I woke at four a.m. from the most overwhelmingly frightening nightmare of my life. It contained the usual motifs of a nightmare ... being lost, being late, trying to find the place where I worked only to realize that I was in a town two hours away ... and so on and so forth, one horrible scenario hurriedly morphing into another equally horrible scenario.
What was most frightening though was that when I finally got myself awake I could not sort myself out. I thought I must be having a stroke or something. I could not make anything make sense. There was no one home but me and two cats; Mark and the dog were still in Falmouth where we'd had Thanksgiving Dinner. Now, post-nightmare, the name Mark floated into my mind but I could not quite place him ... I have lived with Mark for something like twenty-six years ... but now he seemed like a vagueness from some long gone past, so far back that I could not even begin to define him. Further, I was unable to realize for a good ten minutes where I was, where I lived, what I did for a living, where I was born. Nothing made sense! Finally, even in the dark, the patchwork-patterned quilt* under which I sleep started to seem familiar. From that recognition I moved on and finally recalled a girl named Abby. I have loved Abby for a long time. She lives just seven miles up the road from my nightmare. I know her to be pitiful at sleeping and so thought she most likely would be awake; I wondered if I should telephone her, identify myself as best I could, and ask if she could fill in some blanks for me ... "Abby? This is George. Do you remember me? Could you tell me where I live?"
Still I feared that this might be the one out of a thousand nights that Abby was actually enjoying a sound sleep.
Then, after some fifteen or twenty minutes of horror at not being able to thoroughly identify myself, I was able, finally, piece by piece, like a jigsaw puzzle, to regain my usual identity. I realized that I was in a house in the Wellfleet woods; I realized that I have a small black pickup truck parked outside; I realized that I had until eight o'clock to drive that truck five miles to my job ... piece by piece, one fact following upon another fact, I managed to re-build myself.
Still there was worry. I wondered if I had not -- overnight as it were -- had not become, from my nightmare, or from my stroke, had not become such a drastically changed person that I would be unrecognized by my co-workers. When I walked into Park Headquarters in what was now about three hours away would someone say "Good morning, George" which would help me be sure that I really am who I am thinking I am, or would someone approach me as if I were a stranger and say, "Good morning, sir! May I help you?" I didn't know how you can be sure you are who you think you are.
Finally, and it had now become about five o'clock in the morning, I was able to pick up a book: Garden, Ashes by a man named Danilo Kis. He (1935-1989) was Yugoslavian; his parents were not Yugoslavian but each had immigrated there from their own different birth countries. I did not have much hope that the book could rivet me from my confused state. I had read up to page 121; it had been beautiful prose throughout but I had begun to wonder when the novel was going to live up to the extremely high recommendation it had been given by the late Susan Sontag, who is one of my favorite writers and intellectuals.
But the story, as if meant to save me from myself, absolutely exploded on page 122 ... or perhaps I should say it imploded and I, mesmerized and levitating, was drawn smack dab into the mid-twentieth-century fashions of Vienna. This book, in that instant, achieved greatness for me; I now recognized where it had all along been coming.
Further, again as if the novel was written to address this very night of my life, as if it had been pre-ordained to refer to the very circumstance of the nightmare I had just had such trouble shaking off, I read on page 157, "I was in a state of such shock following these nightmares that my mother understood they were not something I could easily describe."
(I have the last chapter to read yet, and will post a blog about it when I'm finished.)
When I walked into the building where I work I was recognized. I was soon presenting Sandy, the personnel clerk, a brief description of the horrible night I had just lived through.
"Oh," she said knowingly, "you were in a food-induced coma."
It is true that I was a glutton at Thanksgiving dinner, but I said to Sandy that I had never heard of such a thing as a food-induced coma, and expressed a gentle doubt that such an aberration was defined. "Oh, yes, there most certainly is such a thing," she asserted.
I guess you can learn something new everyday.
For lunch today I had an apple. For dinner this evening I'm having a quarter of Mark's sister Nina's wonderful apple pie, heated, and drenched with half-and-half.
Maybe two apples a day will keep the psychiatrist away.
*In Montreal a few years back I saw a fabulous movie, based on the music of The Beatles, called "Across the Universe". I had no doubt that it would win an Academy Award, but I don't think it was even nominated, and it seemed to just disappear without hardly anyone I know having heard of it, let alone having seen it. But what is my point? Oh, yes, there was on a bed in one of the scenes the very same patchwork patterned quilt I sleep beneath.