Friday, February 19, 2010



In the middle of the night I was crying. I had had another of these recent emotional dreams that had all the power of nightmares but seemed to be the opposite. In the dream I was going late at night to take my turn at a third rate hospital in Naples Florida where my father was dying. There was his death and there was also, hanging over it, that my brother had run out, headed to the airport after saying he was going back to the condo to be with our needy mother.

My almost ex wife had stayed on with me. I could tell my father knew what was happening when she was cutting his fingernails and toenails, something people did for each other in my wife’s culture but certainly not my family’s. I could tell he knew and I was grateful at least for that. My almost ex-wife and I would take turns in his room, one of us looking after the dying man, the other staying with my drinking mother. In Dad’s room I was unable to do anything about the pain of the spreading cancer that had left his chest a slimy open wound. I had been unable to get through to the third rate doctor, who, apparently fearing lawsuits, was stingy with the morphine. And part of the horror was that my mother would not come to the hospital. She did not believe us when we said it was clear to us that my father wanted her there. She said he would not recognize her for he was in a coma, and although we knew differently, the day she did dress herself and come over he did not seem to notice her, nor even his sweet, sad-eyed young private nurse, nor me. But I knew that he knew his son the good twin had fled and his wife, my mother, would not come. And I knew that he would know that his sister, my rakish Aunt Betsy, would not come either. From New Hampshire she said she knew about comas – the supposed coma also used by my brother’s wife, and the wife of my father’s late brother to say why they would not come.

These things I was talking about so freely just three years later when the time of change was underway were in my mind at the time, even if I did not quite put them together. And now I had this dream in which I was headed over, as I had done a number of times, to the sprawling hospital very late at night after all the doors were locked, when even death watch visitors were supposed to stay away. I snuck in by an obscure unlocked entrance the nurses had shown me – and up till this point the dream was exactly the way it had happened, and then in the dream it seemed so certain that I had entered a community here, almost a secret society community. The nurses and nurses' helpers and I would meet at all hours, especially in these middle of the night hours when they were not supposed to let me in. Me and these nurses united, as in a community.

The actual time of the death scene in Naples was in 1983, just three years back. Another night when I awoke in tears I had gone back 15 years.

That dream took place in a time I was on the North Shore of Long Island, where I actually had gone to stay in winter in a summer cottage built on pilings. I could look down from the small front windows right into the water of the bay. Right onto the ice. That unusually cold winter of 1970-71. That year the mostly salt water bay froze over, shore to shore, and people chopped holes in the ice to lower lines to get fish to kill, and then they were driving over the ice in their cars. There were shaky stone slabs that were steps on the path leading down to the cottage. They were coated with ice, and one night when I had returned on the train, nearly passed out until the conductor made sure I made my stop, I had come back by cab, and then slid down the steps and cut the underside of my lip so deeply it had seemed the bleeding would never stop.

All winter I was there on the frozen bay without a phone – so that I would not make boozy and expensive and embarrassing long distance calls in the middle of the night. I was without a car – though I could have afforded an old car that year with my book advance. Every few days I would walk to the railroad station and take a very slow Long Island Railroad train into the city, where I had a brief affair with my editor’s assistant – a girl who turned out to be the daughter of someone in publishing with whom, it seemed likely to us, my father had had an affair – this affair of mine under the surface for this girl was getting married to an academic. I was in bed with her on the upper East Side one morning after a very late night out with her. The door buzzer woke us and she suddenly remembered this was the morning of her wedding shower and the buzzer meant guests were already arriving. With no time, I was hustled to the back door carrying my clothes to get dressed shivering by the service elevator. I had thought when laughing with her in her office and drinking with her afterwards that she might be the girl, though there ever being a the girl was seeming less and less likely.

In the city I was also going to parties with famous and semi-famous people – David Rockefeller, Bill Moyers, Sargeant Shriver, thanks to my editor, for my novel was in production via the then fashionable Harper’s Magazine Press. And it seemed like death all the time. My life over. I saw an a final bound copy of the book by chance in the window of a small bookstore run by elderly Romanian émigrés in Northport. And although they seemed delighted to have me walk in, I could not believe someone had not put them up to it.

It was an end-of-the-road sort of time in what I had always thought, getting a novel published, would be the very best time of my life. The dark and dead time.

It was true that now in this eventful year I was also having frightening dreams of being lost or trapped in dark, dense woods that were partly 17th century Dutch landscape woods but were also New Hampshire woods of my childhood. But even more striking to me were these latest emotional dreams, like the one in the Naples hospital, in which everything was the way it had actually been. And then came a further dream in which I might be in a dark but comforting place somewhere near the Northport railroad station, a place where I would be sitting in a circle with supportive people, telling them about my life, asking them about theirs, talking and listening, so close with actual people in a way I had not then known from life. And it was as if I were now in some heightened but very real reality. A community again, a community such as I would most of my life have avoided.

This dream not ending at any actual scene from past time but it seeming, as in that group of sympathetic people near the station, that past time could in some way be this new time – the opposite of a nightmare.

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