The Distinction Between Sleep And Death Is Only Clear Upon Waking


I keep on having these dreams about my dad. It’s nice to have dreams that seem meaningful or poignant. I usually dream about the dullest things, like that I’m sleeping or watching a movie, and I’d hate to think that these boring, insipid dreams are revealing of the depth of my unconscious.

I keep on having these dreams about my dad. Which is ironic, since not long after he passed away my half-sister (that is, a fully-formed person related to me only via my father) kept calling me up to rattle on about the dreams she had of him (our mutual dad, that is), mercilessly bludgeoning me with these incredibly thorough retellings, on and on, completely oblivious to the fact that maybe I did not want to talk about her dreams, that perhaps I found them embarrassingly self-indulgent or maudlin, or maybe even that I was just bored by them, to say nothing of the disturbingly egotistical notion that he was communicating to her with these dreams, always asking, Do you think he’s trying to speak to me? Have you been having dreams like this?, on and on, apparently just stone-deaf to my increasingly laconic replies, my eventual out-and-out admittance that Ummm…no, to be honest, I think you’re just dreaming about him, I wouldn’t really apply any transcendental, spiritual, realm-crossing importance to it, it seems incredibly (almost banally) normal to process grief via dreams, just totally obtuse regarding my discomfort around the issue, not to mention her being the kind of person who continually talks and talks, not so much with you as at you, rarely pausing to ask you how you are doing or even to check to see if you’re still there listening, really just grotesquely self-centered, our relationship (needless to say) having always been a strained and stilted one, her perhaps not even realizing that I felt some sense of guilt or self-reproach because I was not (at the time) having similar dreams, that I was in fact enjoying soulless, monolithic sleep on a nightly basis, the sleep of Those Not Chosen for Contact, the whole situation of course all the more perturbing once I considered just how hypocritically selfish and petulant my response to her dreams was…

I keep on having these dreams about my dad. Well, that’s kind of misleading because he’s not in the dreams, per se. In these dreams, in which I seem to be still living at home, I become suddenly aware that I’ve not seen/heard from my dad in a very long time; the amount of time varies anywhere from weeks to years. Regardless, it is a long enough period of time for it to be conspicuous that it is just now dawning on me, Uh, hey, is dad okay? And where is he? That’s another aspect of the dream, the ambiguity regarding my dad’s location/status, which dawns on me in that “I’ve forgotten something very important” quality nightmares often have – as if I’ve sort of misplaced my father. Since I’m apparently still living at home, it’s doubly odd and disconcerting that I have not seen/spoken to him in so long. Did he move out? Did he and my mom get a divorce? Is he okay? Why hasn’t he contacted us? Of course, perhaps most terrifying of all is the within-dream realization that this is only just now occurring to me, my dad’s unexplained absence, after several weeks, months, or even years; there are some incarnations of the dream where I actually go, Gee, I haven’t seen or heard from my dad in five years. Also, this is the first time I’ve really noticed his disappearance. Huh. It’s kind of like those commercials that were on the evening news years back: It’s 11 o’clock – do you know where your children are? Except this is more like: It’s been five years – do you know where your Ghost Dad is?

I keep on having these dreams about my dad. Although, upon closer inspection, it seems that the dreams are actually about some self-conscious shame that I did not grieve enough over my dad’s death, that, in a sense, my unconscious has never fully accepted or even acknowledged my dad’s death. So in these dreams I am forced to continually come to terms with/symbolically relive my dad’s death, although of course the fact that I am dreaming these self-centered, meta-dreams about grief, rather than having the presumably cathartic, grieving dreams that a normal (i.e., non-asshole) grieving person might have makes my real-life guilt and shame all the more pronounced. This presumably leads to more meta-grief dreams, further perpetuating the, if not quite vicious, certainly disagreeable cycle. Although it’s also kind of like, Well, Ghost Dad’s not exactly busting down the door to see me either, now is he? But since my Ghost Dad is really just a product of my own unconscious, I suppose the point is moot.

I keep on having these dreams about my dad. In some of the dreams, the better ones, I call him on the phone. In these versions I dimly recall that my dad has moved out and is no longer with my mom, yet it’s unclear whether the arrangement is temporary or permanent. The impression is that he is unhappy, alone, and suffering some sort of crisis or late-in-life change, and that he is basically living a depressing bachelor existence like some of kind of sad Raymond Carver character. I don’t remember anything we say during these conversations. For some reason the visual perspective of the dream changes, switching from my first person point-of-view to an almost edited version of the conversation that alternates between both of our locations. I can see that his new apartment is nothing to brag about, but I never actually see him somehow. I can like see the hazy outline of his body, maybe, but that’s it – you know how dreams can get sort of abstract when it comes to visual representations. Anyway, I call him and we talk. This portion of the dream’s tone could be best described as bittersweet. I think some versions have ended with us pledging to get together or hang out or what have you, maybe heading over to an anachronistic Shea Stadium or out for some pizza. Then we hang up and I wake up.

I keep on having these dreams about my dad. The other two recurring dreams I continually suffer from are that I am driving a car that I cannot steer and of being required to re-enroll in high school at my current age. Neither is pleasant. My father was very good at building things and had a soft spot for cats. There is a legend about an eccentric 18th century American businessman named Timothy Dexter who faked his own death and watched his funeral from a hiding spot; he supposedly beat his wife in the middle of it because he thought she wasn’t grieving enough. I have several recollections of my father intoxicated and inexplicably sucking on a lollipop. The 1990 comedic effort Ghost Dad is for serious Cosby fans only. My father enjoyed car racing; I went through a period of watching NASCAR with him because it was the only sport he consistently followed and sons have an instinctual desire to watch sports with their fathers. I would never, ever watch a car race now. Like most people, I like to think I have something better to do with my time than watch a bunch of guys chasing their own tails, thank you very much.