IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
By Dolores J. Nurss
Volume 1: Welcome to the Charadoc!
I patched together this sequence around separate fragments
of dreams. I knew of Mischa's and Imad's
tragedy because of their presence (with Mischa swollen from her injuries, and
me well-aware of why) in a sequence of dreams about a rebel ritual. I intended this scene to provide the
necessary backstory. I combined it with
a different, ill-remembered fragment about little girls scarring their lips,
and this having something to do with fearing being too attractive. That, plus a fragment about someone
frightening girls on horseback. I did
not actually dream about this stage of Malcolm's life, though I have dreamed of
a later version of Malcolm making reference to his past; this is all backstory.
I did dream of Deirdre being a slave of the revolution, held
in an abandoned and jungle-overgrown University, with a chain hooked onto a
collar around her neck. When I began to
fictionalize those dreams (having no clear memories of her duties as a slave) I
happened to work at UCSF Medical Center and this colored the writing--she evolved
into a medic, a role to which she stuck in subsequent dreams.
It seems to me that mutual dreaming, unless deliberately
induced (and even then, who knows?) reflects more than just a telepathic
connection between people--there has to be some particular reason why somebody
else's dream also has something to say to you.
And it doesn't necessarily have to be the same thing, either, as the
meanings of symbols vary from person to person.
I also postulate that this has to also be true of fictional characters,
certainly if one writes intuitively as opposed to cranking out pre-calculated
formula (but even then—can one really exclude the Unconscious from a work of
art?) and especially if one writes from dreams (though this passage just sort
of erupted, fitting in with dreamed material.)
So this sets up the task of analyzing the nesting dreams for what they
mean to Malcolm, Deirdre, and me.
Malcolm: He had one dream, that attempted to alert him to an
unwholesome situation--that Reynaud Mukheymer was molesting children--but he
didn't want to go there. His dream
alters day-residue to call attention to things not said, but what he might have
figured out for himself, between his encounters with the scarred young girls
afraid to improve their looks, and the telling list of books that Mukheymer
Senior gave to him, on top of experience of his own. But since he resisted thinking such things
consciously (perhaps from past embarrassments when he overreacted to something
innocent, as survivors often do?) the dream tried to bring his unconscious
insight to the fore.
His dream changes the motorcycle into a horse, in part to
take advantage of his own racing heart and breathlessness in sleep apnea, but
only in the sense that dreams communicate by a collage of whatever imagery
comes to hand (including, sometimes, psi material.) Girls on the edge of puberty often become
enamored of horses, as an unconscious way to prepare for their pending
sexuality. Horses are these huge, virile
beasts, and when a girl rides them the saddle makes rhythmical contact with her
privates, yet at the same time the girl holds the reins and takes complete
control of where the horse will take her: an excellent metaphor for a girl's
preparation to take control of her sexuality.
Yet in Malcolm's dream, Reynaud takes underage servant-girls (who have
no real consent) on horse-rides that go way too fast and frighten them to
breathlessness (loss of pneuma; the soul-loss that accompanies trauma.) And he controls the reins, not them; they can
only hold on tightly to the very man who frightens them. This makes a good metaphor for the helpless premature
sexualization of molestation.
Deirdre: She has two
dreams: Malcolm's dream, and a false awakening that for Malcolm was a true
awakening. She allows herself a quick
dream analysis and says that the dream reflects her own shame at having led a
"fat" life before her capture, willfully ignorant of the suffering
and hunger all around her--true as far as it goes, but she's missing still
The fat life is one extreme of her moral dilemma. The other is the temptation that she does not
admit to facing: complicity in rushing children to premature adulthood--the
crime of cooperating, unprotesting, with making soldiers out of children, for
which molestation becomes an apt metaphor.
Her time at the University (where Malcolm hopes to scavenge books) is
more than just an educational experience--anything she learns here will have to
be abnormal psychology, one way or the other.
She cannot stand by as an academic observer.
For a long time I could not imagine any third course for her. Then I dreamed about The Don, trying to show
her the way (in a later volume) though she did not take it. Small wonder—it requires a saint, and few of
us take the time and discipline to ready ourselves for those opportunities that
could make saints of us. I wonder if I
could have answered that call, under those circumstances—but apparently, in my
sleep, I didn’t.
I record what decisions Deirdre made, and hope that this
spurs readers to brainstorm on possible alternatives--the same thing that one
desires to do when telling tragic stories from history. People talk about science fiction foretelling
the future, but far more often it tells of a tragic future history in the hopes
that, if the reader pays attention, history will not "repeat"
itself--an attempt to jump the gun on 20/20 hindsight.
Let’s backtrack to Deirdre’s interpretation, and the flaws
in it. In the first dream Malcolm faces
his own compulsive nature--that is no particular revelation to him, though it
should alert him to the fact that Reynaud's compulsion bears some relation to
his own. But for slender little Deirdre,
the fact that it comes up in the dream has to make it a metaphor of a different
The compulsion to overeat differs from addictions to drugs,
alcohol, gambling, etc., in that it is rises from something wholesome: nourishment. Fat comes from way too much of a good
thing. Deirdre's overpowering need to be
altruistic has already gotten her in trouble with the Black Clam incident, and
the sins of that experiment-gone-awry have only served to make her still more
compulsive about compensating with good deeds.
She does not see what a light/shadow roller-coaster she rides, or where
it must inevitably take her. So long as
one’s do-gooding comes from compulsion rather than from true generosity of
spirit, of happiness in giving, one’s good deeds will always cast a deep shadow,
leading to piling mistake upon mistake the more one strives after perfection,
until one feels utterly encrusted in errors, overwhelmed by a sense of
helplessness, of life having gone out of control. Like Malcolm's sleep apnea, she strangles on
good intentions and someday it may very well kill her. And like the detail about the chair, the
ordinary furnishings of life ("antique" here meaning traditional,
longstanding) cannot sustain a compulsion like hers--she cannot really
fit. (Yes, I am taking notes here for
me, as well!)
Of course, if characters always paid attention to their
dreams, we wouldn't have a story!
Me: Now it gets hard
(of course!) These dreams, from which I
spun this segment, stretch from elementary school in the early
nineteen-sixties, to the present twenty-first century; therefore they can no
longer be analyzed for content pertinent to concurrent waking-life
dilemmas. What good is all this, then? If they all tie together, through such an
expanse of time, then they must reflect ongoing themes, with deep roots, that I
must deal with.
Some of this I will discuss in a future chapter, about the
dream that introduced me to Mischa and Imad.
Suffice to say that I did not consciously invent Mischa's horrific
injuries, or their cause. I dreamed
them, but also it’s a long-established fact that rape and molestation follow
oppression like flies flock to bloodshed.
The little girls who mutilated their lips: Although an adult dream, this related to a
childhood problem, the ghosts of which remain, long after the demise of the
original issue. I entered school with a
freakishly huge vocabulary, plus a habit of innocently throwing archaisms into
my speech, which I'd picked up from the old poetry that Grandma used to read to
me for bedtime stories. Children
ridiculed me for it, and when I went to teachers in tears, they told me with
stern faces that the other kids did this out of jealousy. I interpreted their frowning as meaning that
I was to blame for making the other children jealous, so I struggled to
dumb-down my words, which produced a huge stuttering problem. In effect, I mutilated my "mouth"
in order to not be so "attractive" that I would incite jealousy.
These days you can’t shut me up. I speak long and enthusiastically about
anything and everything! However, I do
it in the folksy manner of one who has never gotten past junior college. I never worked up the courage to finish any
scholarship forms given me, back when I was young enough to qualify—another way
to mutilate my mouth.
The horse changing to a motorcycle. After his divorce from Mom, Dad moved to
Arizona, where he'd visit various tribes of Indians on horseback, including
Yaquis. But that wasn't really his first
encounter with a Yaqui, of course. His
first encounter took place at age fourteen when he gave my mother (then twelve
years old) a ride on his motorcycle and they became romantically involved
(though he said he did not "know" her till they married two years
later.) Even so, this was an inappropriate,
precocious courtship. (And what was he
doing riding a motorcycle at 14, himself?
Always abnormally tall, he had no difficulty passing for adult, buying
cigarettes, hanging out in bars, etc.)
(I did not dream of Malcolm witnessing Reynaud riding the
motorcycle, but I did dream of a rebel stealing a motorcycle from a rich man
“who needed killing” with strong implications that it had been Reynaud. I can analyze that dream later, in another
volume, where it belongs.)
This part gave me the clue to all the rest. I have a great insecurity about my
worth, constantly trying to be good, and
constantly feeling inherently bad. I
figuratively mutilate myself rather than lay blame on anybody else for things
that aren't actually my fault. And
why? Because even though Mom was
seventeen by the time I came along, I was born from an inappropriate union that
should not have taken place, between kids who grew up too fast. And, among those too young for parenthood,
mistakes happen. I keep trying to prove
that I have a right to exist, and not really believing it, myself, the more I
try to prove it
In this I took comfort from Buddy (Malcolm resembles an
enormous exaggeration of Buddy, the good man who raised me as his own, my
dearest step-grandpa) a man who bore scars because his own mother's husband
suspected that he might not really have been his son, a man who had the courage
to not let his suspect beginnings poison his life. Who, in fact, did the opposite of his own
upbringing, by cherishing with all his heart two troubled children not even
quite of the same race, and a man whom I loved all the more for not being my literal father and yet more of a father than
anybody had the right to ask.
“What blunt object…”
What blunt objections? Na´ve
adults tried to scold me out of PTSD. It
only made it worse, their anger and frustration penetrating deep into me,
furthering the self-hatred, mutilating the life-force in me. Which, in a way, was a good thing, in the
long run, for now, like Malcolm, I now know “what doesn’t work”. And, having that out of the way, it frees me
to learn what does—not only for myself, but for others. (And no, dreams don’t care about common decency when trying to get their messages
across. If an almost unthinkable horror
communicates something most succinctly, dreams will use it.) Facing Mischa’s injury, and her delusions of
complicity in that she didn’t scar her lips, helps me see my own lack of complicity
in my soul-injuries, which gives them a chance to heal. And as I find my way towards healing, I can
help others find their way, as well.
(They say that you cannot heal others until you heal
yourself, but nobody ever heals themselves perfectly. Rather, I contend, you find your way
together. Helping others gives you
insight into your own situation. Your
own situation gives you insight useful to others. Like wounded soldiers, leaning on each other
to make it off the battlefield, we get through life by simultaneously giving