Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Older You Get...

The More Dead People There Are To Dream About.

Seems like a truism and yet it's true and I should know. Tonight it was Geshe and Ellen and aunt Esther. Usually it's Dad and Cyndy, but...not tonight.

Cyndy was a vibrant and wonderful young woman who died at the age of 26. Cyndi and I were never intimate but I certainly cared for her deeply, and I doubt she ever knew the half of it. I wasn't in love with her, I just loved her. Good people. We worked together at an insurance job called Spectra. I don't know if Uri Geller got his powers from us, or if it was the Hoova company down the hall. We never tried to kill James Bond, as far as I know, although we did get a few of those calls and had to tell them sorry, wrong number. Anyway, we worked in the same department for a few years and got to be really tight.

I was no longer working there when she died. One of our co-workers- our ex-co-workers- called me very upset to give me the news. It hit me very hard, although true to form for a guy who needs not to feel a whole bunch, it manifested in subtle ways. My upper lip started to feel like it was in mid-spasm or mid-twitch, and this didn't go away until a long while later. I was depressed but the whole thing seemed both very heavy and encompassing, but at the same time very distant, as though it were casually happening to someone else. My world had taken a nice, swift kick.

Lots of people in my family had died when I was too young to really appreciate it; lots of people at my schools from kindergarten through 7th grade had died, but I wasn't close to any of them really and hey, like it or not that was just part of the environment there. At this point in my life she was the only good friend to have died, and done so very suddenly, without even a hint. Pretty jarring. I went about my business looking slightly subdued. A journal entry from shortly after she died gives an idea of what things were like under the surface. When I wrote it, I was in a dislocated, sort of trance-like state, and the connect between my rational brain and my writing had been pushed aside by something else. "My blood is all over me. How interesting it is that no on but I can see it. Well, not so surprising I suppose. After all, it is my blood..One gathers cuts over the years; some heal, others don't. They just keep bleeding."

Cyndy's funeral was an interesting experience. The twitching, eventually numb feeling in my upper lip had not gone away, and had in fact reached disturbing intensity. I half wondered if it was some kind of stroke. The casket was open, which I hadn't expected, especially considering the condition the body had been found in. Her mother had found her, asphyxiated and grossly discolored. She'd had a massive asthma attack in her sleep, not been able to rise fast enough to get her medicine, blacked out between the bed and wherever she'd been heading, and died. She used to get really bad headaches, and supposedly on that night, she had taken something to help her sleep through one.This slowed down her body's signaling of "danger" at the start of the attack, and by the time she woke up, she didn't have enough air to make it. This is what I remember, anyway. Her poor Mom was just a wreck. They'd been more than mother and daughter, they were best friends- vacationed together and everything. Her Mom needed to see Cyndy look like herself once more, or at least more like herself- hence the open casket. Nobody was prepared for it. Reactions ranged from casually disturbed to deeply shocked. How was I? Numb, as usual. Sporting sun glasses, as were many people. Tears ran freely from under every pair of shaded eyeware in the place, nobody was fooling anybody, but we all persisted wearing them for some reason. Her Mom asked me to be a pall bearer. "I know you really cared for Cyndy, would you please help lay my baby to rest?" I was honored; and had I the strength, I would have picked the coffin up myself, like Nosferatu, and carried her there, and laid her gently down. There was one other person there who really had a right to hold her and carry her, and I don't recall if he did. I think he did, I'm almost positive. But my memory is a bit foggy on this point.

I'm getting ahead though. Before that, there was a procession to view the corpse and say last goodbyes. One person we worked with, who had left the company long before, came with a picture of the two of them, and secretly stuffed it in the casket with the body. She showed me ahead of time, told me she was going to do it. OK, whatever. I was astounded by the level of drama and showy emotional displays put on by people. Some of them genuinely loved her, I know, so this was forgivable to me; but there were people who somehow needed to make it about them, put on a show, and this I found troubling and not a little reprehensible. Only one person got bad enough to say something to, but that was well after the funeral at the "after party", thankfully. One guy at the funeral who sticks out in my mind was a boyfriend of a friend of hers- can't remember who he "belonged to". He started talking to her, acting like he was out of his mind. I don't really think he was, and in fact there seemed to be more than a little "Look, I'm grieving, see?" in his response. That could easily be just my interpretation; ultimately it doesn't matter. He looked down at her and said "What are you doing down in there, girl? Get up! Come on! Come on baby, you got to get up! Come on!" Etc., until somebody moved him along. He continued to look back at her as he was led away. Interesting. My suspicion of him may seem unkind. But...My brother Jeff's 17 year old fiance' suddenly took ill and died from throat cancer. At her funeral he jumped in after the casket. Jeff doesn't give a rat's ass what anybody else thinks of him, as long as they think he's funny when he's trying to be funny. As far as stuff like this, he could care less. He never put on that kind of show for anybody. That was real, a product of complete despair. So...ah, who knows. None of my business I guess.

As for me, I walked up to her, mostly curious to see how much, or how little, she still looked like herself. To me, she looked like a propped-up waxwork that suggested the image of my friend but didn't really capture it. She was no longer in there and it was obvious. I tried thinking about her while I looked, all the while feeling the anxiousness of people in line behind me to get their turn, for whatever reason, to linger themselves or to get it over with. I could have stayed there longer if I'd wanted, after all, to hell with them, you only usually get one chance to say goodbye. But I couldn't belabor it because she wasn't there, and the waxy body on display was not helping me think of her, it was distracting. I moved on and thought of her when she was alive. And it was a lot easier to smile then.

After she was buried, after the after party, after everything, I went home and lay down on my bed, exhausted. That damned tingling and twitching in my upper lip was still going strong but at this point I didn't care; for all I cared I could have had a stroke and died right there, it would have been fine by me. As my body settled into a state of near sleep, and I was laying very still, I felt a slight but definite kiss on my lips, along with a sense that everything would be OK. And the tingling, twitching feeling disappeared then. I've felt it once or twice over the last couple of decades, at times of extreme stress; but never as strongly as when I'd felt it originally.

So that's Cyndy, or at least a little bit about her. Hard to believe she's been dead nearly 20 years. As for my Dad- well, lots to say there, but not necessarily here. He died in his mid-70s as the result of several illnesses, from which he'd suffered for a while. When the end came, four days after his last birthday, it was a relief for everyone, especially him. He was never going to get better and life had become awful for him long before he breathed his last. Needless to say he popped up in my dreams a lot after that too. It took a long time for him to show up looking healthy, before I could dream of him without his illnesses being dominant in my memory of him. Eventually though, he did show up looking like his old self, sharp-minded and smiling.

One dream that comes to mind had he, Cyndy and I at a bar. We'll get back there in a minute, but you should know that Cyndy popped up in my dreams a lot too. Usually there was some talk of how I thought she was dead, but it was a hoax perpetrated so she could get some space from everybody, or she'd moved and then moved back, had been on vacation, on retreat...Anyway, she'd come back, I'd spotted her; she was nervous to see me but accepting, and we would hang out a little before something weird would happen and I couldn't find my way back to her.

So this night, Cyndy and I and my Dad were at a bar. The only one this was in character for was Cyndy, who liked her occasional social drink, and whose liquored-up watermelons (made from miniature liquor bottles she'd saved from various flights to Cabo and the like) were legendary, eagerly awaited fare at the company picnics. My Dad just didn't drink. He wasn't an alcoholic, he simply did not like the stuff; it gave him a headache and nausea, and he never saw a reason to put up with that. He wasn't opposed to a little valium to steady his nerves, and back in the days when Vicks 44 cough syrup came over the counter laced with codeine, he was never without some. (He could justify this- not that he ever cared to, but he could- because his voice was like a deep-pitched dead-end kid, barking out of a gravel pit. This is what happens when you start chainsmoking at 10.) As for me, I drank, but not very often. A social setting like this wasn't completely out of character, I suppose; it just wouldn't have been common. But we were having a good time.

At one point, Cyndy gave me her keys and asked me to get her something from her apartment, which wasn't far away. My Dad said he'd come along too. Don't recall what Cyndy was up to, exactly. So there was this nice sense of cameraderie when my Dad and I went to her place. He was quiet and respectful, had some nice things to say about the apartment. But before we were to leave, I desperately had to pee; asked him to wait for me, told him what I had to do and that I'd be right back. He seemed a little disturbed and sad, which seemed slightly out of proportion to me for a response; but I didn't think too much about it and went down the hall towards the bathroom.

At that point all the lights in the place went out, like a blackout, but there was a little bit of light from streetlamps outside. I had this uncomfortable and immediate feeling that something besides the blackout was wrong, and then I remembered: Cyndy and Dad were dead. I tried to hold on to the dream, and made my way to the living room, trying to turn on the light in there, but Dad was gone, the place was empty, and he and Cyndy were really gone, not just out the door but dead.....I couldn't hold on any more and I woke up, goosebumps all up and down my arms, and yet sad, missing them both. Even so, it had been nice to see them, if only in my own head. Which I've never been entirely sure of, you know.

If there is contact with the dead, it has to come through our minds anyway, so...who knows. I don't, not for sure. I act and experience "as if", in the tradition of John Lilly. You suspend your disbelief and act within the logic of the situation, all the time knowing that it might not be real in the way that hitting your head against a wall is.

So many people have died since then. Some of them, like Cyndy, have been what seemed to me to be unreasonably young to be dead, as if there were reason to such a thing. Tom Shannon, Brigid Segal. Hard to get my head around those. I accept their deaths, overall; but can do so mostly by not thinking of that part, I think of them when they were alive. My Mom's third husband Jay, who went from having a backache to pancreatic cancer and was dead in a pretty short time; he wasn't that young but he wasn't that old, and for a multitude of reasons that one just seemed really wrong to me, and my response wasn't grief but anger. Anger at who, at what, there's no point in asking, anymore than there was in being angry, I suppose. I was likely to respond somehow, and that was it. Mom had already outlived two husbands, now she was going to outlive a third? Wrong. And thinking of Jay as not being there anymore- wrong, it just seemed very wrong to me. My Dad had been sick for a long time. Her second husband, Harold, had been nearly killed in battle a number of times (3 Purple Hearts and one congressional note; Guadalcanal survivor, Korean war vet, etc.). He'd been fighting major heart problems for a couple of years before they caught up to him. Jay had had a number of close calls too, but all before he'd met my mother; and nobody was expecting cancer. Does anybody ever? Maybe if you work too closely with radiactive materials. He did for a while, for the government, but not for many, many years. Anyway...

So tonight I had a dream where the dead folks in question didn't actually appear, but were being sought. My cousin Geshe, his wife Ellen, and my aunt Esther- all gone. I don't recall now why I was trying to find them- something to do with a concert, with babysitting, it's blurry. Other people were looking for them too. There was a heavy-set black girl in particular who couldn't understand why she couldn't find them, it was like they were suddenly gone with no trace, it was very upsetting to her. She had my old telephone book, the one held together with business
cards and scotch tape as replacement covers. It had fallen apart and she couldn't find the rest of it, and there was no one left in the neighborhood who remembered them or how to find them, and now she didn't know how to get hold of them or where to look or why this had happened seemingly so fast.

As the night has gone on, and I've been busy writing emails and writing this and making coffee and burning copies of "Wonder, Doubt And Curiosity" for Dave, the importance and the impact of the dream has faded very badly. But it got me to tell you a bit about Dad and Cyndy and a few other things, and I'm happy about that. If I see them at the bar again any time soon, I'll let you know how they're doing.

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