By Dolores J. Nurss

Volume III: Responsibility

Chapter 33




          I'm not sure, but I believe that that tent might have given me my first glimpse of prayer-cloths.  The dream became more detailed around Rashid–even the very smell of him, the poor drunken, sweaty little fellow!

          In the actual dream I really did shout out, “What’s the matter with you people?  Don’t you remember what a child is?”  But I also know that, in the waking world, people rarely give you an opportunity to rebut their assumptions.

          And so ended that dream.  I had my own issues, growing up with adult expectations based on the paltry excuse of my accidental intelligence. Later, as an adult, I still blamed myself for immature lapses of judgment in the past, in keeping with my age at the time.  So Branko and Rashid played out different aspects of the unrealistic expectations laid upon me.

          And sheltering in a triangular (trinitarian?) canopy of saints?  A reminder that God does not condemn me for having been too young to be what people wanted at the time, that it was God’s will to protect me from the injustice of others.  But Rashid gets drunk, and insists that I join him, till the protection blurs.  In those days I feared to examine too closely why I hated myself; it just seemed too painful to look at clearly.  You don’t always need drink to hide from facing things.  If I had looked at it squarely, I would have found the fallacies.

          And yes, I had the nightmare of the finger-maggots, too.  Separately.  I had it as an adult, but it echoed an incident that happened at age five (spring of kindergarten) when my brother threw a mourning-cloak caterpillar at me (a spiny critter) and it hit my neck, and apparently injected some sort of poison into me, for the site swelled up and I became ill.  (Interestingly, some authorities online claim that the spines of the caterpillar are not poisonous, while others tell how to treat their poisoning!)  My brother felt mortified—he had no idea a caterpillar could do that!  Grandma put a poultice on my neck to draw out the venom and sent me to bed.  But I started hallucinating that every surface crawled with caterpillars the same color as whatever they crawled on, and Buddy found me perched up on my pillow, scared, trying not to touch them.  He patted the blankets and the walls to show me that there were no caterpillars actually there, and I lay back down again, while Grandma called the doctor for advice.  Apparently he answered to just keep me under observation; aside from soreness at the site, I was fine by the next day.

          I had a very close relationship with my brother, and he often protected me. Yet throwing the caterpillar at me, pleased to win the laughter of his friends, gave me my first hint that my brother might feel hostility towards me—a perfectly natural thing, but an awareness that I suppressed as quickly as possible.  I felt desperate to believe that he and I enjoyed a special exemption from sibling rivalry, because after the abandonment, I believed that my survival depended on him.  I put him on a pedestal unhealthy for us both, and expected from him more than he could deliver.

          At the time when I had the finger-worm dream I worked long hours at the hospital (and in fact dreamed it at the hospital during a narcoleptic seizure) my wrists and fingers sore with so much typing.  The dream tried to warn me that I had transferred my old, exaggerated loyalty from my brother to my job.

          Now I have to ask what the dream meant for Deirdre, too, though I simply followed intuition in giving it to Deirdre at the time, without analysis.  All the more reason to look into it, then.  After all, Tolkien’s dream of Numenor falling under a great wave had related yet different meanings for him, his son, the fictional character Faramir, and later Peter Jackson’s version of Eowyn, for anyone who wants to take a good look at each of these persons in the context of their lives.

          Deirdre, just before she went to sleep, had the idea planted in her head of the finger pointing to lay blame.  (In Rashid’s dream it always points away, trying to tell him not to blame himself, but his fear that it could someday point to him should warn him that if he continues in self loathing it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.)  This sets the stage.

          Deirdre at first sees an ordinary rebel encampment in moonlight.  It does not have the full light of reason to shine upon it, only the emotion-symbolic moon.  It seems at first like a Van Gogh painting—a painting by an artist who went mad, and multiple people, in different ways, attributed his madness to perceiving more than he could bear.  Deirdre perceives through more viewpoints than her own, although not conscious of it (in a different way, come to think of it, so do I, through dissociation.)

          Then she realizes that she doesn’t see the actual surfaces, but maggots crawling over everything—not the reality then, but a living, writhing veneer of corruption.  Her view of reality is corrupted.  (Was mine?)  When she realizes that the maggots are actually fingers of the dead, she wakes in horror.  Since Rashid previously established the finger as a symbol of accusation, yet here we have many more fingers than in his dream, I can see that she dreams of all of her dead—both those who died on her own side due to her decisions, and those she has killed in battle—searching for someone to point to, to accuse, and the fear of their judgment wakes her in horror.

          But notice that they don’t actually point to her.  It’s her fear that wakes her, not shame.  Her view of reality has become corrupted.  She holds herself to a standard of purity that nobody could maintain on a battlefield.

          I had let a lot die in order to succeed at medical transcription.  I had the best paycheck I had ever had in my life.  I therefore stood in danger of being accused of snobbery, because I was not supposed to succeed.  And in fact, whenever I told my Grandmother of success, a merit raise, a commendation, promotion, or a bonus for work well done, instead of being pleased she would always say the same thing:  “Don’t tell your brother. He’s not doing too well right now and it would be salt in his wounds.” (Pointlessly, since my brother and I had had no contact for years.)  I read rebuke in these words, that I was never supposed to surpass my brother, the sun of her life—especially since he labored so hard at real work, physical labors that slowly but steadily wore out his body.

          This touched on the other way that I had let part of my upbringing die: I had broken from manual labor to office labor.  I had spent my childhood scolded, whenever I disappointed, for being an ingrate after all the physical pain my Grandparents endured on manual labor jobs to keep me fed and sheltered.  Grandma would go into detail about the various kinds of pain inflicted by the working world (only decades later did my husband point out that they would have done this anyway even if I had never been born.)  Maybe that wasn’t so unusual, either, just exaggerated in importance in our minds due to the perceived precariousness of our position in the family, but my brother and I got the idea firmly planted in us that only work that physically hurts counts as valid, and that poverty is nobler than plenty.

          Unconsciously, I had become a battlefield, between a desire to lead a comfortable life versus an imperative to suffer and do without.  My mind became a desperately deprived military camp, and the things I had tried to die to would not stay dead, but hid the truth of everything in the great numbers of their accusations.  I only realize this now!

          And I realize it with one wrist in a brace from an old factory injury acting up, typing one-handed between breaks for a back that has come to hurt when sitting in a chair too long (making office work also impossible, ending my career as a medical transcriber) much like my grandparents’ backs hurt under the heavy canisters that Buddy had to haul or the long hours that Grandma had to stand on concrete.

          Some of the damage I cannot reverse.  But maybe some I can, or at least prevent from worsening.  This has got to stop!

          Hmmm...maybe this could be a new dreamworking technique.  Give your dream to a fictional character, figure out what it might mean for her, then figure out how that relates to you!

          I made up Deirdre's departure from Branko's camp.  But obviously since my dreams continue elsewhere, she had to leave.

          I first thought I had made up the ending of Tumblebugs, but then remembered dreaming it and jotting down notes on it after.   I had two devout Catholic coworkers at the time, a gay man and a lesbian, and a third friend who came back to the Church right after transitioning as a male-to-female transsexual.  We had conversations about God, and prayer, and right living, and I could not imagine God having made such good people with this trait and then casting them into Hell for it.  I found that somehow they both deepened and disturbed my faith in Catholicism.  I felt that the evidence of my own eyes pushed me to reject the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, yet at the same time conversation with them showed me a deeper level to Catholicism that went beyond doctrine, something that still held tremendous meaning for these three, regardless of official policy against who they were.

          Later, when I moved to Arizona, the Yaqui community would teach me that a religion is not just a list of doctrines, not even primarily, as though Judgment Day would involve an intellectual test with multiple choice questions and number two pencils, but a way of perceiving, a style of worshiping and living, all in aid of dedicating oneself utterly to the service of God and the betterment of the wellbeing of one’s neighbors, with the bottom line being an active, muscular love.   But at the time when I dreamed of the Barber and Max, I had only just begun to question whether I had the definition of religion right in the first place.

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