Saturday, March 16, 2013

We now return to our story... where our hero...

The story left off with me going out to the moving truck on my way to the hardware store to look for paint and things to help with our new home.

After a day of moving boxes and trying to get painted-shut windows to open, what I wanted was a respite from the oppressive heat and humidity. All day the sweat had been rolling down my forehead into my eyes, mixing with the dust we stirred up as we moved about the house. The bitter mix of salted sweat and acrid dust had saturated my t-shirt and left me wondering if I would be thrown out of the hardware store for looking so awful. I brushed off as much of the crud and debris as I could before getting into the moving truck.

As soon as the ignition started, I cranked the air conditioning on full blast. Half expecting it to already be cool, I instead was hit with a wave of hot plastic smelling air. With the windows rolled down and wishing for a cool breeze, I pulled away from our new house. I was pretty sure that the hardware store wouldn't be a long enough drive for the moving truck's AC unit to nullify the oppressive heat.

Part of my memory recalled passing a Lowe's hardware store on our way through town earlier that day. As I pulled into the vast parking lot, I was struck by the sheer size of everything. From the size of the building, to the massive emptiness of the asphalt parking area; I felt dwarfed before I even walked through the door. When the doors slid open, there was a quick scent of antiseptic which gave way almost instantly to the omnipresent odor of plastics and solvents that seem to accompany all of the plastic products these days.

Slipping into an almost familiar walk down the aisles of the hardware store, smells continued to pop up in the strangest of places. Standing near the electric fireplaces and the snowblowers, I was overwhelmed by the smells of kerosene fuel and potpourri trying painfully hard to be reminiscent of either balsam or cinnamon. Wave after contrasting wave of smells chased me throughout the store. With all the dust I had been breathing, I expected my allergies to be kicking in. Instead I felt as though I could see the smells before they made their way into my nose.

Somewhere between the plumbing section and the paint department, I suddenly smelled pumpkin pie. I don't mean that I smelled potpourri that tried to emulated pumpkin pie. I mean I smelled pumpkin pie, homemade crust, cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of cloves. I could smell the vanilla in the whipped cream. I could tell that the custard had been out of the oven only a few moments... all of this... just from the smell. Turning at the end of the aisle, I knew that someone had to be putting on some sort of cooking demo and I was certain there would be pumpkin pie for the sampling. I reached the end of the aisle, and there was nothing. The smell vanished and was replaced with the bitter scent of sweeping compound and floor wax. I turned around, assuming I had somehow missed the pumpkin pie, on some shelf... it had to be there. Looking back down the way I had come, the row seemed taller, colder and a touch darker. The smell was gone.

Trying to shake it off, I leaned into the next aisle, partly hoping to bump into someone working in the paint department. Instead I nearly ran into a pallet of gallon cans of primer, stacked right in the middle of the aisle. No one seemed to be working in this department so I wandered over into the electrical department. Surely there had to be someone around who could help me mix up some custom paint colors and help me find a portable air conditioning unit for our bedroom window. Maybe a fan or two?

Seeing no one in the electrical department, I started back towards the paint supply area. Standing in front of the cans of paint, leaning against the pallet was a young man. Obviously friendly and ready to help, he looked at me as though he knew exactly what I needed. I was taken aback by his extraordinary friendliness. He assured me that not only could he help me... but I would be so surprised.

I told him what I needed: Roasted Pumpkin paint from Behr paint, 4 gallons. One five gallon bucket of primer. Some TSP for cleaning the window trim and some stains on the walls. He suggested a dropcloth to keep the hardwood floors free from stains and spills.

I mentioned how hot it had been at the house and how much I missed the air conditioning from our old apartment. He asked if we had considered having AC installed in our new home. I grumbled something about it being an old home, not worth the effort and besides central air was expensive. I figured we could get by with just a window unit, at least for this summer. He looked up into my face and smiled. He made some comment about how we had suffered enough and that he had just the thing. He showed me a strange box which apparently sat outside, on the ground and once hooked up to power, would use small ducts running outside the house, and would then bring them into each room discretely. He said that if I chose to buy this unit today, they would be able to install it immediately.

I hemmed and hawed. I was sure it was more money than we wanted to spend right then. He didn't mention the cost for installation, so I assumed it was going to take a big bite of our move-in money. He put his hand on my list, folded the paper up neatly and tucked it away into his shirt pocket. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, clear as day: "by the time you get home, we'll be done and cleaned up."

I asked how soon they would be able to start, assuming he was joking about the speed that they would be able to do the work. He brought up his clipboard with a form to sign, took my credit card and walked to his terminal behind his desk. He made a quick call on his radio to the stockroom, ensuring that they did in fact have this unit, ready to install. I signed the forms and made my way to the front of the store. I felt mighty smart, having found all the stuff I needed and a nice little surprise for my sweaty dusty wife. Then it hit me. I had forgotten all the paint. I turned around to go back and the young man spun me back around almost as if I had been smacked. He leaned in close, pointed to a checkout lane and admonished me to go home. He reassured me that by the time I got home, it would all be taken care of.

I asked about the paint; he replied, "yep, Roasted Pumpkin, two coats of primer, got it."

Stepping into the checkout line I noticed that instead of lawnmowers and gardening impliments, there were plastic pumpkins and inflatable snowmen. Boxes of Christmas lights were stacked along the checkout lane, as though a last minute reminder of what one would need, spur of the moment. I chuckled and thought how silly that anyone would be putting such things out now, in the middle of the summer.

I made my way out to my rental truck, empty handed. As I left the store, I realized that somehow I had gotten turned around. I thought I was leaving by the same entrance I had come in, but as I walked through the sliding glass doors, I found myself walking through the Garden section. Instead of annuals, perennials and shrubs, it was filled with bobbing inflatable snowmen, snowglobes large enough for a child or two to sit inside, giant air filled christmas trees that glowed from inside. Just before I reached the exit I realized where the smells had been coming from. There were huge fans, probably six feet in diameter, each hooked to huge corrugated flexible tubes that were pumping incredibly strong scents into the building. From outside I could see the small gallon jars of flaming scented oil that had been placed so that the burning fumes could be drawn into the store.

Needing to reorient myself as I left the garden center, I finally found my rental truck and unlocked the door. Inside, on my driver's set, was the receipt I had accidentally left during my checkout. Quite taken aback, I tried to shake off the beginnings of a very strange feeling. Chalking it up to over friendly folks just wanting to help, I climbed into the cab of the truck. It took a few turns of the key to get the engine to start. With a grumble, a huff and chug, the engine finally turned over. The air conditioning was still turned on high, but the dust that puffed out was wholly unexpected. I coughed for a minute and quickly turned off the vents.

Rolling down the window as I got the truck rolling, I relished the cooler night air. It seemed as though the heat of the day had finally broken. It wasn't a long drive back to my house, but in a short while I had to roll up the window. It was actually getting chilly. Maybe not cold, but certainly cool. As I cranked up the window, the handle felt cold to the touch. I hadn't driven more than a block or two before I felt chilled. Probably just the sweat on my clothes evaporating, I told myself. That didn't stop the shivering from being very real.


Monday, December 31, 2012

Return to the ICU

It has been an awfully long time since I last sat down and pounded on these keys. I don't know why I stopped writing. I just know that it stopped feeling good. As 2012 draws to a close and 2013 is rung in, I am sitting here with very mixed feelings. Not because of the passage of time, but because of the upwelling of emotions that came up today.

This morning Nancy and I went to visit a friend of ours in the ICU at the hospital. Jeff suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage ten days ago. Jeff was given very poor chances for survival, much less recovery. I was standing by his bedside ten days ago. I was there six hours after he was admitted to the ICU after putting a shunt into his skull to help drain the spinal fluid building up. I stood there, helpless as his wife's pleading eyes begged for sign that he might make it. I sat with her that day and today. Both times, it was awful and painful. Today was different.

Today Jeff recognized Nancy and I. He squeezed my hand with both his left and right hands. He moved his legs without being asked. He was able to focus his eyes, and roll them in answer to questions I asked. He expressed annoyance, frustration, joy, compassion, fear.... all in the short span we were in his room. Knowing that he is still "in there" is a huge relief. We didn't know that when I was there ten days ago.

I have followed his progress daily through communications via facebook with his wife and family. I am always reluctant to offer my views from my experience in the ICU. No one really wants to hear what it was like in the coma. And with good reason.

I was in the room next door to Jeff.

I still have a hard time walking past room 11 in the ICU.
The cacophony of bells, alarms and beeping machines don't help. That ICU Syndrome goes away, eventually, but hearing those sounds, and breathing in that antiseptic air, takes me right back.

The difference is that this time, I am standing beside the bed. I am holding Jeff's hand. I am there for his loving wife. I am not the one being pulled in and out of consciousness.

I asked my friend Lee, what my purpose was in being at Jeff's bedside. I felt like I was powerless to do anything. If anything, I felt in the way and useless. Lee's comment was that I was there to bear witness. I didn't really understand what he meant by that expression. The more he explained, I came to realize that someone had to be there to make it real. In part because this sort of scenario is impossible. Jeff is a young man. He can't have a stroke! He has a family. He doesn't have any other comorbidities.

The more I thought about the idea of being a witness to this experience, I came to think of another aspect... that of being there to stand watch. Similar, but different. Doctors and nurses are there to keep the body alive. Family members are there to try to understand their grief and confusion. I stood watch over Jeff... letting him know I was there for him. Whatever he needed, I would be there. Not that I could fix anything, or magically change things. But my intent, was to be there. To be present in that moment. Not to bring my past to bear, but to offer Jeff a person he could reach out to, knowing that I have been on his side of the bed. No judgement, no criticism. Just understanding. To help him accept that he had survived, and that with time, he could recover, and regain his life.

As I left his bedside I let him know how impressed I was with his progress. I told him how much he would enjoy getting his Passy-Muir either tomorrow or the next day. How he would be able to talk to the nurses and ask questions... and he would be able to tell folks to stop annoying him. He rolled his eyes and smiled. I shared that after that happened, the next step was semi-solid foods... and that butterscotch pudding never tasted better than after you've passed the "swallow test" and have downed the blue dyed applesauce. I explained that from here on out, things would move fast. He was healing now. Each day would have new things, progress. I told him that the fear would pass soon. That soon he would be able to move on his own and that the physical recovery would begin in earnest. And then I held his hand tightly and told him that we would be back soon. He returned the squeeze and it was obvious that he understood.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Questions and Then Later, a Return to Our Previous Story

Some part of me genuinely wonders if writing these stories down has any merit beyond simply recording what happened to me? I mean, who the hell cares? At the end of the day, the stories make almost zero sense. Why would anyone read them? Just asking. I find myself compelled to write about my experiences in the coma, specifically because of how intense they were, and how much they continue to exert pressure and influence on my daily life. Imagine if you went to sleep and woke up with more than thirty years of memories, crammed into an already full head. What would you what to know? How would you juggle your new memories with your old? Who gets that precious real estate in your mind? Do you throw out the foreign memories or accept them as freeloaders? Or do you invite them in and sit with them a while?

This is what I struggle with.

Each day, almost every day, there is some point, where a smell or a sound will trigger a brief memory. Same as we all have, all the time. The only difference is that my memory didn't happen to my body during a conscious waking moment. It happened during my coma. Maybe that invalidates the memory by some people's yardstick. I don't think it would take much to punch holes in most people's true measure of the validity of memory. The assumption that this was a dream also fails to fit neatly into that category too. We forget dreams, incredibly fast. Even vivid dreams that change our lives, bend and fold and quickly are reabsorbed into our normal life. It has been three years now, and these memories are still bright and vivid and as real as yesterday. I close my eyes, and I am back there.

I welcome responses, questions, whatever.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Dust That Burns

When I moved into my new house, I knew that it needed some work. It was painfully apparent that it would need a new paintjob. From the street the house had good bones, but the paint more closely resembled an albino sunburn. The white paint was peeling in sheets and there was obvious water damage everywhere the paint had failed. My guess was that it would need some basic refinishing inside too. I never expected the house would renovate us.

Nancy and I moved in during the first weeks of fall when students return to college. The last few days of summer made a sudden appearance driving the thermometer higher than any of us expected. After spending the day in the moving truck, the last thing I expected was to walk into our new home and find it too hot to sleep. It was like a furnace inside. The windows had been painted shut, god only knows when... and with the storm windows still in place, the house was a stagnant crypt. The scent of mothballs and dust hung in the air, waiting for a breeze to stir. How they managed to keep a house free of mice with no cats living here was a complete mystery to me.

We had bought the house, sight unseen. We paid next to nothing for it, reasoning that as an older home, it would need some major renovation. Most well cared-for New England homes were usually at least 150 years old. This one was considerably older. Over two hundred years old and had the old-wood-smell to prove it. The doorways were much narrower and shorter than I was used to. The doors were solid plank wood, made with real mortise and tenons. There wasn't a single matching doorknob in the entire home.

Most of the house had been emptied before our arrival, though we had been told to expect to find some belongings left behind by the previous tenants. We were told by the realtor that someone would be by sometime in the next week to pickup the trunks and would arrange for shipping. It was hardly adequate preparation for what we found when we walked upstairs.

The bedrooms at the top of the stairs formed a nearly perfect-T, with one room on either side of the stairs, a bathroom directly ahead, and if you walked past either room the hall led to the only large upstairs window, complete with a window seat, framed on both sides by bookcases. The shelves were empty and the cushions were threadbare and nearly opaque grey with dust. There was an old pencil that had been left on the window seat. When I picked it up, the dust powdered off like fine confectioner's sugar. I set it back in place, afraid that someone might notice we had been here.

Mind you, we bought this house. We weren't invading someone's home.... but it didn't feel like our house.

The upstairs room's doors were all closed. Given the stifling heat, our goal was to get some air moving through the house, crack some windows and try to clear a place to lay down for the night. The big moving in could wait till the following morning. We started with the bathroom. Nancy reached for the small ivory porcelain door knob and turned. The knob spun freely, never engaging the pawl... instead the door swung inward with not a single creak.

The bathroom was unremarkable except for its complete lack of period furnishing. It was obviously a retrofit that had been added in the early 1950's. The tile floor was a dusky harsh green, somewhere between an acid green and chartreuse... but with enough wear to feel more than ready for replacement. The toilet, and tiles along the lower section of the wall matched the putrid green color scheme. As if to confuse matters, the tile on the upper-half of the wall was a pale pink. This covered everything except the mirrored medicine cabinet that hung over the sink. The sink basin was painfully pink. My only hope was that whoever had decorated this bathroom had died, painfully, before they ruined another home. This was awful.

What was odd (odder than the colors at least), was that everything was clean. Spotless really. As though the cleaning crew had been through a day or so earlier, and yet there was none of the chemical smells one would associate with a sparkling clean bathroom. There was even a roll of toilet paper sitting on the side of the tub. I am not sure what I expected, but I had to check inside the medicine cabinet. Maybe I was assuming there would be something more left behind by the previous tenants. Maybe I thought there would be old medicines and toiletries. Perhaps an old razor. It was empty. The glass shelves were dry, a touch dusty, and the enamel on the inside of the medicine cabinet was showing bits of rust in places. The chrome around the frame had definitely seen its share of unvented, lingering showers.

I figured that the other doors into the upstairs bedrooms would likely be like our introduction to the bathroom. I found instead, that the doors wouldn't budge. No amount of muscle would convince the worn cut glass knobs to turn. I walked back to the large window intent on opening the window as much as I could. The old sash windows had been painted closed, years ago most likely. We were prepared for some move-in cleanup, but this was frustrating.

I hustled down the stairs and rummaged through our travelling boxes in hopes of finding a box cutter or a pocket knife. I found our tape measure and a bunch of kitchen supplies; forks, spoons, ladles and such. Lacking an appropriate tool to cut through the paint, I made do with a butter knife. Once the window sash had been cut free of its overzealous paintjob, I raised the window. There were no screens in the window. As I knelt on the cushions of the window seat, I realized that there had to be a prop to hold this window open somewhere. Sure enough, on the lower shelf of the righthand bookcase, there was a wooden prop. I jammed that into the open window and immediately felt a rush of hot, dry, still air move up the stairs and out through the window. Certain that the prop would hold, I abruptly sat down on the cushioned bench, exhausted from the heat. The choking cloud of dust enveloped me for a few moments.

I heard Nancy giggle and realized that she was still near the bathroom and was watching this whole event unfold. Apparently seeing my form disappear into this opaque cloud of dust, and then reappear again, except this time I was dusty grey in form, seemingly struck a humorous chord in her. Crossing the hall towards me, Nancy let me know that it was obvious that the heat was getting to me. Afraid to touch me because of my sudden all-enveloping dust coating, she held me at arm's length and suggested I head into town to see about picking up an air conditioner for the bedroom window. At least then we would be able to sleep through the night.

As I shuffled down the stairs and out of the house, I looked back over my shoulder and felt a shadow move past me. The stairway darkened like a cloud passing in front of the sun, and then returned to its normal brightness. I closed the door behind me and ambled out to our bright yellow rental truck. We may have been new to town, but I was pretty sure we had passed a Lowe's hardware store on the way into town. A quick look in my side mirror, a glance upstairs across the open yard, and I pulled away from the curb.

To be continued....

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Coma Dream #1 (repost from Dec 8, 2009)

Yeah, I know. Not everyone wants to know what it was like while I was in the coma.... so if you don't, now's the perfect time to hit your browser's back button.

Today as I was felled by this nasty head cold, something hit me from out of the blue. Not sure what triggered it. Within seconds though, I was reliving an odd aspect of one of my coma dreams.

As I was prepping for the first "swallow" test, they feed you applesauce mixed with a seriously blue food dye. Apparently the dye shows up as a leak if you are unable to swallow properly. Considering I had been ventilated for over a month and still had a trach-tube in... swallowing was rough.

The setting: I am sitting in my recliner, waiting for the speech pathologist to administer the test. Meanwhile: All around me I can hear voices, but something is amiss. The voices slowly become more sharp and distinct. I am definitely not hearing English. Not sure yet what though.

A nurse aid comes into the room and says something I can't quite make out. Then proceeds to tell me that I should expect some changes in hospital staffing. Then goes back to speaking Slavic.

Bewildered, I look around the room, obviously unable to get up or really move around. As I survey the equipment, all of the instructions are either in Spanish or in Russian. What on earth? So I asked the nuse aid: her response was that it was simply cheaper to provide care this way.

With the first couple gulps of the swallow test down, I knew I had to urinate. A lot. I was sure that it was all going to come out blue and leak everywhere. Mind you, I was actually sporting a catheter at the time, and was semi-conscious. Not enough though. Weird stuff happens on all the drugs they had me on.

I probed further. She replied that now that the hospital was incorperating with multinational corporations, they had to maximize profitability and the easiest way to do that was to start with folks who would work for less. She explained that she and her family lived near the hospital. For some of my care, she would be bringing me to her home. Apparently her mother was an RN and was moonlighting as well.

Moonlighting or bootlegging depending on how you look at it. What they would do is when a patient could be moved out of the ICU they would take them home instead of the post-operative care unit. There, family members would administer to the patient's needs. In addition, they would collect unused medical supplies that would otherwise be thrown away at the end of the shift. They repackaged them and sold them on the black market to folks who couldn't afford proper medical care.

So as I lived with this family, my mother and I got to know them pretty well. Apparently the husband of the family had injured his back severely in a firefighting accident. All of the kids were nearly finished with school and two of them were planning to work for the hospital. They all worked as "outreach" for the community. They provided care, medical supplies and serious help to folks who would never otherwise be able to afford a hospital stay.

The dream ends with me laying on the dinner table having their youngest sons who were still in high school, drawing blood for a workup. They kept telling me we needed to hurry because it was almost dinner time and they needed to set the table. But I shouldn't rush, because that would skew the results. Their care was impeccable. They were skilled and compassionate. It sort of made me wonder what it would be like to live in a world like this. I am sure this is common place in other parts of the world.

Thoughts on Dying (repost from April 2010)

Let me begin with the obvious: I am alive. But I think of death often. Not with any morbid fascination, but more the casualness one would exhibit looking through a family photo album.

Perhaps we should call this the first glance through an album of memories.

But are they your memories if they didn't happen during your lifetime? What do you call things that happen while your body sleeps and your mind doesn't?


Let me say again: I am alive. I know this because the smells are different. The light is better too.

For a long time I lingered in a twilight haze of ashy shadow and grease. It was always 3am. For years at a time, it was always 3am.

Each day began with me sitting at a table. Outdoors, but without the weather that comes from being outside. The table was made of downward curving metal, perforated with large half-inch holes over the entire surface. The tabletop was covered in a thin rubber coating that once must have been mustard colored but now, like everything else around me, was dingy, grey and fading. Not quite black but never again anything remotely as lively as yellow.

The table was the end of the line for the production of the fast-food joint I was at. No one stood at a counter to take you order... well, not really. There was always someone standing there... but they just looked at you and then looked down as though that would tell you all you needed to know about ordering your meal. A meal. Even now I am not sure I can call it that. Imagine the ubiquity of water fountains and now imagine that in the same way, all food supply units were essentially a bastardized version of Burger King.

After looking down to order, something would be garbled back behind a wall, sounds of movement would begin, quiet, hushed then loud clunking and slow feet shuffling. Far across the open space of the dining plaza, a garbage can would start to beep. Incessantly, but quietly so as to not annoy you if you weren't really sure yet that you wanted the food coming your way.

Then with a whir it would present, through the open slot. Your food. On a tray, grey-brown with wet paper separating the food from the sticky plastic tray. Almost warm but by no means hot. Smells of old onions, scorched coffee and egg shells are the first smack to the face.

Leaving the tray and food intact, I am sure there has to be something better around to eat. I also desperately need to find a bathroom. It has been days since I could pee. I would trade a perfect chocolate milkshake for a chance to pee in a clean bathroom. But there is no bathroom. When I ask at the counter where the meal originated, I get the same bleary eyed response... that downward cast glance as though one could order a trip to the bathroom through this device.

I look down at my clothes. A cover-all that once must have been blue-grey with thin white stripes, but now, like everything else, it was greyed with time, grease and dust. I can't find the sun in the sky. The buildings around me rise ceaselessly into the sky, each one a copy of the one beside it. There is an occasional breeze which at first feels like it might have the warm touch of spring but by the time I can sort out the smell I am overwhelmed with the sickly sweet aroma of decay. The wind grows until I have to duck into an entryway of building so as to escape from the stench that threatens to coat my skin with an oily scum.

Looking through the scratched silver windows of the building lobby, I keep my eyes moving... hoping for someone to talk to. I really want to find a bathroom.

Walking farther down the street, I find a body curled around a bench made from the same perforated metal rounded into tables like I saw earlier. Finding at first his head amongst the papers and rags, I was unsure he was awake. With none of his hands visible I feared that if I asked of their absence, knowing would be worse than the reek wafting from him. Just when I was sure that he was deep aslumber, he opened one eye at me. Asking me with that same downward glaze and soundless hush, he asked why I was there.

I told him I wanted to die.

I also needed to pee.

Laughing into last month's urine soaked newspaper, he turned his head to me. Our eyes met only briefly before I turned away, afraid that his one good eye might see me for what I was. His other eye, caked with drying puss, kept oozing with each blink.If only he would look away... I could ask him again.

Before I can repeat myself he lifts his shriveled hands from beneath his shabby mound and points to an alleyway a few feet away. Slumped between a wall uncertain of its future and the ground well past worn, a woman looks at the needle in her arm, hoping for release. I am not even worth a glare from her direction.

With a plaintive look on my face, I ask again: how can I die?

Shouldering the wet mass of cloth and sopping cardboard, paper and shit, he pushes me headlong towards a guardrail over a highway. Looking down, bits of detritus falling away, he admonishes me to pick one. Slow or fast, both definite. Either way, I could die. Looking for some merciful solution, I look all around, hoping someone would see me in my plight. I asked again: How can I die?

Laughing that piteous laugh again, he slurs through wet teeth that all I need to do is keep eating the food that came out of that slot.


For folks who wonder: I have contemplated suicide only a few times in my life. Mostly during a rough time in college when my girlfriend had been replaced with a demon from hell.

I find it interesting that while in the coma, I needed to pee. I find this to have been almost an omnipresent sensation throughout all of the coma dreams.

But the wish for dying? I did want to know. How could I escape the 3am grey-gloom? I would have done anything to break free of those awful smells and sights. Even now, I feel the need to scrub my body with borax in the shower... anything to get that oily stench off of my skin.

I know you don't smell things in dreams. I never dreamed for years at a time before either.

Landing the Planes (repost from May 2010)

Though these dreams probably flew through my mind in some order of disarray, I can no longer say which ones came first. If I had to guess, I would say they all happened simultaneously. Especially in light of how so many of them overlap in odd ways. Seriously, when asked to recollect which order these dreams happened, I am always at a loss. Some of them repeated multiple times. (We'll get to those sometime soon... kinda scary.) With that said, here is installment #3- Landing the Planes.

It is sometime post-war, probably late 1948 or so. I am stationed on a Marine air base somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, fairly near Japan. I know this because my job is to help land airplanes all day (and sometimes into the evening). The planes are predominantly Vought F4U Corsairs. Long and blue, with those beautiful bent wings. And the sound of their engines howling as they screamed at take off!

In this dream, my job is to establish radio contact with incoming airplanes and guide them back home. Most of the time this is proves to be fairly mundane. There are usually four to six of us manning the radio in shifts with two to three of us glassing the horizon, looking long for that broken wing silhouette.

Most aircraft at this time were not adequately equipped for nighttime landings. Without radar, it was even more difficult to land six to ten aircraft in short order at night. On this night, it was made nearly impossible with a fog that came in before dinner. The flight was late returning. Six planes coming back from Okinawa. Due in over half an hour earlier, we knew that the fog was delaying their arrival.

We asked the ground crew to prepare searchlights, but their beams couldn't penetrate the fog. For all their effort, only a dull glow reached through the fog. The woman who I was sharing the shift with suggested aiming the search beams low, almost parallel to the runways. Our hope was that then the runways would be lit up and more visible from the air.

When the rain began it was more of a wet mist first. It didn't take long though before none of us could see more than 100 yards or so along the runway... and that was with the help of the search lights. The tension on the ground was palpable. Each of us had somewhere they would much rather have been, only because worry had surpassed reason. Something was amiss and there was nothing we could do.

After what seemed like hours, the radio let loose the first crackle that didn't end in static. Numbers were squawked out, repeated and new coordinates relayed. Six times we traded this information until we knew each pilot could see our blur of light winking in the soggy wet. With sighs and relief we each surrendered our headphones and unplugged from our panels.

Walking down the stairs, I asked the woman beside me what she was hurrying off to. Looking like a teenager off to prom she laughed and let on as how she was going to a concert. Around me the room changed from air station to a space more akin to a waiting room in a large airport. She fell in line behind a crowd waiting to leave the terminal. Waiting there, I had to ask: what sort of music would they be playing at this concert. Punk music of course! Curious, I asked how she knew anything about punk music. She explained that the lead singer of the band was a friend of a friend, and he had invented a bionic knee device. I asked her if they were any good and she laughed. She said she was their biggest fan. Then the line opened up and with nothing more said, she was off into the night.


At first glance this dream seems to make sense (until the punk-rock concert goer rears her head)...

I told my mom about this dream, since my memory of this coma dream puts her into the dream as it transitions from the air station to the waiting room/airport scene. As I related this story to her, she started to stutter. I decided to jump straight in and ask: Did you leave me at the hospital to go to a punk rock concert? Yep. And yes, the lead singer in the band happens to have invented a knee-replacement device which borders on science fiction. Very cutting edge. They have just released their newest album and guess what's on the back of the closing liner notes? "Dedicated to our biggest fan: Candace" (That's my mom for ya.)

Apparently though, that wasn't what had left my mother so speechless. Her concern was that I had never met my great-aunt Sally. My maternal grandfather was the youngest of ten siblings and the only male. From my grandfather I knew little bits and pieces about his sisters. I spent parts of my summers in Wyoming getting to know my great aunts Louise, Winnie and Ollie. But I never got to meet Aunt Sally.

The little I knew about her was that she had lived overseas. I think most of her adult life had been spent in and around Japan. Once she sent us a lamp in the shape of an owl, made from a tank shell casing from World War II... left behind in Okinawa. Some part of me always thought that it could have been fired from my grandfather's amphibious tank he crewed during the invasion of Okinawa.

What I didn't know about Aunt Sally was that she used to land airplanes. In the Pacific... around Japan, for years following the conclusion of the war. She landed Vought Corsairs. And according to my mother, women were often used because their voices came through the radio more clearly and their eyes more easily spotted the broken wing pattern against the sea and sky.


Other thoughts:
I have no idea how any of this could have entered into my dreams. Ideas? Has anyone read about this sort of thing? There is more to come. Maybe later in the week.