As dreams go, it is so simple, so utterly uneventful, that its resonance baffles me over the ensuing day. Which is a diminished day, it turns out, for the dream that awakens me at 2:30 in the morning proves final. It is the last dream of the night. The end of night, or more precisely, of sleep. I am terrified into consciousness. And no, that is not accurate either. I am terrified into sleeplessness. And why?
Only a few years ago I rode an adult tricycle around the neighborhood for exercise. My dream recalls that neuromuscular stage of things. In it, I am pedaling the tricycle around a low stucco house, modern and nondescript, rectangular, and the sidewalk inclines ever so slightly. But I am at the end of a long ride or the end of my wits, for my strength is ebbing. I can feel it in the dream, how it used to be in moments riding the tricycle when my leg, particularly the right paralyzed one…in this context, mostly paralyzed…began to fail. I would shift into low gear and hope for the best. But the best does not figure in the dream. In reality, my tired legs generally needed a couple of moments’ rest before starting up again. In this dream, just the fact of tiring drains me of muscular strength and everything else. I am stuck on the mild slope of a sidewalk…and while the feeling is a very real one, nothing about the externals reinforces it.
After all, as in reality, this is a neighborhood of some sort, people cannot be far away…and the slope seems so mild that after a short rest, I should be on my way. But in this nightmare, there is no one where there should be someone, and the small physical challenge feels insurmountable. It is a sinking feeling, running out of steam and facing a routine physical challenge that has proven too much.
Which, if I think about it, echoes my earliest disabled experience. Freshly and massively paralyzed, the tiniest things were impossible. And now at this stage of life, a return to something like that experience seems likely. After all, the postman has bogged down in variations on a mass mailing theme, addressed to me: you are turning 65. Medicare. Soon I will be on it. And it is already on me. How did this happen? How did I get here, and what do I do about it now? And beyond such futile musings, the organism is absorbing the awareness, I am convinced, that a return to a much more diminished physical reality is certainly in the cards. If there are enough cards to be that ‘lucky,’ a concept that is not only ironic but push-pull in force. To live long enough to experience substantial physical decline. The latter being perhaps the fruit of pessimism, but entirely reasonable, going into old age with half a body. After all, my neuromuscular decline has been steep, if one reviews the course of the last 20 years. And the next 20, if there are so many? The body, one might say, is thinking it over.
The odd thing is the dreamscape’s absence of people. Or the absence of hope. People are not visible, but their presence is almost tangible. One could imagine someone eventually coming along. My tricycle is circling an apparent home, after all. Small, bleakly new, modest and working class. The place could be all these things. It has more of the sense of a beginning than an ending. A starter home, perhaps. So why the panic at running out of physical steam? More than the absence of hope. The absence of purpose. Why am I riding my adult tricycle around this place? Why is there no landscaping? No people, no history. But a future? Oddly, all the ingredients are there for a future. Just open the front door to the modest, a.k.a., starter, home. Plant a few shrubs, of course. Flowers, even better. Brussels sprouts, perfect.
With all the stuff recently cleared out of the upstairs apartment, the downstairs closet, the carport storage spaces, my own contribution to the Palo Alto landfill not inconsiderable…it is quite interesting what escaped the wrecker’s ball, as it were. One chair. Steel, all that remains of an outdoors set, impossibly heavy…weight an essential attribute of patio furniture circa 1950. I recall where it sat, on the south terrace of my parents’ home. Redwood fencing around it. Did anyone actually sit out here? I have no memory of such a scene. For all the action was in the garden.
They must have been equally bewildered by the desert and its harshness and oddities, my parents. But that they were ever equal anything, that is enough. They were in this together, somehow, even if I can’t recall the details. I do know that around age 5 I got a post-toddler’s hernia. Was it my father’s embellishment or the actual truth that this was the result of my helping him push boulders around their desert acreage? My parents did their own landscaping. Doubtless with help, but I do have this image of my dad moving big rocks around. And my mother digging out dish-shaped wells around each of her roses. And I can see her watering them, filling each depression to the brim. Such was life in the desert. A foreign land to both of them, but there was a time when they seemed to embrace its newness, take on the challenges of oven-like winds and a mineral ground that compacted itself against disturbance and held on tight.
Except for a frustrating time in the third grade when my mother was teaching me to spell, the only other shared project I recall undertaking together was carrots. At one end of the roses, there was a raised bed. The thing was lined with rocks, large desert stones fitted into a low wall. Containing a rectangle of planting ground. I believe she scattered the carrot seeds directly from the package. In any case, she was instructing. Watch this. A little water. Now watch this space. The whole thing took an immeasurable amount of time, me losing the plot long before there was anything to see. Even disconnecting from the sprouting carrots, as though the whole seed planting event had occurred in another lifetime. I was short enough to look up at the roses. They were taller than me. How old was I?
Did I sit on the steel chair I saved from being discarded? Possibly. More likely, I jumped on it. The legs swooped from ground to seat in a continuous C shape, creating a natural spring. You bounced on the chair and it bounced you. It still does precisely the same thing today. I had it repainted, restored, in fact. Why not? I have few such remembrances. It would have been so easy to discard this old, heavy and rather impractical piece. It comes from a time when my parents must have been trying to build something, rancorous conflict had not yet flared, and hope seemed a natural part of things. It is a natural part of things, if one gives life a chance. This seems to be my work these days. To find it or rediscover it or breathe it back into my lungs.