I had this weird dream last night where I was a kid again and I very rarely have dreams like that. There was a tiny grey mouse, the domesticated species, in a cage with other mice and I thought it was dead, but it moved around a bit so I knew it was still living. I was running around the house singing this song that I was making up as I went along and the theme of the song was my father ought not to beat me for making bad grades but help me make better grades instead. My life has some sharp dividing points in it, and when I was eight years old I think my father stopped believing I could be the son he wanted me to be. It’s like ordering something with nine months of cereal box tops and when it gets there what you have isn’t at all what it appeared to be on the Raisin Bran cover. Life is like that, you know. You see something you want and then once you get it then everything changes from what you thought it was going to be versus reality. But in my father’s case I think he felt like he got truly screwed in the son lottery because everyone else had a son that was so much better. I was a tiny sickly thing, much smaller than the other sons. I wasn’t very good at sports because of a brain injury when I was eighteen months old. I inherited all the bad stuff like seasonal allergies and allergies to insect stings, but nothing good at all. My father gave it eight years and then realized there wasn’t a return policy.
In the dream I was in the house my father lives now, and I was much younger than when we moved there. I have always hated that house, and I always will. I call it The Divorce House because that was we were living when my parents divorced. That was the first real and sharp divide in my life, and no matter how badly you want it to be different or how hard to try for it to be different, divorce is more or less an emotional train wreck where no one gets out without some scarring. Just the sheer noise of it is enough to create trauma. Worse, there’s a cultural expectation, or there was, of heavy drinking.
Back in the day, children were shielded from the heavy stuff like death and divorce as much as they were from sexuality and reality. We were raised in a Disney world of singing animals and Mother Goose and all the while expected to deal with a life that involved betrayal and sickness. People died. People walked away from one another. And to let all of this slowly unfold while pretending nothing is wrong is like telling the passengers on the Titanic they should be happy because there isn’t going to be a shortage of ice after all. The thin veil of comfort given my once or twice a month visits to church, that place where everyone is leaning towards the door after thirty minutes, was like the stories of Santa Claus who never really had enough room in the bag for a real rocket or a pony. Reality blindsided children, just as it does adults. My father couldn’t fix his son, and then he couldn’t fix his marriage. But this isn’t his fault. No one can fix other people but you can stop thinking of them as being broken.
The mouse in the dream died. I knew it was my fault. I didn’t feed it enough, or it didn’t have enough water, even though the rest of the mice in the cage did. I was still a kid, and I took the mouse and hid it under the cedar shavings in the cage. It would begin to smell after a few days, and I knew it, but I bought myself some time to keep from getting into deeper trouble. I raced through the house singing the Help Song but the house was empty. I remember that house always being cold and dark.
I raced around the house at a speed corporeal beings do not master. I was a spirit, a ghost of a little kid, a haunting in motion, and I went through the hallways and the doorways like a cold pale breeze. All of the clutter and chaos of that house was remembered, relived, and revisited and certain books stand out as markers in the backroads of recollection. World War Two history books, United States legend and lore books, the ancient encyclopedias that were always shelved mis-numbered or de-alphabetized, and the nick-knacks my grandmother collected, the ceramic birds and the jug from Mexico, it was all there just as it was in the early seventies, and just as it will be again if I ever come down with Alzheimer’s.
The mouse was dead and I hid the body. There was no one else in the house even though I could hear voices and feel the floor vibrate with footfall. I could smell the house; the fried food smell, the smell of elderly dogs, the smell of rot in the old walls and floor, and the smell of despair. There was the sound of a phone ringing, but it was a cell phone sound, decades before the first cell sounded. I looked down at the phone but it was gone. The tone broadcast again, some generic comes- with- the- phone tone used by people with no imagination for music. Again, I looked down at the spot where the phone should have been, the heavy black rotary monster that was used as a murder weapon in more than a few movies. The idea of killing with a phone now is absurd, unless you can get someone to choke to death on it, and I’ve wished that on more than a few people. I woke up to silence. There was no phone call bleeding into the dream. There was no light in the room. There was no dead mouse. Just the memory of a place in my past I can never call home.