Vault of Troubled Dreams
I dreamed I was in a room with my ex-mother-in-law and some shadowy people who might have been her relatives or anybody else; I don’t know. She did not look as old as she really is now: 90. She looked as old as she was when I lived in her historical home for 11 months, more than three decades after I had left her daughter and my young son in the lurch, and had fled my responsibilities for a fishing boat in the North Atlantic one forlorn winter.
She had summoned me from New Orleans in 2002 to help my kid who was in a bad way. When I had walked out on them in 1974, I had wanted to be a revolutionary communist and not to be a father or husband any more. In my ignorance then I had not understood that in order to change the world, one first must change oneself. I had no clue then as to the long-term effect it would have on him; or on myself.
In fact I had not wanted to be her son-in-law at all; although my wife was pretty and intelligent, and said she loved me to death. She had manipulated us into the marriage with a despicable act that I won’t recount. After the honeymoon and a few idyllic months together my wife somehow became pregnant. Later, it was the son that was the real problem for me.
Her mother was sitting in a cardboard box and there were other people in the room; vague, dreamy figures that I could have identified if I had wanted to, but I had not wanted to. I could have made them be anybody at all. It was my dream. The location was definitely her living room, because I sensed without seeing it that damned un-tuned grand piano behind me, that she had let go to hell after her second husband had died, since he was the only one who ever played it. I had hated him but he had hated me first. Yet I had hated him more, and when I heard that he was dead I almost jumped up and shouted with joy. But I restrained myself.
We were sitting on the floor. I gave the cardboard box she was sitting in no notice. She was telling me again about her long, interesting, and combative life. As she did I saw visions of her two worthless sons fleeting through my brainwaves like bad smells drifting through a garden of roses. I actually loved the bitch. I knew without looking that my ex- was there too; quietly watching; sitting against the dead fireplace brick in complete shadow, determined to interfere or not to interfere as the case required. She was the Keeper of the Flame after all, and nothing that her mother ever did or did not do got by her. It was an intimate matter between them, and if she loved anyone at all it was the poor old rich woman I was dreaming of.
Her mom was telling me about her life, which I already knew a lot of, because over the years of our association she had kept in touch and tried to keep me close–enough so that my son would benefit somehow. I tried. He did not try and did not benefit from my infrequent appearances. Neither did I. But I went along with her machinations and manipulations, I guess simply because I liked her and wanted to do the right thing; and had long since recognized her as my intellectual equal and spiritual superior. She was a philosopher despite the fact that she was a ruthless capitalist competitor, who would do just about anything she wanted to, providing that she could make a legal or moral defense for it; and even if she could not. It had provided for her family and made them all prosperous, even wealthy; but seldom happy.
She was a strong, petite, sexy, and healthy woman with a spontaneous sense of homespun Kentucky humor, and an appearance of delicacy, taste, and class; her daughters were like her too; but her sons were worthless as far as I was concerned. I have no problem calling them both sons-of-a-bitch either. But I have to admit that I loved their mother, despite all the bad things she did. I have never insulted her to her face, and usually I refer to her as a witch, instead of what I just wrote. Yes, there are bad witches, ladies.
We were talking like we had in those days when I had sat alone with her at her breakfast table, eating something that she had cooked, while I read, sometimes aloud at her request, from the History of Western Philosophy, written by Bertrand Russell. She was the only person I knew who could appreciate something like that at breakfast; but it was my normal fare, my normal habit, to read while eating, and seldom something light or trivial. It was how I prepared myself for my stupid and boring days painting or building houses, or raking yards, or laying carpets, or driving taxis and trucks, or digging ditches, or looking for any kind of work to keep going so that I could not be called a bum.
She would ask me to re-read certain passages so she could understand. Philosophy had actually been her major subject in college. There was no losing her with Russell our guide.
Now she conveyed to me almost with telepathy her grief and sorrow at how things had turned out and how bad they were for her in the last years of her life. She was in great physical and mental pain and all her judgments still were harsh, unforgiving, and unyielding; like my own, a self-assumed privilege of the old; and stupid.
There were fleeting scenes of her son pushing her down and breaking her hip when she was in her mid-eighties; the incomprehensible shock and pain of her first and only-loved husband and father of four, when he had been struck down by multiple sclerosis in his mid-twenties; the near-loss of the son she liked best to cocaine, alcoholism, dishonor and negligent homicide, that she had saved him from, when, like the efficient CEO mother hen she was, she had mobilized her lawyer on the phone for papers, and had flown a hundred miles to meet the reckless one, who had run an old man down on a sidewalk with his moped, en route to buy more beer and shouting at him to “Get out of the way!” which the old man had not managed, and, as they were wheeling the negligent son of a bitch in for surgery to remove part of a thumb, she was standing at the entrance with the paper for him to sign all of his property over to her, so that the family of the deceased could not get it with a lawsuit.
And also there was the pain of her total estrangement from the other one too, the hot-headed, violent one; the hunter and outdoors man; basically for the same reasons: self-indulgence, alcohol, drugs, and greed for more and more of her winnings. The one who had pushed her down in an alcoholic rage that he hardly remembered or deliberately lied about. It all had hurt her terribly, and she had fought back like a tigress through it all, most of which she had started with her provocative mouth, but usually won; but in winning she had lost most of the valuable things while holding onto her property and power.
She was better than all of them and worse, but in different ways. To a point, they all were her creations. I usually gave her the benefit of every doubt, usually followed her advice to a point, sometimes putting my foot down in the middle of one of her schemes, yet usually trying to cooperate, probably because I felt like such a piece of shit.
Is there a family anywhere without dysfunction on this splendorous, squalid and overpriced planet?
Hearing her, seeing her, and wanting like since the first time I ever met her to take her petite form into my arms and hug her, I actually did. I, her disgraced and despised ex-son-in-law, slid over the carpeted floor, and as I did she put a smaller box over her head, but I removed it and put my arms around her, and she leaned her aged head into my shoulder and sobbed softly, her old beautiful frail body trembling, acknowledging my compassion and our secret but undeclared love, despite the fact that she hated me for all the right reasons, and I hated her for all the right reasons as well.
I woke when I felt death crawling painfully up my left leg from the insidious blood clot, and my left hand numbing, which usually is what finally drags me from my single bed. I walked it off as usual while preparing my first coffee, turned the computer on to Word, and started to write this down so that I would not lose it. It seems important to record some dreams, because they are a key to the vault where our deepest thoughts and feelings are stored, the Vault of Troubled Dreams.
It is dangerously exhilarating to unlock that safe and prowl through the evidence locker. Here it all is: the dishonesty, hypocrisies, delusions, mistakes and selfish decisions, the hidden or unknown motives, the perverse wishes and outright hatreds, the mean nesses and penuries, the charges and counter-charges, the abandoned son and the deadbeat dad, the lying wife and deceitful friends, the things that you would never tell anyone for any reason, the reviled relatives, the misunderstandings allowed to fester and harden like subcutaneous cysts; the manipulated and weak marriage which should never have been, and the volcano which simmers and smokes beneath them like a sizzling time-bomb. It is hot in there. It scorches the mind. If we have a soul it scorches that too.
But you can dream that you had opened, examined, and again locked the safe; and hugged to your dying breast the dying breast of one who hates you; because the truth is that you love her even more than you hate her back.
In my dream we sob in unison, perhaps for each other, maybe for only ourselves, but certainly for the tragedy of it all. There is nothing to be done. There is no forgetting. There is no forgiving because forgiving is forgetting and there is no forgetting. I haven’t a clue what her poetic daughter thought about it, but she did not interfere. I never would let her interfere in my dream anyway.
I am probably a nightmare in her dreams, but that's none of my affair. I write about only my own dreams.
I never write about my nightmares.