“People who have hallucinations after operations sometimes don’t seem to come all the way back. Part of them gets lost. The hallucination can be at least as good, as powerful and compelling and meaningful as real life. Especially since real life is as a patient, the victim of a disease. The hallucination is so engrossing that they don’t want to leave it behind. I’m afraid that will happen with me.”
That paragraph was written by a friend of mine and published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in December 2009, in a novelette titled “I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said.” It is part of a larger novel in the works, My Life in Speculative Fiction, I believe. His name is Richard Bowes, and he has won the World Fantasy Award and much attention from serious readers and publishers.
The title is a kind of double twist on, for one, a Philip K. Dick novel, Flow My Tears the Policeman Said. (Dick, as you may know, is the author of multiple SF classics; and since his indigent death, many of these have been adapted to film, such as Blade Runner, originally titled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
All of which owes life to an Elizabethan poet and composer, John Dowland, “Kind of the Kurt Cobain of Elizabethan England.” — Richard Bowes. Dowland wrote the song/poem, “Flow My Tears.” Part of which is:
oh now I needs must part,
Parting though I absent mourn.
Absence can no joy impart:
Joy once fled cannot return.
Sad despair doth drive me hence,
This despair unkindness sends.
If that parting be offence,
It is I which then offends.
It is great stuff for the self-indulgent romantic, the pretentious tubercular, or victim of some other life-threatening deal, the body betraying its host. It happens and the temptation to romanticize freaking everything (and depress everyone within reach) can be a terminal symptom.
Which leads me to personal, confessional stuff; I’ve done it many times before and have been met with both applause and disdain for it.
Since my quadruple bypass seven years ago, I have had recurring nightmares that began, I think, in the intensive care ward at Mercy. Here’s the confessional part.
I dreamed I was driving (though my license was to be pulled, and I didn’t know that at the time, by the DMV because of cardiac failure and their vision that I would collapse behind the wheel). I hit a young deer on a rural road, a fawn. I did not kill it but nearly so. I got out of the car and found a rock to crush its skull and end its pain. I began and within a blow or two the fawn transformed into my son at a young age — just past toddlerhood. I killed him before I knew it. This is the first time I have ever related this dream, much less published it. I killed my son.
Another recurring dream since intensive care has been illicit adventures with my brother Paul, who died some years ago from a feral bone cancer. He is most often with me in my dreams these days, and frequently we are doing something vaguely illegal — setting fire to piles of raked, dead leaves; stealing jewelry from Marshall Fields in Chicago (something we would never conceive of); and torturing bullies with dental equipment (satisfying, but again, never happened).
Since open-heart surgery and recovery, dating exactly from that weekend seven years ago, is the dream of being apprehended for crimes I never committed but for which there is always proof: photographs, dream videotapes of me introducing alcohol to minors in an insistent way and giving them drugs in glassine envelopes, the names of which I don’t even know to this day. Did I indicate that this is something I never contemplated?
The dream that takes the cake, one that dates from ICU seven years ago and pops up at random but too often, is this: being part of a web or — what? — a conglomerate of green lights floating in space. I recognize these as information on vital sign monitors in hospitals: a universe of terminal patients with inconsequential information they are determined to impart. Bowes writes about something very similar. Ironic, and I don’t remember ever speaking with him about this particular image.
I have few erotic dreams, but I do dream of women, former companions I loved but alienated, with drinking mostly. They come to me at night and seem to forgive me, but in waking reality they (sensibly) want as little as possible to do with me. Loneliness is a trigger for inebriation and one I’ve ignored because I thought it did not apply. You are born alone and you die alone. Existential machismo that qualifies as bullshit as surely as the illusion of immortality.