How many people does it take to make a movie: actors, director, cinematographer, set designer, lighting crew, editor, sound crew, prop dept., casting dept….and many more -- all of them making important choices in their areas of expertise.
And yet each night all these skills are present in our dreams, and they all come from one human subconscious mind. Amazing: that our subconscious casts and produces and edits and delivers us this story. Amazing: the depth and power these brief ‘films’ can have.
Last night my subconscious mind made me a dream about Jerry Grinolds, my closest friend from age nine through our early twenties. In his sixties Jerry lost everything, job, marriage, apartment through alcoholism, and then he disappeared, possibly into homelessness and possibly into death. But he was there last night, starring with me in a short ‘buddy picture.’
I dreamed he called and said he had a present for me. He directed me to a nearby street corner in the city where I lived. He said I should go there and find a stick and bang on the mailbox that was there, just keep banging on it.
It was night, and I followed his directions and found only a telephone pole on the corner, and then noticed a small mailbox attached to the pole – and a stick nearby. I began banging on the tin mailbox until I heard another sound: his footsteps coming closer from across the dark street. I couldn’t see him, but I knew it was him and I smiled.
“I thought the mailbox would be bigger,” I said to him. He said, “Let’s do this.”
I would still, even today, recognize Jerry’s voice, and I smiled again and dropped the stick and stood there, wondering what his gift was. I heard him walk around me in the darkness and stand behind me.
“What are you up to,” I asked.
“You’re stalling,” he said. "Fall back.”
Then I knew, and I took a breath and let myself fall backwards. I was fearless. This was Jerry, my friend. He caught me around the chest. I noticed his puffy down coat sleeves. I never saw his face. I laughed, very happy with his gift – and I woke up smiling in the darkness, still, for a moment, held in the trusted arms of a missing friend.
My father has been dead for years when I dream I am visiting him in an apartment built out of fragments of homes long left behind. He moves in methodical grace, readying his topcoat and hat to dress for work. He complains softly, his head shaking, his eyes not on me, but on the lint on his fedora.
He says I haven’t visited enough. There are tasks I haven’t performed for him, and he adds that he doesn’t ask for much. He must be right because I’m feeling guilty and desperate to please him. I help him with his coat. A small man with stature, he places his hat on his head, composing his likeness without a mirror.
I walk him outside into a city of dull red bricks and a light, breeze-blown rain. I offer to drive him to work. He tells me it’s not far to walk, but I’m driven to make amends, and I insist. I tell him to wait while I bring my car, and I hurry away, the keys like a wound in my tight fist.
I stare at a street of parked cars, but mine isn’t there. Anxiety dries my throat and quickens the blood through my heart. I rush to the next block and turn in each direction, feeling the icy drizzle on my face, and a bolt of panic forces me awake.
I did visit my father in his apartment, but he never complained. He would open the door and smile and say my name like a surprised child. When he was very old he would lean forward through the doorway and close his eyes and kiss his youngest son on the lips.
He slipped away in the long pauses between his speech, until there was more silence than conversation, and then only silence. His mind traveled for years while his body stayed behind like a forgotten suitcase. He saw through our world into another beyond the wall.
He took millions of breaths because his lungs would not be denied until he reached some unknowable number and was satisfied and stopped.
This is the story I tell when I’m awake, but in another story, just as true, I don’t remember where I’ve parked my car, and my father is waiting in the rain.