The REM stages of my evening repose are usually spent awash in a abstract riot of noise and color punctuated by violent shifts into sweat-drenched wakefulness. While I’m sure there’s some scientific explanation — apart from having an excessively warm puppy wedged against my spine and night-owl wife who leaves the bedroom light on into the wee hours — for these harrowing slices of psychedelia, endocrinologist the “why” matters less than the fact that lucid dreams are a rarity for me.
They are such a rarity that I find it even more unsettling when one does roll through my subsconscious, gonorrhea which happened last weekend when I dreamed that I was sixteen again. That’s not a particularly uncommon fantasy, especially for folks who’ve hit an age when youth’s limitless horizons and illusions of immortality have faded in the face of realities like mortgage payments and the slow erosion of bladder elasticity. The poignancy of Robert Frost’s metaphoric “road not taken” becomes all the sharper as one’s capacity for pulling off a successful u-turn diminishes, and thus fantasies about (or pathos-steeped real life manisfestations) of “second chances” and “going back and doing it right this time” abound in our youth-and-success-obsessed culture.
So there I was, thirty-nine years of bitter experience magically shifted back to the uncertain and melancholy time immediately following my mother’s death at the end of 1988 — and my first thought was “Fuck, it’s going to be three long years until Maura shows up.”
Yes, yes, I know. “Of course you’d think that.” It doesn’t make it any less true, especially when you’ve spent two decades in the company of such a remarkable counselor-slash-confidant. Co-dependency is only an issue when it’s mutually dysfunctional, after all.
As for the rest of the opportunity to rewrite personal history, I was at a total loss. My life since 1988 hasn’t exactly been a flawless winning streak, but I’ve come out ahead more often than I’ve tallied a net loss. My mistakes, as painful and humiliating as they’ve occasionally been, have been learning experiences and sources of future wisdom…if only of the most functionalist and empirical variety. (“Don’t do that” will always take precedence over the predicated “because…” in my book.) I could have done better, sure, but I also could have done a lot worse.
Not that there aren’t a few things that could stood some revision, short-sighted decisions with long-term consequences. As the twig is bent, goes the old saying, so shall the branch incline in a way that will later poke you in the eye. Given a chance to do things over, I probably would have developed better dental hygiene habits and had my grossly impacted wisdom teeth removed before the roots hardened and while the Commonwealth was willing to foot the bill for the surgery. I might have tried to develop saner dietary habits, and not spent a decade living on junk food and processed sugary crap (which ties back to the whole teeth thing).
Maybe I would have cut out my brief thrash metal phase and cut straight to the punk rock thing, though I don’t regret the musical component of that transitional period as much as I do the adolescent surliness which accompanied it. I suppose I could have eliminated the more unpleasant elements from my courtship narrative with Maura, but who’s to say that the humility learned from that well-deserved hit to the ego didn’t spur me to be a man worthy of her affection?
Really, the only thing I’d have done differently and without hesitation would have been to exploit my historical knowledge of the dot-com, housing, and collectable bubbles to amass a heaping pile of cash and set myself up for life. Still, I suspect that would have resolved itself as all of my dreams resolve themselves — with a violent transition back into the waking world as Maura frantically breaks up a fight between felines and the puppy turns in his sleep to unleash a meaty blast of flatulence in my face.
Such is reality, and there’s really no substitute for it.
Recommended listening: The beat that must go on.