What I’m about to tell you – like everything else in my blogs – is true.
This blog is about dreams.
My dreams are never particularly interesting.
They’re pretty straightforward.
Maybe because I am aware of the fact that dreaming is the brain’s way of processing the events – and my subsequent reactions to those events – of the day.
Maybe because what I think about or what I can, and do, imagine, during my waking hours is more “dreamlike” than other people’s actual dreams.
Maybe because I’m not afraid to wander deep into the dark corners of my mind, explore, pick up an artifact, look it over, then toss it back out into the dark black that forms the borders of my subconscious, a vestigial residue from the time before I was medicated, when I would fixate on horrible “what if” repetitive thoughts that I could not stop, because I got off too much from the sickening pain.
Maybe it’s due to the fact, that I lived my nightmares, culminating with the death of my father, the death of who I was before.
Maybe I’m just shallow.
But these dreams were different.
And yes, dreams as in plural, and as they were running like a midnight matinee in my mind, it didn’t occur to me just what it was exactly, that I was processing. It didn’t occur to me until I stopped dreaming them. It wasn’t until I got to the end that I understood.
I know this:
The dreams occurred in sets.
I can’t tell over how many nights. I can’t recall if those nights were consecutive, strung across time stretching like dim black pearls into the length of weeks or months.
Maybe they were scattershot.
Occurring in clumps of nights, collections of gleaming river stones.
I know this:
They began last Christmas – I think.
I don’t remember having any other dreams during this time. The sets had definite beginnings and endings. They never overlapped. They began, ran their course, like a fever, then stopped.
And then the next set would begin. And once the last set of dreams ended, they ended.
Any dreams I’ve had after that I can’t remember, and they didn’t stay with me like these still do.
The First Set:
My Family and a Constantly Mutating Hybrid of My Exes Hangout in Hotel Rooms and Ocean Liner Cabins.
It always started in a hotel room, or a cabin on an ocean cruise liner.
There was always a sense of density, like every molecule in the atmosphere weighed more than it should, despite the fact that every room appeared spread out and spacious – even the ocean liner.
Even though the dreams always took place during the day, there was a darkness that smudged the edges.
I’m in the room, doing mundane things, like hanging out. I never leave the room.
My family is in one room, and I’m in the other. And I’m always with some hybrid form of my ex-girlfriend and my ex-wife.
We’re not fighting or arguing.
We’re just there. I can always hear my family in the other room. We’re always getting ready to go somewhere, but we never do.
Once I dreamt that I walked in on my ex-girlfriend and an ex-friend ( a guy, obviously, who was a big flirt ) who I don’t talk to anymore.
I found them lying on the bed.
They were fully clothed.
The outlines of their bodies formed an acute angle, their feet on opposite edges of the bed, their bodies converging at the vertex – their heads.
They were touching forehead to forehead.
They weren’t kissing. They were whispering. I couldn’t hear anything, but I saw their lips moving. Staring into each other’s eyes, smiling, laughing softly the way lovers do when sharing secret jokes.
The intimacy alarmed and frightened me. I remember beginning to say something, but that’s all. The dream ended abruptly.
That particular dream, though was an outlier. I never dreamt that my ex-girlfriend cheated on me. My ex-girlfriend wasn’t perfect – who is – but that’s how secure she had made me feel in our relationship.
I feel like that dream was pulling double duty. Maybe it was processing something else, some last bit of friendship/relationship business, and placing it in the context of travel. I knew it wasn’t a dream about cheating or insecurity.
It was about intimacy – or lack of it.
Sometimes I would dream of returning home from a trip and packing or unpacking, the rooms being a mess, me finding a place to sleep. My brother Sam was always in these particular dreams, because we grew up sharing a room together.
Those were the most disorienting and claustrophobic.
Everything was cluttered.
The Second Set:
I Confront My Father As I Remember Him in a Picture From 1965 While I Morph Between a Forty Year Old, a Twenty Year Old, a Teenager, and a Toddler.
For a brief time in the early to mid eighties, my father had an affair with another woman.
It was a devastating time. I know now, as an adult, that he was going through a depression. His dream of starting his own supermarket failed. And it broke him.
I’m not ready to talk anymore about that.
I don’t know when I will or if I will.
The dreams were always a variation on a simple theme: I was confronting him about his affair.
He was always the same age. He was younger, in his late twenties or thirties. He was never the pale, emaciated ghost of himself that he became at the end, the way I never like to picture him.
I was always different ages when I would confront him.
I would talk to him as a forty year old man. I’d yell at him as a teenager or a twenty year old. Or as an infant, trying to communicate to him how I felt and being frustrated that I was unable to verbalize or vocalize what I trying to say.
My father was always silent.
He was neither sad nor happy nor angry. He was there to listen to my condemnations.
I don’t remember how many times I dreamt about this, but it seemed like a lot.
The Third Set:
I am in a Relationship With the Blurred Girl.
In those dreams I have a girlfriend.
She had no face.
She was not a composite of my ex-wife nor my ex-girlfriend, nor any female I knew or had ever known.
She was a blur, a gentle blur, but she was a blur.
In the backwards logic of dreams, it didn’t seem odd to me. And yet the strangest thing about this dream, about these particular dreams, was that nothing seemed strange at all.
There was none of the grime around the edges, no claustrophobia, no disorientation, no density – none of the usual sensations that something was off.
This was something new.
This girl was nothing I had known, or sensed, or felt, before. She was a literal tabula rasa. She was a clean slate.
In my waking life, I had filled my exes with love until my depression filled them with hate and anger.
This female, this person, was unspoiled. And despite the fact that she was a blur, she was solid, solid and substantial all the way through. She was someone who I had complete and total faith in, someone who I had complete and total trust in.
This blurred girl was someone who I felt safe with, secure.
There was no guilt from seeing someone behind my girlfriend’s back. There was no worn-down to the bone pain from constant bickering.
I felt at peace.
Sunshine bright light.
She was my girlfriend.
I was happy being with her.
She held my hand, would lead me around, often helping me navigate through the obligatory family gatherings mates and partners and significant others always attend, filled with people I did not know and could not recognize.
I didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable or anxious because I was around New People. These strangers accepted me, treated me, like family. And they were like family to me.
It was all so normal.
It was all so right.
Children’s birthday parties on hot summer days. Going to carne asadas, family cookouts.
Splashes of bright Spring and Summer colors everywhere: piñatas, cascarones, all and both broken and busted, their painted egg shells scattered everywhere mixing with the colored confetti cuttings mixed with candies covering sunbright concrete patios.
Then the dreams stopped.
It took me a week or two to realize that they had stopped, that I wasn’t dreaming about the “girl.” Then, after another few days, as the distance lengthened far enough for me to gain some perspective, I began to work backwards in my memory.
I reflected on those dreams for some time. I held each one up to the light like a diamond inspector, turning it this way and that, keenly aware of how they made me feel.
It was such a strange sensation, you see, I had to be sure.
It was a new sensation.
It was weightlessness. It was feeling feather light. I felt unburdened. It was the feeling of no pain. No guilt. No obligation. No baggage dragging me down.
It took me a few more days of reflection and meditation to be sure.
And then I knew.
My head was clear.
My heart was clean.
My heart quietly whispered to me. It’s voice was so soft, I could barely hear it, and after all the self-inflicted pain I caused it, after all the pain the death of my father caused it, it was no wonder, but I had to be still.
I stilled my heart.
I stilled my mind.
I breathed very, very softly.
I had to, because I wanted to be sure that what I heard it say was right.
That it matched the weightlessness that I felt.
My head and my heart, my spirit and my soul, were all finally aligned.
So I listened very carefully, and this is what I heard:
I accept that I was emotionally unfaithful.
I had punished myself enough.
I did everything I humanly could to make amends, to make it better.
I forgive myself for what I did.
I found the key that unlocked the door of my purgatory, and I used it to open the door.
I stepped out.
And I heard the voice talk.
And I held my breath, so I could listen one last time, so I could be absolutely sure.
It spoke, it’s voice softer than the breath of a sleeping newborn.
It was my heart speaking.
I’m afraid, it said, but I’m finally ready.
I’m awake now.
After living the last school year in a state that felt like a long sleep filled with dreams of murky swamp water shadows, me sitting down beneath, looking above like someone sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool in one of those movies or shows, though without wash of summer sunshine, looking up at lily pads floating overhead like alien intelligences whose designs I cannot fathom.
I lived my life, underwater. I did my job, underwater. I spent my weeknights and my weekends, underwater.
Occasionally I’d have phone conversations with family, friends, underwater. I’m surprised they could even understand what I was saying, speaking thickly through swampwatersludge. Sometimes they didn’t. Most of the time, the people I’d talk to knew I was underwater. They were very understanding.
Teaching was the easiest thing to do underwater. I’d been doing it for so long, it was all muscle memory. Things looked clearest when I was teaching. It still had it’s challenges, however.
Paperwork was hard. So was communicating with my colleagues, my administrators. Paperwork and communicating with my colleagues, that was pretty difficult for me. Sometimes, I hate to admit, I’d snap at people, speak defensively, I thought I was justified. I’d behave in a manner that was not collegial.
I was being a dick, basically.
I got some write-ups. I couldn’t help myself sometimes. They didn’t know. They didn’t understand how difficult it was to work underwater – especially swamp water. They didn’t understand, and it was hard to explain.
Neuroplasticity, my psychiatrist called it.
My ADHD medication was rewiring my brain from randomly spouting flashes and spurts of half-completed ideas to producing clear, organized and orderly rational thoughts, complete with beginning, middle and end. The medication was basically acting like a brace for my brain. And it made me feel stupid. But my struggles at work are another story for another day.
Once in a while, my friends would come and stand at the swamp’s edge.
They yelled out to me, trying to reach out and get my attention. We’re going to be having a get together this weekend, would you like to join? You know we’d love to see you. This band is coming to this bar, we’re all going, would you like to join? I’ll try, I said, lying mostly.
I never went.
Again, I tried explaining to them about the whole it’s-kinda-hard-because-I’m-sitting-down-here-at-the-bottom-of-the-swamp situation and now I’ve gotten pretty used to it. Then there’s the whole swimming back up to the surface. I didn’t have the energy. And honestly, I didn’t want to. That’s the closest I can get to try and describe how it felt this past school year.
I was taking my prescribed medication regularly. I was not, however, exercising or eating right. I’d written some previous blog posts during that time describing how I felt. I stayed home all the time. My lethargy was so utter and complete that I would give my older brother money so he could buy my groceries any time he and his partner went to the store.
I wouldn’t even try to talk to women, because first, it required too much energy, and second, I wouldn’t want to go out. I had no energy to be personable or charming. I couldn’t make it to concerts from bands that I had already paid my ticket for and that I desperately wanted to see, like Snail Mail, and a few others. I didn’t even make it to see the Suicide Girls Blackheart Burlesque show, even though I bought a VIP front section table. I never bothered with refunds.
None of my hobbies or loves or passions or desires would get me up and out into the outside world. I stopped going to the poetry slams. Even practicing with our band wouldn’t happen. I even missed most of the meetings for our Laredo chapter of NAMI.
I had mentioned before that it felt like all the energy I’d expend on teaching my students left me completely and totally drained every night, and come the weekend, I felt totally spent from the work week. My body needed a lot of recovery time.
Then a couple of events occurred in rapid succession:
I went the weekend before Spring Break without any of my medication.
And my brother told me that he and his partner had decided to move back to San Antonio.
Due to some miscalculations on my end and some miscommunications on my pharmacy’s end, I spent all of the first Saturday and Sunday of Spring Break deep in a depression sleep. I told my brother. I told my mother. And I slept. All day Saturday. All day Sunday. I finally picked up my medication on Monday. I went to bed early.
Then the strangest thing happened.
I woke up at nine AM Tuesday morning. Without an alarm. My eyes just popped open.
I had rested, a good, long, deep rest. I felt recharged, so I got up, and for the rest of the week, as I began taking my medication regularly again, I was actually doing chores, running errands – it was such an amazingly strange sensation having energy.
I began feeling restless on weekend nights. I started craving going out again. Being around people – my friends. Our band began practicing regularly again. Even my work relationships improved.
Then my brother told me that he was going to be moving back to San Antonio.
I admit I had a moment of selfishness, but it came and went like a Laredo summer shower. Three years of self-reflection, meditation, and medication had finally given me rationality and balance.
My brother had stepped in when I needed him the most. He uprooted his life with his partner in San Antonio, after years of living on their own, to come down and help me out, moving into his bedroom, with his mother. I knew what that felt like. I knew how hard it was. And it was hard, but we tried to make the best of it. And as hard as it was, it was hardest on his partner, who for those three long years would apply for countless jobs and never be hired. He had his own mental health issues and it was taking a toll on him.
So I understood. They were living a half-life. I wouldn’t have survived the first year after my father’s death without him. My oldest brother stepped in and shouldered the burden, along with his partner, of feeding my mom, balancing her checkbook, fixing up the house.
My brother and I had made an agreement, when my father was ill: I cared for our father and did my best to see him through to his passing, and I would do the same for our mother, when the time came, while during that time, he would see to the day to day running of the household. He allowed me time to recover and to rest.
And I did.
He gave me that gift.
I’ve said before that meditating – along with the medication – had allowed me to get in touch with my body. I’ve said that I learned to listen to my body, learned to surf on the crest of it’s ebb and flow. I knew my days of resting had a limited shelf life.
Then, weeks later, my brother and his partner went to San Antonio for a few days to scope things out. When they came back, they both returned with secured jobs. Now if that isn’t a sign from the Divine, then I don’t know what is. It was meant to be.
Our lives were about to change drastically once again. Gone would be the days of me lazing about.
My mind knew it.
My body knew it.
Then the wheel turned, as it always does, and summer came.
And on the first Saturday of the first weekend of summer, I began doing my laundry, which had piled up in layers of strata months old. I cleaned my room. I cut the back and front yard grass. I grabbed a saw and I began to trim the branches of my Three Sisters out in the backyard. I began working out again. I went back to drinking my protein shakes.
I was asked to be in a play and I said yes – the first play where I portray a character that has the most lines I’ve ever had. I went to a cast party.
I hosted a birthday party for myself. I actually grilled fajita and chicken, after not cooking anything for almost a whole year. I helped my brothers organize and pack for their big move.
That last week before they left was a hard one – for all us.
The boxes gathering like the accumulating gray cloud gloom of a coming downpour.
I broke down twice.
But we talked. I told him how much I’d miss him, and I thanked him. But my room was clean, my brother saw me getting up early, saw me work out a daily routine.
Before he left I told him not to worry about me, or mom, that I would be able to take of everything now, that I could manage it, and he knew it, because he got to see it before he left.
Am I cured of my mental illness? Of course not. There is no cure, only management. But over the course of these three past years, I learned to manage my depression in positive, healthy ways. I know I will have bad days, but I know that I’ll survive them.
Today marks the third official day of me and my mom being on our own, and we’re doing fine.
We slip into routines easier now. I spend time watching TV with her. She colors. I write. We talk. I’m out and about now. My mom will be around for a long time, so I definitely need to stay in shape in order to keep up with her – but it benefits me as well.
The murk is gone now.
My mind and body purged it – as soon as my brother had told me, everything cleared up almost instantly. My body knew, and it was ready, and snapped to. I’m ready to shoulder responsibilities again – mine and my mother’s.
I am her companion, her guardian, her protector – and honestly, I know that this is how it’s supposed to be. I know that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
I’m at peace.
I’m not worried about any problems in the future.
I know it’ll be okay.
I know I can handle it.
My energy is back.
My eyes are open.
My head is clear.
I’m awake now.
There is always beauty.
That is all that is left.
So many times in my life, I thought I had come to the end of me.
So many times, I thought I had broken myself, into pieces too brittle and infinitesimal, to ever believe that I could put myself back together again.
So many times I thought I had broken those I loved, those who loved me.
So many times I felt the cold hollow cave made of stone and frost and filled with a chill wind that blew eternal in the pit of my stomach, the sum total of all the lies I told, of all the hearts I broke, of all the oaths I abandoned.
So many times.
But that last, that last was worst of all …
Lost to the dark.
Alone, in a ball, in a hole, in a wall, in the deepest darkest crack I could slither in, and crawl.
So many times.
So many times.
And then …
A glimmer …
A glimpse …
I would open my eyes.
Dry, burning, bloodshot, blurry, and red.
And I would look up.
And the height, the height of just where I fell from.
It was so high.
I had fallen so far.
All that trust built.
Smashed to bits with a single action, a cruel word.
But I would get up, like I had all those countless times before and my spine felt so weak and all I felt inside cold wind and hollow.
And I would get up.
My stomach would spasm reflexively from all the ragged crying and my eyes burned.
And I would get on my knees, scarred and pitted from gravel digging in, from years of gravel digging in, digging all the way into my cartilage.
I would wait there, gasping, until that pain was too much, and I would reach out and grasp that first rock again, with cracked hands that split from countless cold December nights when my hands were soaked wet from bleach and piss and mop water and Fabuloso and Murphy’s Oil Soap, from countless nights of cleaning and wiping and scrubbing, and I would begin the slow climb, back up to the top, back up, to the light.
And so I would grab another.
So many falls.
And so many climbs.
So many promises made.
So many promises broken.
So many scars, from within, from without.
Holding the hand of the one whose heart I broke.
What else could I do?
I couldn’t stay down there.
Not when I was needed up here.
Not when, if I couldn’t make us better, if I couldn’t heal us and make us whole, I could at least help you.
Help you get through.
At least I could do that.
So I did.
And those whose hearts I’d hurt, saw that I did my best to heal.
I left, but I did my best to heal.
I left, and I hoped that they had healed.
And to my surprise, they did.
As sure as spring follows winter.
As certain as day follows night.
As raw and red and as certain as the dawn, or a healing wound.
And time would pass, just as sure as spring follows winter.
As certain as sunshine follows rain.
And, with that passing left the pain.
And those who I made cry, I now made laugh.
I repaired what I could, and now, gray-bearded and older, I keep my vigil.
I watch and I care and I protect.
But I stay away.
And I marvel that in the passing, the pain fades away, like shadows melt away at dawn, and with that growing dawn light, in that shining sunlight, only the beauty is left revealed.
And nights, dark and dim they may be, are now just nights, because now I have the knowledge that the sun still shines on the other side of the world.
Nights reveal starlight, and moonshine, and the reflective glimmer of cats’ eyes.
I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt people, and though it was my depression, it was still me.
I know this, and I shall never forget – in my depression I have hurt myself, and though it was my depression, it was still me.
And I know this, and I will never forget – I have managed my depression.
I have named my demon and I have locked it within a faux-gold-covered wooden box.
And I will never open it up.
For I know this – with time and work and the healing-fevered pain of resetting bones, all the bad fades away.
Fades away, but does not dissipate.
It is always an ever-present reminder.
But what comes to the foreground, what comes into focus?
The pain, the dark fades away.
All that’s left is beauty.
Is it weird that I’m forty-three years old and I feel the most comfortable, the most “myself,” like this?
Is it weird that I feel like I truly do not fit into any category – especially as a straight male – and so I feel like I do not fit into this world?
Is it weird that I feel like I’m too young to be this old, while at the same time I feel like I’m too old to be this young?
Is it weird that my teenage boy heart that used to beat to the pounding truth of Pearl Jam beats to the pinning, yearning punch of Snail Mail now that I’m a forty-three year old man?
Is it weird?
Or is it me, in my isolation?
Do you feel like me?
Do you feel alone because you don’t feel like you “fit” into any acceptable social “category?”
Is it weird?
Am I wrong?
Am I not alone?
If so, I would really love to know it.