A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 15

Best 3 Out of 5

My range of worry had increased after my second meeting with Dr. Jordan. All the things I had worried about were now on the front burner. My fatherhood was in question as was my humanity and my life in general. I didn't want to dredge up old news. I'd lived it for god sake. The past was the past and that's where I wanted to keep it.

I'd started to talk and now I couldn't seem to shut up. Everything that was required to free me from the charges I faced had been accomplished. Now we were digging into the reasons for me being who I was. Wasn't it enough that I'd gotten to be who I was? I had a job, all be it tentative at best. I took care of my family and kept my nose clean, most of the time.

I never intended to run afoul of the law. In fact I had broken no law except the one the tells the cops that everyone is guilty of something and its their job to get them. Looking back on how it all happened wasn't what I wanted to be doing. I had writing to do, a life to live, and I wanted to do it with the least amount of resistance.

What was drawing me back? What was it I needed to go back to? I'd been there done that once already. Dr. Jordan said that whatever it was, until I addressed it, it would continue to haunt me. Maybe I'd just let it haunt me. The questions, the prying, the way it made me feel, I was worn out by it. I dragged myself home to try to act normal. There was nothing I could tell anyone about my sessions with the shrink. I didn't have to continue and I couldn't quit, and yet I could see no benefit coming from it, just the contrary.

I made my way through the house with as little conversation as possible after drinking too much tea. I sat in my study staring at my empty computer screen. I didn't work on anything because there was nothing to write. My brain was devoid of creative thought. I was tired. It had been another long day. Maybe I'd ask Dr. Jordan to let me come earlier but then I'd have to fight the Beltway traffic for a place in it.

Kathy hadn't come into the bedroom when I went up. I sat on my bed undressing. Sleep, that's what I needed. I hadn't slept well or deep the night before, and then there was the nightmare. Where the hell had that come from? I hadn't had a nightmare since I was a boy. I once had vivid dreams until one day they stopped. After that, if I dreamed, there were only snippets. I'd often been asked if I dreamed. Other writers asked if I ever resolved plots in dreams. I never did. Some people put a lot of stock in dreams. I didn't. It's hard to put much importance in something you don't do. I didn't do.

I heard Kathy come to bed. It was then, I knew it was happening to me again. I listened for the cars to pass and the dog to bark as it had happened the night before. Almost on schedule they invaded my sleep, or non-sleep, or whatever the hell it was I was doing or wasn't doing. I hung there on the edge, unable to get over the hump and into the sleep I so badly needed. I was angry and I wanted to get up because not sleeping so frustrated me, but I couldn't seem to collect myself in order to stop the sequence dead in its tracks.

It was pitch black and someone was screaming. I sat straight up in my bed listening to shrieks and wails. I was shaking and wet and I could hear Kathy's voice, and I tried to find her, but there was fire everywhere. It boiled black, orange, and red, reaching up, up, up, burning up past the huge palm leaves, up, up, into the blue sky. The smell was putrid and it choked the air off, burning my lungs. I screamed again, praying that someone would help me. It was terrible. It was unbearable. I screamed and kept screaming as I was consumed in the flames.

"Tom, Tom, it's okay. It's only a dream. It's okay, Tom. You're here with me, me and the kids. It's okay, dear. It's okay."

Kathy was holding my face to her breast, stroking the side of my face as she tried to calm me. I heard Tom Ir.'s voice reassuring his sister. What was happening to me? It wasn't a dream this time. I had been there. I'd felt the heat. I had smelled the fire. Why was this happening?

"Kids, go back to bed. Your father just had a nightmare," Kathy said, as I held her arm to reassure myself I couldn't fall back into the dream.

"You should clean yourself up, Thomas. I'll make some coffee and something to eat. You take a shower while I strip the bed, dear."

"Yes, I don't want to go back to sleep."

"Was it the same?" Kathy asked.

"Worse. It lasted longer. I was there. I was on fire. I could smell my flesh burning. Something was on my skin. I don't know what. It wasn't burning but it was burning me," I said, trying to explain the pictures still inside my head while wiping whatever it was off my skin.

"I think you should call Dr. Jordan. You should talk to him about this," she said, unbuttoning my pajama tops.

"I told him. He said it was time to stop talking. Sent me home," I said.

"You described the dream?"

"Something like that," I said.

"He obviously doesn't know how serious it is," she said.

"You think it's serious?"

"Yes, I do, Thomas. I think it is very serious. You can't let this continue to happen without doing something. For one thing you aren't getting any sleep," she said.

"I might never sleep again. I don't want to ever go back to sleep," I said.

"Mom, is he, okay," Tom Jr. said, coming back to the door.

"It was just a nightmare. Go back to bed," she said, sounding angry with him.

"I'm scared, mom, what's happening to him?"

"I'm okay, Tommy. It's just too much pasta for dinner, son."

"Remind me to swear off that stuff," he said. "Night."

"I can do it, dear. Let me get up," I said, swinging my legs over so I could put my feet on the floor.

I stripped out of my wet clothes, realizing I'd once again wet my bed. It was humiliating but Kathy didn't mention that part of it this time. I felt like I had almost died and it was taking me some time to get back to life. I'd never been in a fire and I'd never seen anything burn as hot as this fire burned.

As I stood under the cold water I wondered if I had miscalculated and was being shown the hell I didn't believe existed. To me it was relatively clear that most hell we created for ourselves, and that we didn't manage to create for ourselves, we endured at the hands of other of our species. How could there be more pain in death than we faced in our lives? Man was most efficient at tormenting one another and we were made in god's image, so did that then mean god was waiting patiently to get his turn?

I didn't for a second buy into it. We were great at finding ways to eliminate our responsibility for our own lives and behavior, and this version of god gave us the perfect out. God made me do it. And if God didn't make me do it what was going on inside my head, or was it beyond my head and my own comprehension. It seemed to me, whatever it was, it was more powerful than me.

I'd never experienced a fire like the one in my dream. I'd never witnessed such a fire while I was a journalist. It was no ordinary fire. This fire was hell on earth, moving along the ground at an incredible speed, furnishing its own fuel, consuming everything.

My skin cooled but I stayed under the cold water until I was shivering and I took on a blue tint. I shivered while I dried myself, and I went for a pair of thick socks before going down stairs in my robe. The hot tea steamed in the center of the kitchen table, repulsing me at first, but my cold skin and the shivers that ran through me convinced me to take some, following it with coffee Kathy had fixed to assure I would stay awake. I didn't need to tell her that there would be no more sleep this night.

"Call Dr. Jordan," Kathy said.

"I will in the morning, dear," I said.

"Call him or I will," she said, determination echoing in her voice. "Not in the morning. Now."

"It's the middle of the night, Kathy," I declared.

"Call him now. I want him to have a sense of urgency. I know they give patients their number.

"I have his cellphone. It's probably turned off," I said. "I'd have mine turned off this time of night."

"Call him, Thomas. This isn't a bargaining session. He needs to know how serious this has become."

"Dr. Jordy, sorry to wake you. I've had the dream again."

"The fire thing I told you about," he said.

"Yes. It was worse. I can't go back to sleep. I may never sleep again."

"Is your wife with you?" He asked.

"Yes, she's right here," I said.

"Let me speak to her," he said.

"Yes, I'm going to be there with him? He doesn't want to try to go back to sleep. He woke me up screaming. It was the same the night before. He kept saying he was on fire. Something was on his arms and he was trying to wipe it off. He's been soaked in sweat both nights and he's lost his water. It's scaring me."

"For god sake, Kathy, you don't need to broadcast it." I yelled, feeling further humiliated..

"Oh, he didn't tell you about that. I see. First thing in the morning? I'll tell him," she said.

"I've got Morales at ten," I said.

"He's got Morales at ten. Okay. Okay. Yes. I'll tell him. Thank you, doctor."

She hung up the phone.

"He'll be there at seven since you aren't going back to sleep. Meet him. He says he can give you something to help you sleep. Something that will keep you from dreaming."

"No. He says I won't dream. Is he going to guarantee it? I don't want to be drugged and not able to wake up from it."

"Thomas, quit acting like a child. He's trying to help you."

How can someone else help you to unlock what is inside your head? I didn't want my kids to see me when they got up. I left the house at five a.m. and bought a cup of strong coffee in a cafe on the corner near Jay Jordan's office. I was standing in front of his building drinking it from a Styrofoam cup when he came up jangling a huge ring of keys. It took him four tries before he found a key that would fit the front door.

I sat in the chair across from his desk and watched him shuffle papers for ten minutes. Besides a nod and a half hearted good morning there was no conversation. Dr. Jordan was obviously a night person, probably just coming into his own when I was arriving for my late afternoon appointments. He finally took off his jacket, hanging it on a rack in the corner. There were various scarf, hats, and umbrellas that had been left there or that were kept there for all seasons and all reasons.

"I don't suppose you brought one of those for me," he said looking at the now empty cup and sounding a bit off his game.

I notice his white shirt was unbuttoned at the neck under his dark suit jacket. I looked at the hat rack and saw two silk ties hung over one of the hooks.

"Sorry, I could walk back and get more," I said. "Good time of morning for it."

"No, Helen will be in next door in a few minutes. I'll bum some from her. How do you feel?" He asked.

"Like I've been burnt alive."

"How does that feel?"

"After a couple of times you get over the attraction," I said.

"You still have a sense of humor. That's a good sign."

"I suppose. Chicken fried humor."

"Did your mother ever hold your hand over the stove, pour boiling water on you, burn you with cigarettes, bath you in steaming hot water?"

"No, mother wasn't a sadist. She was just your all purpose selfish bitch. It has nothing to do with my mother. I was on fire."

"Your father? I want you to think. It might be something you've suppressed in your memory. Something from your past is bring these images to you."

"Nothing. You don't think I've tried to connect the dots, doc? I don't recall ever being burned. I covered fires while reporting for the Sun. Wouldn't that have connected to this if it was about fire? It wasn't my main function but if the story was big enough, other journalists were assigned. I've never seen anything like this fire. Something got on my skin. I wasn't actually burning like on fire but whatever was on my skin was burning me. Like acid or something. The fire was all around me. It was closing in on me when Kathy woke me."

"You want to try something?"

"I'm not sure. Do you think these dreams are a result of me seeing you?"

"We can't rule that out. Lie over here on the couch. I want you to go back there," he said. "I'll take you back."

"What? You're kidding me, right? You want me to have the dream on purpose? I think you need the shrink."

"No, really, lie down and I'll talk you back to it. I'll remind you that you are here. There is no danger. My voice will anchor you. Maybe we can find something out. It can't hurt? Besides you look tired. Come on, lie down right over here," he said, guiding me to his couch.

I laid down on the couch as Dr. Jordan talked to me in a soft soothing voice. He asked me questions about my experience in my dream. I described it as closely as I could recall it but there was no fire now. I pictured it and tried to describe it but there was no intense reaction to the process. I was lost and couldn't identify where I was.

When we finished the room was lit more brightly than usual. When I sat up I could see the sun on the window blinds. There was only one lamp in the room, and it was still lit but its light was consumed by the brightness of the sun from behind the blinds. I sat back in the chair across from his desk.

"What time is it?" I asked.

"It's eight fifteen," he said.

"It didn't seem that long."

"You fell asleep. You don't remember?"

"No. You put on your tie," I said.

"Shaved and got that cup of coffee. I only left you for a minute. You seemed to be resting peacefully. I have an appointment at nine and I need to be ready."

"Tell me about the palm trees."

"What palm trees?"

"You described palm trees. "The fire boiled up, consuming the leaves of the palms over my head. They became torches as they burst open, exploding in fire"."

"No coconuts," I said after some thought.

"What do you mean?"

"No coconuts. All the palm trees I've seen have coconuts. These didn't. They were taller," I said.

"No coconuts? Coconut palms are more prevalent in the south east and the Caribbean," he said. "Is that where you've seen your palms?"

"Yeah, Florida. Lots of coconuts," I said.

"What else do you remember. Maybe something you didn't describe?" He asked.

"No, I don't think there is anything else. The fire, the acid, the palms. The noise was incredible. I've never heard a fire suck the oxygen out of the air quite like that. Woooooooosh! Like it was rolling, moving very fast. Not like a building fire. The sand was burning."

"The sand? You didn't mention sand."

"Yes, it was burning my feet through my boots," I said.

"Boots? Did you recognize the boots."

"Recognize them?"

"Do you have a pair similar to the ones in the dream. What else were you wearing?"

"I don't know. I don't remember looking at the boots. I just know I had boots on," I said. "There was a sharp pain in my shoulder, upper chest, right side. I was looking for something."

"What?" He asked.

"I don't know. I just know I was looking for something. I was looking for something up in the trees. I was hot and sweating and then the fire and that's where it stops, me on fire. I've never been where ever this is."

"You've got a meeting with your attorney and I've got a patient. We'd better finish up. You going to be okay?"

"I'll be fine," I said.

"You have my numbers. If anything comes up, you call. I can prescribe something to help you sleep."

"No. I'm not interested in taking drugs," I said.

"Okay, it's available. If you change your mind we'll try something."

"I won't. I can't imagine putting crap into my body if it isn't a matter of survival. I've lived with my brain for all these years, it'll need to learn to cooperate or I'll need to learn to adapt. Writing requires a clear head," I said.

"But you aren't writing, Thomas."

"I will be. I'll get this under control."

"I've given you an escape phrase. You can escape the dream or merely control it if you like," Dr. Jordan said.

"What is it?" I asked.

"Holy smoke," he said with a straight phrase.

"Holy smoke?" I said, having trouble keeping my face straight. "Why holy smoke?"

"Seemed appropriate at the time. When you start having the dream, you say, holy smoke. You will immediately know it is a dream. You can either go with it, not being in it but being an observer, or you can wake yourself. I don't think you will have the night terrors connected with it again. Your brain now knows it's a dream and that you can stop it."

"You hypnotized me," I said.

"That's a spacious concept. Do you know there are people who can't be hypnotized? What I did was wait for you to be in a totally relaxed state, and then I gave you a suggestion that imprinted on your subconscious. You may have been hypnotized and perhaps you were merely in a deep sleep."

"I see. I hope you're right," I said. "I'm not anxious to go back to sleep."

"You already did. You slept on the couch. Remember?"

I'd beaten a lot more formidable threats in my life than a dream. It had shaken me but that's because it had been so real. Now I'd gone back to it in a controlled way. He was right. I would know it was a dream from now on.

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