; the banner alone will fold into my pocket. Stole her bag! No wonder she's been interfering. Got to separate her stuff from mine. I thought we'd talked things out, all the old scars, but... Wrong.
My family's going through all their slides, keeping only the best memories. The rest, thousands of slides, get heaped on a table. Idly I hold up a handful. Beach scenes with bright swimsuits. Camping some summer with my cousins, maybe? Too small to tell, without a lens. Oh, here's one. Hm... not my cousins. Two figures dominate: a girl in a magenta swimsuit with a reserved, shy, worry-lined face, the face of a woman decades older than her lithe young body. And a carefree younger guy, a surfer, dressed in black and white rags, the cut-off ruins of a business suit? Many of the other women are very sexy, flirting with the camera; I like those shots, and stack them to the side to keep. My aunt Mary comes by and says "Oh, you want those?"
I ask "Who are they? Friends of David's? It's one of our summer trips, but I don't recognize anyone."
"Oh, we had the scenes re-created by professional models."
Huh? I'm confused. That girl with the worried, lined face is a model?No way! And that guy in rags? THESE are my family's models? Worry and... poverty?
I look for slide-trays or boxes and see some under a coffee table and pull them out. There's a strange long narrow box too, maybe for a fluorescent tube. Open it, but it's empty. Now it won't close. I get frustrated and try to force it shut. Start to crinkle the cover. I get madder and madder. I start swearing "Everything's like this--why won't... anything... WORK?!"
My father comes up and says "Calm down, the world's not out to persecute YOU." I realize with a shock that he's right, I really DO think this--the whole inanimate world exists just to frustrate me! I knew it went beyond being mad at my family, but I thought this came from my dad--he does indulge in this frustration game a bit. But if even he thinks I'm going too far...
I can feel my own mood digging claws into my shoulders. Paranoia HURTS! Why do I do this?
Now the whole family's together around a big table, including about ten cousins and even our best friends across the street who aren't even relatives. Ariane Lee stands up. I got such crushes on the Lee girls as a kid, and I haven't seen Ariane in what, ten years? No, twenty! How'd that happen? Time scares me suddenly, gets colder and deeper. Once at a beach, I swam straight out to get a panorama, the land as a whole, the way the otters see it; at last, looking back, it was all just a line on the horizon, almost too far to make it back. Riptide. I'm further out in time than I thought. And I can't swim back.
Ariane stands. Now she's an aide to a woman who just got elected to Congress in the Northwest. Seattle? Very influential in the new Clinton administration. But her election was so narrow that a court has ordered not just a recount but a runoff. This sounds fishy, but everyone else seems to understand. It makes me feel ignorant, ashamed: I used to keep up.
Ariane fears her boss will lose the runoff, for she's an extreme leftist and a lot of Democratic politicians who claim they support her aren't getting out and stumping as they promised. As she tells us about the crisis, Ariane screws her face into extreme expressions like a monkey, like a mask. So unlike my picture of her in childhood, always beautiful. She's as admirable as I remember, warmhearted and idealistic, but she sure is weird looking with that rubber face.
One of her expressions gets to me, though. Tears glint for a moment. Poor monkey. She's really worried, not just for her job, but her ideals... Long-suppressed tears oozing up in me, and I start crying. But I keep silent, carefully hiding my grief till the meeting ends. Oh god, this has become my life: playing a role with my family, pretending things are okay when they're not, when my grief about being unable to love has become overwhelming. Takes all my effort just to contain it. "Like the national debt," I think, and see a dull green Godzilla stepping on my heart. No chance for Ariane to realize her ideals. And no love for me. Too much hiding, too much battering. I'll never heal.
I don't dare drive in this condition. It's a relief when my sister Althea volunteers to carpool us all to our goal, the Santa Cruz boardwalk. She chatters on about some physical therapy she's discovered, deep work like Rolfing. Wants us all to try it. Always practical, Althea. I can't imagine what bodywork can do about grief that's reality-based. This isn't old stuff. It's every day. I can't live like this much longer. I have to face it, find something to change my life. Soon.
I ride along silently, my eyes blurry with tears, while the others talk. At last, on the waterfront, I get hold of myself; there's a strange folksong drifting in the open car window. It seems to be coming from below us. Eerie, beautiful. The road narrows and the car dissolves; we're strolling along the boardwalk. Shops and rides line the inland side, but the beach has washed away. The wood pilings drop into deep water. Yet the singer croons on, under the Boardwalk, though nothing's down there but cold water where great white sharks prowl, and cross-beams where two-ton elephant seals rest and quarrel.
Tense Tom, who I knew from Psychodrama but now seems to be a cousin of mine, waves familiarly to a fat cheerful piggy-looking cop who walks the pier. "The Pennywhistler again?" Tom asks him, knowingly. He's been studying to be a cop himself; ironic considering how weaselly he can be. I leave Tom to ingratiate himself with the fat cop, and walk on, alone, listening to The Pennywhistler. I've heard of her, everyone has, but no one's ever seen her. Just mystery songs from out of the sea...
The Boardwalk narrows here, to a wooden catwalk clinging to the bare almost-cliff. We're nearing the point, soft buff sandstone molded like a shoulderblade. A pack train of ponies comes around the point from the roadless coast ahead. The walk is narrow, so I swing outside the rail and hang over the water as the ponies pass. It's solid; I feel quite safe. The last two mares are teasing each other. For a moment I see them through shapeshifter's eyes as giggly teenagers whispering behind the boss's back. They could be twins: little blondes, hair in their eyes, short but with cute figures. Oh, wait, I'm human today. Two ponies with yellow manes and tails, passing me. Animals. Slaves.
I walk on to the point. Drums explode behind me, I turn to see the two mares galloping toward me. They've broken loose from the pack train, they're making a run for freedom! The owner's far behind and not even chasing them. If he did, he'd lose the rest of the train. The mares know it, and as they see he doesn't follow, they slow down. Amble toward me.
I step off the path and let them pass. They watch me warily and stop whinnying to each other. They don't trust me. Glaring. I move way back, give them room. They can kick. Besides, I'm on their side. They have the right to quit, don't they?
They pass and I turn to follow them round the point. There's a tiny pass here cut into the rock. Suddenly one of the mares climbs up off the path onto the seaward sandstone mound, cuts back and looks down at me from a yard above. I say softly "I wish I were a horse or you were human this time around. I like you." Hold my hand out so she can smell the truth of it--how I'm attracted to her. But she shies away; can't risk being caught again. Race stands between us.
She shakes her mane out and picks her way off the crag with the grace of a dancer; I would have bet a horse couldn't even get up there, let alone back down. A remarkable girl of her species. How I wish... She confers with her sister, and they run off up the path. I follow, slowly, not wanting to crowd them.
It's a strange beautiful trail the rebel mares have led me to. On the right, above the water, steep rocks with a strange pocked and bubbly look. Holes in them everywhere. They're the secretive color of kelp: brown, purple, charcoal? Seams of paler granite form veins and scars and dragon spines. To the left, the hills pull back, leaving a strange lagoon like a miniature Chesapeake Bay, but steep: twisting little fjords. Or is it Hanalei, on Kauai?
The path climbs up through the carved cellular rocks. Looks like a reef that rose above water somehow. They feel undersea, or something out of a dream.
I pause below her, a yard below her outstretched finger. Not a blink. Silent and still. A hard pose to stay in long: whatever her discipline is, it's solid, and important to her. I'd like to ask, but she's so obviously... busy.
Sighing, I turn to hike on up the path, looking inland uneasily, wondering what she's guarding against. She isn't just practicing yoga! I can feel the air crackle. As with the mare, I'm in the presence of someone remarkable for her species.
For her species? Just what species do I think she is?
Don't know. Don't know. But I'm not at all sure she's only human.
I climb on up the trail.
A crash above me! Monstrous, impossible, a white thrash of wave hangs, like the scalloped edge of a giant clam, clapping down over me. It splats just short, and boils down the rocks, knee-deep and icy. I'm losing my footing. The flood stings, it's filled with grit, it's gnawing the soft rock away.
Another wave crashes over the ridge. A waist-high slurry of sand slithers over the path, pulling me down. The ridge is melting in a torrent of muddy tears. "But this can't be, I'm way above the sea now" I think as I'm pulled into the suddenly swollen lagoon, now a choppy open bay.
And the tide rises. What can I do? I can't swim far in water this cold. Flood water is pouring down dozens of channels, the bay swells, the current is sweeping me into deeper water. And even if I make it to a rock, the tide's rising so fast... It's so cold...
Why was that damn guardian facing inland with THIS coming? Focus, focus or die, head for that rock... If I make it and climb out of reach, I'm cut off from the road now, it's all wilderness for miles. With wet clothes and night coming on... Even if I don't drown, I may still die of exposure.
I'm so cold I can't think, I can't swim, I don't know what to do... In a panic, going under, I wake.
I wake blurting out a name:
IN THE MORNING
I write the dream down, shaking, and slowly piece the connections together. "Puff the Magic Dragon"? Years ago I saw an interview with Glenn Yarboro, who said he based the song on a Hawaiian folktale--a spouting blowhole near Hanalei that's supposed to be a dragon breathing. "In a land called Hannalee..."
After hearing that, I had a dream that blew my old life apart: a dream of ancient China, where the power behind the Imperial Throne was a dragon-woman. That dragon advised me--bluntly--to start taking my visions seriously, dump my day job, stop treating myself like a human being and face who I am: a dragon too. A dragon in denial.
This fierce, reptilian guardian-girl on the rocks... she's the dragon again! Puff is back.
And pointing to something. Not to the tidal waves about to kill me--my tears are my own business. Something else. Something not terribly obvious while I'm busy drowning in a boiling tide of self-indulgent rage and grief... Her reptilian eyes look beyond that. At what?
What's Puff after now?
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