With a sudden wrenching of my dreamself I pushed my way though the membrane
of a heavy
and inexorable nightmare to find myself lying in the hushed reality
of our black bedroom, sweaty and dazed, next to my boyfriend Jack’s snoring body. The pain of the dream remained locked in my head, virulent
even out of slumber. I blinked my eyes, wanting to rid myself of the vision I continued seeing.
While still recovering from the dream, I lay in bed gazing up at the white veined ceiling. I listened silently to the orchestra of crickets drifting through our uncurtained windows from outside. Extraordinary, the kind of music not even the best of composers could create, the natural hum of ten thousand insect instruments hidden in the blackness. I began to imagine that they were playing an exquisite song specifically for me. The Sleepless Slade Concerto.
I didn’t want to do it, but after about a half hour of lying there without wandering off back into dreamland I grew exasperated. I rose from the bed and hastily snatched a small bottle of sleeping pills from the dresser.
My insomnia never seemed to dwindle and remained as sinister as ever for over six years. I tended to get perhaps only four or five hours of sleep each night without the pills. But sometimes even after gulping down two of the oval shaped tablets it didn’t always grant me relief. And I found the more often I used the pills the more dependent I became on them to get any sleep at all. And so I’d worked hard on trying to cut back. However, that evening, I longed for them as though they were my only source for survival. Bread and water = sleeping pills.
I held onto the thick rim of the dresser for support as I finished dry swallowing two tablets. I noticed my reflection in the mirror, and then a dreaded revelation came to me, the kind where you suddenly remember a briefly forgotten segment of your dream. The recollection hit me and I squeezed my hands tighter, my nails digging hard into the woodof the dresser.
I’d seen my mother and spoken with her. Not my step mother but my real mother, who died when I was seven years old. I’d found myself in the kitchen of my old home, the one we lived in before she died, and my mother sat in one of the old familiar blue chairs that my father threw out the year after she was killed. She looked just as I remembered her in the dream, with long thick hair, midnight black like mine, and strong gray eyes that shrieked pulchritude, the kind that held the ability to soothe as well as intimidate. And I sat on the kitchen counter, feeling five years old again.
“Slade, do you remember that microwave your father bought me just before I died?” Her voice sounded real. Even though it was a dream and even though she was dead. But she had acknowledged her death when she spoke to me.
“Yeah, I remember,” I replied.
“What happened to it? I’ve always wondered that. I know that when he remarried to Michelle, she already had one, so what did he do with the thing?”
“I think he sold it along with the house, Mom.” She nodded her head to my answer and then began to laugh.
“Well, I guess I can’t get it back now,” she said. “Can you signal to the maitri de for me honey? My hands are stiff.”
I shook my head, confused. An explosion of flowers appeared behind her, as if a fantastic bouquet bomb went off. They resembled the flowers resting on her coffin at the funeral. In her presence, I imagined I could smell her perfume, a scent of freesia she always wore when she was alive, and the dream only became more vivid despite the irrationality of flowers exploding in the background.
“Well, please help me out,” she continued speaking. But the flowers still held my attention. Didn’t she notice them? “I miss car washes. I always wanted to work a defibrillator."
“I used a defibrillator once,” I said. Not true. But in the dream I could see myself handling the instrument, saving someone. A vision of me using the defibrillator on myself came and went. Flowers blasted again behind my mother.
“Lucky girl,” she smiled.
I began to weep in the dream. I was suddenly clutching a tennis ball in my hand. I wanted to throw it in anger, and I attempted to smash it to the floor. It disappeared into the dreamscape’s faux linoleum.
“Aren’t you a lucky girl?” she said again. I looked up, and noticed she was beginning to fade. “I have snow tires. They make me hungry, and I just want to have a grilled cheese sandwich, don’t you? I always used to love grilled cheese and those little fake red poinsettias at Christmas time. I mean I just don’t see the point of lettuce, like President Eisenhower used to say...” Her words had started turning into jumbles of nonsense as that section of the dream began to dissolve, to melt away, and then that was when I found myself re-hashing the real nightmare of what I’d done the month before. Suddenly I was in my old apartment kitchen ready to purposely burn myself.
Instead of immediately getting back into the bed, I sat down on the hardwood floor next to it and leaned my head against the soft edge of the mattress. My mind grew laden with the memories of the day my mother died, recalled hearing my father sob as he walked through the door that afternoon. She’d been in a car accident. Killed immediately. And I remembered watching the television that evening while my father was gone, trying to find out all the information he had refused to tell me. On the news they showed the two wrecked automobiles, my mother’s car upside down and a black truck on its side with thin streams of gas surrounding them both, and I saw blood as well. I saw the blood on the ground. The cement was soaked with a crimson color— so dark yet so obviously blood— and I saw it on the door of my mother’s car, for the camera man got a close up of the mangled silver door, the smashed metal looking like the ripples of a crushed can.
They were covering the wreck only to explain why traffic during rush hour that day was such a dreadful mess. The female reporter spoke somberly as though she’d known my mother. She interviewed the people in the other car who survived with only a few scratches. It was a father and a daughter at the scene. And I remembered the girl who looked about my age licking a blow pop, looking dazed while her father spoke to the reporter. “It was a terrible thing—a total accident, I guess she was trying to change lanes and just didn’t see us.” The bearded man had gauze wrapped around his left ear and he itched at it as he spoke, with the lick lick sound of a lollipop in the background. “I keep looking over there at the truck, and I know that we’re lucky to be alive. I feel terrible for that woman, for her family. And I’m thankful me and Kelly are okay. I’m just wanting to go home.” He reached over to his daughter, Kelly, and patted her hair. Kelly smiled sweetly to the camera, licking her candy. Lick, lick.
That memory remained as terrible as it always had been, no matter how often it came to me, how many times it invaded my psyche through the years, rupturing a healing process desperate to finish. The sound of that lollipop being so relished hurt my ears so tremendously; it was a symbol of the tragedy and also the first stunning reminder of how my mother could never relish flavored sugar like that ever again.
The memory of the funeral is the one I find hardest to forget— I suppose that it was not only the farewell to the end of my mother, but the true beginning to my work as a self-mutilator.
Sitting in the church, casket in front, closed and on display, the Reverend Lee Lassiter droned on about my mother, finding nifty ways to weave in passages from the bible to turn the story of death into one of “living in a loving world.” My father next to me in the first pew barely looked at the man officiating. He kept his eyes on the wall to the side of us, stone-faced, as other family members behind us coughed and cried. The church reeked of ammonia and lemon, having been freshly scrubbed just before my mother’s services. My nose stung, both from tears and from the odor of “cleanliness.”
When I looked at my father just then, noticing the pale, dry skin around his eyes and the thinning hair above his brow, it was the first time recognizing my dad as being more than just my father; I recognized him as human. Perhaps, because I was so young, this was too early for me to realize that. Perhaps I needed my parents (or at least the living one) to be gods or heroes, at least for a little while longer. Perhaps in understanding my father as human and faulted so early was a catalyst for growing up too quickly. I realized that day that I never really knew my father. I did not know at the time how little I would ever know him from then on as well.
The voice of the speaker seemed to fade into an echo. I saw my father’s large hands, the fat fingers grasping his knees, knuckles white and frightening, and then I looked down at my own small, bony bare arms. I had not bathed in two days, and my left forearm had a small brown smudge of dirt running in and over the fuzzy hairs in the skin. I suddenly felt bad because I knew I should have been clean for the services, at least in respect for my mother.
The thick brown wood carved so elegantly on the arm of the pew, which I was leaning upon, seemed like the perfect scrubber at that moment. Quietly I began to rub the top of my forearm on the wood, and watched the brown smudge fade only slightly. The feeling of the wood felt good— cold at first but then warm and withstanding of my pressure. I pressed a little harder, trying hard not to make too much noise.
As the friction increased I felt a bit of pain where my bone was being pressed upon. But it was nice. It kept my attention away from the Reverend. My focus remained on the sturdy pew. And I rubbed it so hard for probably ten minutes, until my father reached over and snatched my arm from the pew, then set it firmly in my lap.
I gazed down at the red spot branded into my skin. The pain was hot, then went sort of dull, and I breathed a small breath of relief. Here I was, still alive, my mother gone, but at least I could feel something. If my mother could no longer know how it felt to breathe, at least I could.
And at least I forget about my mother no longer breathing once I replace the mental pain with the physical. The reason for rubbing my arm on the wood that day may not have been so clear for me at the time, as I grew up, it made sense, and became more reasonable. Regardless of how you were supposed to deal with pain, no matter how absurd I might have seemed to someone else, it was my surefire way to forget the shit that could never be dealt with properly in my head.
Sitting by the bed, still listening to the crickets outside, I sighed and rubbed my cold bare toes with my fingers. I suddenly felt a burst of anger within me, and had to keep myself from yelling out a cry of angst. Fuck what you’re supposed to do. Fuck what’s right. If it’s keeping me going, then I should just say what the fuck. I’m going to die anyway so why does it matter if my corpse retains a hundred slashes and burns before I’m chucked into the ground. No one really cares anyway.
Instead of screaming, I then only sighed. Actually almost smiled thinking of what someone might say if they heard me thinking all this. “Oh, but of course we care. Everyone cares. You are loved.” Ah, the magic words. I should just trust in that and alter what is keeping me sane.
My head felt heavy as I looked out the window on my right side, feeling the moonlight dripping down onto me, making my body feel as though it were shining. I knew all of this was not what I needed to be thinking, that my thoughts were rampant, exhausting and still REM-charged.
I needed therapy. Sure. I was weak, grasping onto my rebellion in the worst sort of way. Trying to justify my actions.
I needed all these horrid thoughts to disappear, and they were starting to as I felt the pills begin to take effect, and I continued to gaze at the moon, suddenly feeling good. The music from the insects began to alter in my head as I lay down onto the chilly floor, finally feeling the incipience of fatigue. What was before music suddenly mutated into an immense muddle of dreadful cacophony, and then became just one steady rush of ugly noise. I fell asleep to the sound of that discord.
A section from my novel, "Item of Closure."