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Read the First Chapter
1 When I Woke Up
Any story beginning with the words when I woke up has every appearance of winding down to a conclusion. The nether world of sleep has begun to recede and fade away; the world of consciousness is coming into focus and the time has arrived once again to start another story.
A real story. A mundane and uneventful one, no doubt, but real, nonetheless.
The world of dreams and unreality has come and gone. Time to get up, and go to work.
I’ve heard and read all of my life that every human being dreams. A dream can be a verb (something you do, or something that happens) or a noun (something that is). Example: Dream a Little Dream of Me. Written in 1931 and recorded popularly by everyone from Kate Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, and my all-time favorite the Mamas and the Papas (Cass Elliot’s dreamy rendition).
You dream a dream.
If I dream a dream every sleep cycle, I don’t remember many of them. The ones that seem to stick with me are bad. I don’t recall ever having a full-blown nightmare, anything that makes you wake up screaming or crying. But bad dreams, sad dreams, unpleasant dreams. From those I awake with a vague, day-dampening memory.
I do remember having some pleasant dreams, and their effect carried over into the day as well.
But ultimately I came to believe that dreams are not real, though they can affect reality, in pleasant or unpleasant ways. Dreams are conveniently unreal.
One of my favorite movies of all time is the Wizard of Oz. I’ve read a few of Baum’s original children’s stories, but none of them captured my imagination or found their way into my heart like the Warner Brothers classic acetate. It’s amazing how my perceptions, understanding, and interpretation of this film have changed as I’ve grown older. When I viewed the story as a child I remember being pleasantly frightened, edge-of-my-seat thrilled from beginning to end, and mildly irritated at the end when no one believed that Dorothy had really been transported by tornado spout to a magical land.
For Dorothy and me, and millions of other children, the Land of Oz was real.
As I grew into adulthood I felt my point of view change, sadly. Now, I still enjoy watching the film from time to time, but I realize that Dorothy Gale was hit on the head (not all dream states are sleep induced!) by a flying cellar hatch door and she imagined being blown by cyclone to that beautiful place over the rainbow about which she so sweetly sang, and to which (for Toto’s sake) she so desperately needed to escape.
As an adult viewer it seemed so obvious. All of the people in her life (even mean old Miss Gulch, Toto’s nemesis) assumed roles in Dorothy’s Oz parade of characters. Oz wasn’t real, it was a dream.
The greatest testimony to the unreality of Oz was Dorothy’s persistent insistence on leaving. She sang about and dreamed about escaping over the rainbow and then pined for Kansas from the very moment she set foot in Munchkin Land. She’s in Oz – she wants to go home! That becomes all that matters to her. If it takes witches or wizards she’s got to get back to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.
I confess that I never understood that aspect of the story. Why would anyone in their right mind want to return to a black and white existence on a pig farm in Kansas when you could live in a magical place like Oz and be treated like royalty? There’s no place like home . . . and most of us are extremely glad.
Singing little people, Broadway music, talking trees, scarecrows, tin woodsmen, lions, tigers, and bears (go ahead and say it . . .). At home Toto, or Spot, wasn’t really on death row, but Mom and Dad were headed for divorce, not one bit of real female action was going on, and adolescence in general looked rather bleak. Give ME over the rainbow! Even with its shaky and tumultuous transit system, wicked witches, and flying monkeys – it held more promise than spending the rest of my life in Flynn, being consumed by acne and hormones, and living the unintentionally celibate life of a Jesus Freak.
On another note – my perspective changed completely concerning what a wicked witch really was. You never wonder about a grouchy old green-skinned woman who throws fireballs at you and imprisons you in her creepy castle. You see her coming, you have no questions or doubts about her, and what you see is what you get. Wicked Witch. West. East. North. South (I’ll get ya’ll . . . an yer little dawg, too!). It doesn’t matter.
The real wicked witch was Glenda.
During the whole movie . . . Glenda held the secret of how Dorothy could go home . . . immediately! It was Glenda who transferred the Ruby Slippers magically from the dead feet of the house-squashed Wicked Witch of the East to the feet of our heroine. She knew all along that Dorothy needn’t travel perilously to the Emerald City in search of the Great and Powerful Oz. All she had to do was click her heels together and recite, “There’s no place like home.”
Now that is a wicked witch!
Glenda is that kind of controlling person who feels that it is important for you to learn something. You should grow, mature, and expand your horizons in whatever process you are involved. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger (that’s the most frightening Glenda philosophy). She believes in the immorality that the end justifies the means. All’s well that ends well. All things work together for good.
In the 1995 film Batman Forever, the Riddler (played by Jim Carey) and Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) have Batman trussed up and at their mercy. Two-Face pulls a huge gun out of his coat, cocks the hammer, and points it at the unconscious Batman’s head (Val Kilmer). He’s about to pull the trigger when the Riddler stops him. He says, “Don’t kill him! If you kill him he won’t learn nuthin’!”
You have probably encountered those people who would rather teach you something than put you out of your misery. All of that is well and good . . . if it’s your choice . . . for you.
If you’re foisting it off on other people without their consent, however, it is the very worst kind of tyranny and witchery.
Dorothy is so stupid, though, that she doesn’t even do a jaw drop and say, “What?! You mean that I’ve been chased from the outskirts of Munchkin Land to the Emerald City, harassed by witches, pummeled by talking trees, and flying monkeys and you could have sent me home in the first scene?” I would have slapped her ‘til her bubble popped.
There’s a wicked witch for you . . . and she comes off in the credits as Glenda the Good.
There IS no place like home, thank God, and I’ve been telling Thomas Wolfe since having to read him in college . . . I have no desire to go home again, thank you very much!
I didn’t have a horrible childhood or home life, I wasn’t abused, unloved, or neglected . . . and things are not perfect now, but I’ll take now . . . every time.
I have a bigger family, more friends, more money, more possessions; I have a job, a house, land, and a mortgage. I have an excellent education; I’m smarter, more experienced, more skilled, and I have left the days of social fear and awkwardness, shyness, bashfulness, and backwardness long behind. I have dragged myself over the last thirty or forty years, if not to the other side of the rainbow, at least away from my own colorless Kansas.
Where was I?
When I woke up . . .
I never have been one to awake bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I wake up slowly, in phases, by gradual levels, and always in a surly or sour mood.
I have always employed the snooze feature on my alarm to help me gradually pull away the covers and the layers of sleep. Presently I have a jam-up Blackberry Pearl Smartphone (received as an absolutely free-of-charge upgrade based upon my faithful and extended service as a T-Mobile customer) that wakes me with the song or sound of my choice. It allows me to snooze a little bit more in ten minute increments. I employ this feature at least three times every morning (sometimes more if the sleep fog remnant hangs a little more thickly). All the while I am climbing tiers of consciousness and wakefulness, preparing for the ultimate roll out of bed.
But, when I woke up on this particular occasion, it was not to the sound of my two year old granddaughter singing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (one of my favorite self-recorded phone alarm sounds).
When I woke up I was laying on my right side. Not just the correct side, but right and correct because I always sleep on my right shoulder, near the edge of the mattress, with my back to the rest of the bed. I was also familiarly and correctly situated near the left edge of the bed. That’s my side of the bed. It had been for thirty-seven years of marriage and continued to be my side of the bed in the two years since my long-time sleeping partner had gone over the rainbow.
On my right side, on my side. But the familiarity and correctness ended there.
The bed that I lay down in last night was one that I had slept in (apart from road trips and various traveling excursions) since 1999. It is a Queen-sized bed that is against the north wall of our house with the left side, right side, and foot of the bed away from the other three walls of the room. A double sliding-door closet on the left, a dresser and mirror on the right and two book cases against the wall at the foot. The bed that I was groggily waking up in now was against the left wall, and there was no closet.
It was morning. I sensed that the dim light around me was sunlight. The wall that was about eight or ten inches from my face was pale blue. I stared at it in mind-numbed incomprehension for several minutes, waiting for the scene to change, or make sense. When it didn’t, I stretched out my hand to do a touch test and found the wall to be solid and my hand to be . . . different.
You’ve heard the expression, “I know that place like the back of my hand!” Well, that phrase passed through my mind as my thoughts passed from feeling the substance of the wall to seeing the back of my hand. As it turns out, I know exactly what the back of my left hand looks like. There is a small cyst (okay, it’s a wart) on my middle finger, just below the big knuckle. I’ve tortured that thing for years with over the counter wart removal solutions. It goes away and comes right back. There is another one just like it on my forearm about three inches from my wrist.
I also have a collection of age spots on the back of my hand, three particularly large ones that remind me of the Belt of Orion. I looked at the back of my hand, turned it over and looked at the front, and then back again. No familiar warts and no star constellations. This wasn’t my hand.
I replaced my hand (or somebody’s hand) on the mattress near my face and tapped my forefinger on the sheet thoughtfully. Maybe I wasn’t waking up.
It did not appear that it was physically possible for me to get out on the wrong side of the bed . . . but something in the back of my mind was telling me that I was about to do precisely that very thing.
After another moment or two of unrewarding contemplation, I rolled slowly over onto my back. I was lying on top of the bed covers and my head was resting on a larger than usual pillow, so, I didn’t have to raise my head to get a good view of the room into which I was waking.
I saw immediately that I was in a small, simply decorated bedroom. The door to the room was open and I could see into a nearby living area of the house (sofa, coffee table, stereo, etc.). The dim morning sunlight was streaming into the room that I was in from a single gauze curtain-covered window near the end of the room on the same wall against which the bed rested.
There was an old wardrobe at the foot of the bed adjacent to the single window.
I was lying on a small twin-sized bed, clothed in blue jeans, a tee-shirt, and tennis shoes.
It’s funny that kids in the south all grew up calling them tennis shoes. I probably never knew what tennis was or saw a tennis game until I was in high school. We never called them sneakers in the south (sneaking is very disreputable in these parts), and our kids grew up calling them athletic shoes, or running shoes, or basketball shoes.
There was a chest of drawers against the same wall as the door. A mirror was attached to its back in the center. I could see the foot of the bed and part of the window reflected in it.
And I wasn’t alone. Sitting in a straight-backed, cane-bottom chair between me and the left hand end of the chest of drawers was a teenage girl.
I had taken in all of this information about the room into my awareness in less than a second, merely with the sweep of my eyes. Then I turned my head slightly to the left to look straight at the person who was observing me quietly, only five or six feet away.
I would guess that she was about fifteen or sixteen years old. She had on an orange and white checkered short-sleeved shirt, blue jeans with the bottoms rolled up into cuffs (who does that anymore?), and black canvas deck shoes – the slip on kind with white rubber soles. She had flawless, peaches and cream skin and Marilyn Monroe natural blond hair.
And I knew exactly who she was.
She sat very still, with her hands clasped together in her lap, knees together. Watching me silently, and, it seemed, expectantly.
Reflecting now upon my waking on that day, and writing it down for you (or someone) to read. I wonder at how calm and serene we both seemed to be. Almost sedate. No panic, fear, surprise, or anxiety that might have rightfully accompanied such an unusual situation.
She nodded her head slowly.
Samantha Milner and I had been elementary classmates and attended the same high school for twelve years. One might assume that I might have a great deal of knowledge about someone that I had seen almost every day for twelve years, but in fact, I didn’t. Sam was one of my friend’s first cousins, and I had always thought that she was pretty, and I liked her . . . but I never like-liked her. And I guess that she might express the same level of acquaintance with me.
I always liked girls, but I have almost always been frightened to death of them. Just being in close proximity to any female (especially a pretty one) brought the blushing aw-shuckses out of me.
I had only dated two girls in my entire life, and had been married to the second of those two for 37 years.
Sam was one of the few girls that I went to school with that I ever saw outside of that venue. Her cousin, Ryan, and I were buddies and I often spent the day or stayed over with him. Sam lived just up the road from him and we often went to see if there was any way that we could torment or pester her. I still don’t know why spiders and snakes are chosen as expressions of high-level flirting among adolescent boys, but it seems to have been universal.
A couple of years ago we connected on Facebook. I can’t remember whether she found me or I found her. I was wary of Facebook at first, but one of the new aspects of my latter years is a geeky love affair with computers and all things computing, so I didn’t hesitate much before climbing on board the FB train. I’m now glad that I did. I have connected with many old friends, family members, and almost forgotten acquaintances.
Sam and I had exchanged a few brief chats and private (though not personal) messages through Facebook, and I was glad to hear that she was well (read: still alive), but we never rekindled our past more than a few text encounters.
Yep, there sat Samantha Milner, a sixteen year old version of her, watching me – waiting.
I turned my head back to center again to survey myself.
When I fell into bed last night I weighed over 300 pounds. The me laying on this bed was a svelte 135 or 140 pound model.
I ran both of my hands down my torso and felt a hard, flat abdomen. My left hand came up to my face. No beard or mustache. Must have fallen off with the fat.
By habit, I looked around for my glasses. Couldn’t find them, but then realized that I didn’t need them.
In a single, fluid motion I swung my legs over the side of the bed and sat up.
For some reason I looked down at my hands and arms again. Maybe they looked differently while sitting up. I looked at the Stoic Sam and then back at my hands again. Then I lifted my gaze past her left shoulder to look into the mirror that was a part of the chest of drawers across the room. I looked into the mirror . . . at me.
When I was in my mid-teens I was slender, but the arrival of testosterone had finally given me the ability to leave skinny behind by adding body mass. Weights, baseball, football, and martial arts had helped me add tight ropes of muscle around my shoulders, arms and legs and I had developed an enviable set of washboard abs. If it sounds like I’m describing a good-looking guy that I am in love with . . . well, I guess I am. I hadn’t seen this guy in many, many years and good-looking was just a way of saying that the person I now stared at in the mirror in front of me was young, healthy, strong, and disease-free.
Handsome? I never thought so . . . but this was me at my physical peak and I was transfixed by the sight that I saw in the mirror. Clear, blue eyes, and thick, light brown hair. However, the tell-tale scars of a teenage battle with acne that should have been present were missing. It was the old me (the young me? the former me?) with improvements. I was gazing at a reflection of me.
I looked at Sam again. Then back at the mirror. Sam looked over her shoulder and then back at me. She nodded her head again. I didn’t know what that meant, but for some reason it was reassuring. Maybe it meant, “Yes, I see the same thing that you see in the mirror. You are beardless, trim, and somehow a teenager again.”
I stood to my feet like I was made of a smooth, steel coil, and took two steps to stand in front of the chest of drawers. I placed my hands on its top and leaned my face close enough to the mirror to leave a breath fog on its surface. I drew back and raised my right hand. I overcame the urge to wave at myself and looked at Sam.
Did you ever see that old black and white episode of I Love Lucy where Harpo Marx made a guest appearance? The Marx Brothers (there were four of them: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Zeppo) formed a comedy team in the early days of the last century. Harpo wore a trench coat, top hat, and never spoke. He only honked a large bicycle horn that he carried in his pocket. He gestured with his hands and facial features and performed a constant comedy routine of Charades.
Harpo appeared on the Lucy show in the pretense of appearing as a guest on Desi Arnaz’ nightclub show (You can still view this scene on YouTube. Just search for Harpo and Lucy*). I don’t remember the plot device that was used to create one of the funniest scenes in early television history, but it called for Lucy to dress herself up in an imitation of the mute comedian. They performed a perfectly choreographed mirror scene where Lucy was trying to convince Harpo that he was really only seeing himself in reflection. Face-making, shoulder-shrugging, and hand-clapping was all in sync. The ruse was only exposed when Harpo took off his top hat and dropped it to the floor. His hat sprang back immediately into his hands because it had a rubber band attached to it. Needless to say, Lucy’s hat just hit the floor and didn’t bounce.
Obviously, I wasn’t staring into this mirror at my Harpo-doppelganger. It was ME.
I looked from the mirror to Sam several times. I leaned in and then drew back several times comically. Someone definitely had some ‘splainin’ to do, and it didn’t appear that Sam was about to be forthcoming.
“Is this MY dream, or YOURS?” I asked.
“I don’t think it’s a dream, Dave.” were the first words she spoke. Sounded like Sam, too.
And I sounded like ME.
“Time travel?” I asked. She shook her head with less conviction.
Before processing, I said, “Do you mind if I touch you?”
“What do you have in mind?” she answered with brows knit together.
“Just your hand, silly.”
She extended her left hand as a lady might, expecting it to be gently pressed, or even kissed. Palm down, fingers together.
I took her proffered appendage in my left hand and immediately felt the smoothness and warmth of her skin. I squeezed her palm gently and rubbed my thumb over the back of her hand.
Then I turned her hand over to the right and placed the ring, middle, and forefingers of my right hand on her radial artery. I felt a regular, though slightly elevated pulse (probably about 100 beats a minute).
She pulled her hand from my grasp with a slight roll of her eyes.
I smiled, “You are the first dream girl I have ever had that actually had a pulse.”
“Well, you’re my first pulse-taking dream boy,” and I saw that she immediately regretted picking up my terminology. “Anyway,” she added quickly, “I still don’t think we’re dreaming.”
She was convinced, and her certainty was having its sway over my racing thoughts. No, this wasn’t like any dream that I had ever had, either. Dreams always seemed to have a misty, unfocused quality that was familiar and obvious. I’m dreaming.
But this wasn’t like that, at all. Did I mention that we were both calm and collected?
I turned and sat back down on the edge of the bed. I looked around the room again. No, I hadn’t missed anything important on my first scan. I guess that I continued to keep the corner of my eye on the boy in the mirror. Then a question came to me.
“How old are you, Sam?”
“I’m . . . I’ll be 61 in November.”
I looked at her intently.
Something clicked. I had figured out something, because I had just turned 60 in January myself.
“Lookin’ pretty good for an old broad, Sam,” I said, purposefully looking her from toes to head. I must still be me (all grown up), I would never have had the gumption to cast a flirty line like that at a girl when I was actually a teenager.
“Well, obviously this body doesn’t have 60 years on it, but that’s how old I am.”
I nodded. Looked full in the mirror across from me again, back to her, then back down to my hands, torso, legs, and feet.
“We’re about the same age, Sam.” She nodded in agreement and seemed to have reached some conclusion that she had wondered about me. That we’re in the same boat look of resigned understanding. I think that she had been sitting there, watching me sleep, and wondering how old I was going to be when I woke up . . . . inside and out.
So, I wasn’t having a fantasy dream about hooking up with one of my old school mates. We were both conscious, separate minds, in the same play. We were both young again, but we were apparently still US. Senior adult minds inhabiting teenage model bodies, and she didn’t think it was a dream. Mine or hers. I wasn’t sure what to think.
“So, we’re what . . . two 60 year old codgers whose conscious minds have somehow traveled back in time to inhabit our . . . what . . . 16 year old bodies?”
“No. I don’t think we’re in the past, either,” she said with her second statement of conviction.
She sounded like someone who had already given her (our) plight a great deal of thought and contemplation, which reminded me that I had just rolled out of bed into this . . . scene.
“How did you get here, Sam?”
“Same way you did. I woke up.”
“Here in this bed?”
“No . . . I woke up in my bed.”
“Yes. In my bed. This is the house where I spent the first 17 years of my life.”