By BG © 2005
A note from the author: McGrupp has encouraged me to write something a little bit bigger than what I've been chipping away at here. Actually, he's been on my ass about it, but that's a good thing. This is the first draft of the first chapter I've written in that "something a little bit bigger" I want to tackle. The dream is mine (and rather fucked up), but Langston is a guy who's been writing and re-writing on the same manuscript for nearly fifteen years, and only his shrink knows he's been writing. He's never told anyone else. Oh, and his mom is a well-respected novelist.
It was, as it usually was, a mercifully short wait for Dr. Meyer. In those minutes prior to our sessions alone in the waiting room, I had moved well past my initial inclination to sprint for the exit doors and now was content to leaf through three month old issues of Architectural Digest, even though I couldn't tell Doric from Ionic without a cheat sheet.
Not that people are utilizing Roman columns the way they used to, I mused with a sideways smirk. If you can't get them at Home Depot, or buy them out of the box at Crate and Barrel or IKEA, America doesn't want them anyway. Of course, all it's going to take to bring them back is for one rapper to show up on MTV's Cribs with a Gladiator fetish (as opposed to the usual predilection to Tony Montana), a pool surrounded by a mock-up of the Coliseum, and the words, "Russell Crowe, now that's my nigga."
Maybe instead of iced out platinum chains and medallions, you'll see brothas rockin' gold plated olive branch crowns and trading their gats for broad swords.
"Langston, sorry to keep you waiting. Why don't you come on in and grab a seat." Doc's office was large and comfortable, outfitted with couches, chairs, his desk, books - all the things you expect and desire from your shrink. As usual, I took one of the two low-slung leather chairs with the ottoman right out of the picture in the Pottery Barn catalog. Doc took the other.
I always took this chair. It faced the back corner of Doc's office, in which a tall and colorful metal sculpture was placed. Actually, it was more fair to say it was perched over there, as it seemed to both hulk over and cascade down and around a single fulcrum point where its shape and perceived bulk gave an illusory nod to the forces of gravity. It looked like it should be falling off of the base - as a matter of fact it looked as if it were in mid-topple - but was always balanced in the same position.
I've never been one to truly understand art, but I loved this piece. I asked Doc about it in one of my early sessions, and he brushed me off. "You can tell me what you think about that whenever you're ready."
It had been nearly five years of weekly sessions, and I hadn't given it a lot of thought since.
"So, Langston... How have you been doing this week? Is there anything in particular you wanted to talk about today?"
"Actually, I had a dream." Dr. Meyer smiled. I rarely had dreams I remembered in the morning, and the "dream journal" idea he had proposed years ago had been a colossal failure.
"Wow, great. Throw me a curveball this week, why don't you? I'm ready, let's dive in."
"Are you familiar with the game Cutthroat?"
Dr. Meyer nodded and started jotting notes in his spiral. "Billiards - pool, right? That Cutthroat?"
"Right. I was playing against two guys..."
"Guys you know? People you know?" I shook my head. "Who were these guys then?"
"This is the weird part." I shuffled up in my seat, eager to get this dream out in front of the Doc. "It was obvious there was a lot riding on this game. So much so that we all were playing incredibly defensive pool - playing not to lose, if you will. Shot after shot was executed to simply make the next guy's shot that much harder."
Doc jumped in, "You were guarding something. So were they."
"Yeah, so were they. It went on like this for a little while, and I finally relented and laid my cue down on the table. I gave up, declared a stalemate - which I guess meant I was the loser. So the guys come up to me and grab me by the shoulders..."
"Violently? Or gently, as if they're taking you somewhere?"
"Gently, I guess. One of the guys says, 'You know you're done, right?' I nod and he adds, 'We're going to put things back the way they should be, and there's nothing you can do about it now.'"
Dr. Meyer perked up instantly. "There's nothing you can do about what?"
"Time. They were going to wind time back. The guys locked me in a bathroom, and I took a seat on the toilet and looked out the back window."
Doc was scribbling furiously in his notebook. Without looking up he said, "I'm not sure what the bathroom means, if anything, but what were you looking at out the window?"
"There was a convenience store. Or, rather, a building that used to obviously house a convenience store. The building was boarded up and run down, and weeds were growing all over the property."
"Do you remember what you were thinking while you were looking out the window?"
"Nothing - not yet at least. I'll get to that. But I can remember feeling defeated. Well, defeated, and that when things started to get reset that I'd be wiped away with them."
"Like everything I had ever done in my life was going to be nullified."
Doc paused to let that last sentence sink in. I'm not sure if he wanted that to sink in for me or for him. "So when everything was all said and done at the end of this - reset of time - you'd be operating with a clean slate?"
"No. Like when everything was all said and done at the end of this, I'd cease to exist at all."
Doc was absentmindedly nibbling on the end of his pen. The silence was loaded. "This isn't quite the same thing as when one dreams about their own mortality, is it? You're not falling out of a plane, you're not jumping off a tall building - none of those things that people do purposefully or accidentally when they dream about death. This isn't a fetishization of death in any sort of sense at all. You played a high-stakes game where your existence - not just your life, but the whole of your existence - was on the line."
I nodded. "Everything I am, everything I've done."
"And what's interesting is that you didn't lose, did you?" I hadn't thought of it that way. I didn't lose. I gave up, resigned, called a stalemate when I knew that doing so was an acquiescence to this fate. I sunk a little lower in the chair and shook my head in agreement. No. I didn't lose. "What happened next?"
"I was sitting on the toilet - just sitting, mind you - and was watching the convenience store out the window. That's when time started rolling backwards. Slowly, at first. The weedy overgrowth started to back down, and then signs of life at the store started to appear. The boarded up windows came down, and there was a sign - a clock - that was one of those red digital scrolling message boards on the outside of the building, and all of a sudden it was on and the time and date on the board kept rolling steadily backwards."
Doc nodded. "Do you remember thinking or feeling anything as you saw this store come back to life?"
"'Stop.' That's one thing. I just wanted everything to stop. Then I started to see landmark dates pass by."
"Which dates? What did they signify?"
"It started as I began to recognize the significant dates. The date of my divorce. The day I left my ex-wife. The day I married her. They kept rolling past me and I just wanted time to stop, just for a minute."
"My first impulse was so that I could fix things. Make things right, or at least more right than they had turned out. But I was locked in the bathroom, sitting on that toilet, completely defeated and unable to do anything. I wanted so badly to get out there and fix things."
"What would you have done to fix them?"
"See, I don't know. It's a different question than if you were to ask me 'What would I do if I had the chance to go back in time to those days?' In the dream, there's a different context."
Dr. Meyer obviously agreed. "I'm glad you understand that. Sometimes what we're thinking and feeling inside of a dream can be taken at face value, sometimes it's thick with subtext, and sometimes there's no sense in trying to break the code at all. What do you think 'fixing these things' meant in the dream?"
"I thought it was a dream about regret, but I'm not so sure anymore. See, the milestones I mentioned already are the most recent ones. Over the last seven or eight years, they're the ones that have most impacted me. But then I started to notice more dates rolling by on that digital board, but they weren't exactly milestones. The last time I was fired from a job... the other time that happened... the day I wrecked my car..."
Dr. Meyer interrupted, "All mistakes? Every one of these dates you noticed in your dream. They're all mistakes." He let that marinate for a moment. "What were you thinking as time continued to roll back?"
"That I was completely powerless to stop the ride, get off, and do anything about anything." I looked over and saw Doc rocking slowly back and forth in his chair, which was what he did when he was waiting for me to fill in the rest of the blank. "I guess this dream wasn't about regret, was it?"
Dr. Meyer set his pen and pad down to the side and leaned forward into the conversation. "We've established this isn't a dream about death, and this isn't a dream about regret. Why is it you chose to only mark mistakes as signposts through your past? Why is there no mention of the day you lost your virginity? Or the days you come back from the track having doubled or tripled your stake? Why aren't you recognizing a first date, a first kiss, first time you tasted success on the job, first time you had five figures in the bank? Why is it you focus so pointedly on mistakes?" I shrugged and shook my head. "Something one of your Cutthroat opponents said to you..." He leafed back a couple pages in his spiral. "'We're going to put things back the way they should be.' What do you suppose you mean by that?"
I huffed and threw away, "That I'm a colossal fuck-up and everything is my fault?"
"Get serious, would you Langston?" Dr. Meyer hated it when I did this. In this room is the only place I felt comfortable getting personal, but sometimes the walls would come up, even in here. "Why do you think things needed to be reset?"
"I don't know Doc, I don't know... I am confused though. Why, if I was so resigned to defeat in this case was I even willing to fight to keep these guys from turning back time to begin with?"
Dr. Meyer began, "You were playing defensive pool, right?" I nodded. "Then you just laid down your cue and gave up, correct?" Again, I agreed. "That's hardly a fight. That's really more of a situation where you're looking to preserve the status quo - a stalemate is essentially a conflict that ends in status quo, isn't it..."
I hated it when the Doc was right.
"You've got a tenuous relationship with your own past. 'The way things should be' is a myth. The past exists as it is, or rather, as it was. And you have a curious way of resigning yourself to the past without accepting it." We sat there in silence for thirty seconds, a minute, while Dr. Meyer let his statement wash through my head. "Answer me out loud this time, first thing that comes into your head. Why is your life's story told through mistakes and failures?"
I took a single beat and answered, "I'm never going to be as successful as my mom, am I?"
Doc grinned and asked me the only question that had survived each and every one of our sessions over the past five years, "So how is that manuscript coming along Langston?"
BG is a writer from Western Michigan.