Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Endless Roads

I had the dream again last night. A Dodge van, packed with cardboard cases of flowers, just arrived at a small town airport. Arkansas County road signs passing us by at dawn as my old friends, frozen in time at about their mid twenties, singing Christian hymns and a few songs they’ve written themselves. Someone has a guitar with part of the finish scraped away around the sound hole by the aggressive pounding of the pick. Then a group prayer, then the team mother, a Japanese woman, passes out the simple breakfast of yogurt and granaola. Meanwhile the team captain never takes his eyes off the road as time passes us all by very fast.

Everyone is frozen in the flower of their youth, which will fade off stage like the roses in the boxes. All except me, who has faded already, who am not frozen in time, but sitting among them, the way I remember them, I am as I am; vain about my hair, bad feet, bad breath – unless I chew gum- thick bearded and slightly over weight, like an Arab oil sheik down on his luck.

I’m chatting with Mariko-san, the team mother who someday will be married off to an American I know named Ray, I tell Mariko that I’m only going to be doing this for two weeks and then I have to go home. I have a family, a kid getting ready for college and a job to get back to. She gives me a sad knowing look, as though this were all beneath me.

They drop me off in a small town with a carton of roses and a bucket. If the cops kick you out, leave a not under the post office flag pole and hitch to the next town. “What town is this?” I shout at the tail lights as the van toddles back onto the highway and speeds off. And suddenly I’m very afraid.

“One should not be afraid of new things,” I whisper to myself or god or someone and then I wake up in the dark.

The little news anchor that lives in my head says “Good morning,” and even though I don’t want to hear it rattles off the ticker tape of the coming day’s events and things that need to get done, and unsettled worries and problems, mostly to do with money. I don’t want to remember those things, I want to remember my dream. I want to remember the words to the song we were singing before breakfast, what was it? I want to wake up my wife and ask her, because I think she might know. She knew that life. She is the last remaining relic of it. Does she ever dream about the old days? Why do I never ask her what she dreams? What the hell is wrong with me these days? How did I become this?

The past is never far from me, I hug it close. I don’t want closure, on the contrary I want to remember, the way a historian would want to remember. If it weren’t for my wife and my photos I would believe it was all a strange dream after all. I wish I’d had a better camera in those days. I wish I’d written better diaries, knowing someday I’d want to remember. The past defines us. In an age where everything changes so fast and often catastrophically, we’re always a little lost, a little undefined to ourselves. It makes us hungrier than ever to fill up the spiritual gap with something by which we can define ourselves to ourselves and others. There is a great hunger for intimacy in our culture which seems to increase in proportion to our personal freedom to define ourselves but too often without the interior life that would help us define ourselves.

In myself there is also a great craving for intimacy. When I leave the house, and step out into the world I know I’ll feel the walls come up around me. Even though I like people, I will find it suffocatingly difficult to hold small talk with them, and the people will sense it too, my discomfort, an unspoken desire to be alone. Living communally all my life, among people I felt close to, I never had to learn the social craft of making friends or simply putting aside my plans to chat with others. But out in the world, I am contained within my solitude and it takes a great emotional effort to leave my inner speculations and just reach across to others for that human touch.

Why do I dream of them thirty years later? What does the dream mean?

As writers we deal in images. Images are our stock and trade. Image is how I write. I begin with a compelling image and try to explain it to myself. It’s the seed from which a story sprouts and I seek out images. Images are the language by which the unconscious makes a statement to us. The unconscious doesn’t distinguish between fantasy and reality, and it doesn’t use language. When I’m in the old van on the road with my young friends, this is a very complex image. Its an encapsulation of ideas, mixed into a pungent stew of words and activities. Its an image of having one foot in both worlds, the world of the past which was so carefree, and a world in the present where I worry about taking care of my family in a bad economy. A world where I was free of my solitude, and in the constant company of the known and loved, my big messy family. And all the while promising them to return to the responsibilities of my present day family. It was a world of adventure and instability, suitable for a young man, whereas these days I long for routine and predictability.

Rather than let go of the past, when I meditate, sometimes I try to bring all the various images I can find from the present to very earliest possible. I want to string them together like beads to try to get a sense of who this person is and whether or not he’s real or if I just imagined him. I wonder if the day will come when I will wake up in the back of a jostling van speeding down a county road and look out the window with confusion and wonder and say to the young Japanese lady sitting next to me “I just had the strangest dream. I just dreamed I was a frightened middle aged civil servant with a family and bills to pay. God, I’m glad it was only a dream.”

C Sanchez-Garcia


  1. Hiya Garce, me again. In a Dr. Who episode the point was made that we are all composed of our recollections of our past...kind of Christmas-Carol-y. If you take any of the experiences away, then the person left will be totally different.

    I got a tattoo when I was 19, to remind me of when I was young and stupid (read: carefree and irresponsible). I didn't get another one until my 10th wedding anniversary, when I got my husband's name in a heart on my upper thigh. Then I began to plan each new one on the way home from getting the last one. Recently I got a romance novel cover with my mother's name on it, because she passed away in December and I still haven't come to terms with my loss.

    A columnist I admire wrote that he thinks tattoos are a kind of prayer...a way for the person to use their skin as a canvas to display parts of their soul. I like that idea.

    Quite frankly, I was only totally irresponsible for a very short time in years, compared to how old I am now, this side of 50. If I would have known the crushing responsibility I'd have to take on, taking over total care for both of my parents over 4 years ago, when Dad was dying of cancer and Mom was diagnosed with dementia which took 4 years to steal her mind from her, and her from me, bit-by-bit, until daily sobbing became a habit, I'd have taken double the amount of years to be irresponsible.

    I think that's what they mean about youth being wasted on the young. I thought I had an excellent time when I was young, but I look back and it seems that couldn't possibly have been me...but it was.

    So like you, I'm not seeking closure...not quite yet.
    Thanks again for making me think, as usual.

  2. Garce,

    Another post to make me think. You know, I think I've seen your view of your past communal life, or at least your presentation of it, change over the time you've been a member of the Grip. A while back there would have been a lot more anger in this post and less nostalgia.

    I do wonder, though, why you don't ask your wife about the songs and the memories. You might discover new things about yourself - and her.


  3. Hiya Fiona!

    I just came back from my church where it was Buddhist night, and I was thinking about what you dsaid that we are composed of our memories. It's part of our identity, its part of the way we think of ourselves. What's amazing is that we are even composed of the memories we don;t remember anymore.

    I've never gotten a tattoo yet. I always associate them with pain. When I see a girl with a lot of tattoos I wonder to myself is she is a "bottom" or a masochist to some extent. Not just one tattoo, but a lot.

    Isn;t it funny how we look back on our younger days and it seems like a different person? Yet we really bear the karma of the decisions we made at that time.


  4. hi Lisabet!

    Sometimes we talk about the old days, it comes up. She has the same issues, the same questions as to what it all means. She's become a serious Christian, and I've become more or less a Unitarian mystic. But in the end its just trying to come to grips with God and the world as we've found it.

    That's an interesting observation you've made. I hope you;re right. I suppose in some ways OGG is a kind of therapy for me. Its given me a way to air out some of the past and make my peace with it, which is a necessary thing. I don;t think I'm all that unique here, because what I realise when I hear other people's stories, is that if you live long enough there will be a big chunk of your life you'll have serious doubts about, a religion, a career, usually a marriage, something that didn't turn out right, I think this really happens to a lot of people and they just have to take a position towards it over time.


  5. Garce, amen to your suggesting that we all have event/decisions in our lives that we have doubts about years later. If I hadn't stayed home with my kids working crappy night-jobs when husband was home, I'd be making enough money now to not feel so threatened by the economy. Or maybe I'd have been laid off? Who knows?

    I think the real challenge in life is to learn to be philosophical about your regrets. We all have them, but do you let them ruin the life you still have to lead, or do you file them under "lessons learned" in your brain and move on?
    I have told my kids that some people grow wiser as they age, and some stay as dumb as a rock, like they were when younger. I'm trying to be one of the former!

  6. I think its the mistakes we make more than our successes that lead to our connection with the rest of the people out there who are fighting a hard battle day by day. I think.