Since I returned to work from medical leave in May, my days have felt so dense with work that I feel so satisfied with the close of each day because I have been too exhausted to worry about much of anything in those moments. I lie down in bed with my tablet and read just a few pages of a public domain collection of Father Brown stories by G.K. Chesterton. This ritual is like a drug-free sleeping pill to me. By the third or fourth page, I’m slipping into that semi-drunken state wherein the mind wanders to places I’ve never seen in my waking life. One moment I’m reading an achingly pastoral scene of Fr. Brown and Flambeau riding in a boat on a river whose banks overflow with wildflowers, and then my mind takes me to a 1940’s kitchen brimming with lattice-topped pies and well-composed salads . . . or I have a drone’s eye view of a street market in Marrakech . . . or I see someone smile who seems to know me though I have no idea who they are (or so the sliver of mind that is still awake tells me). The possibilities are endless in those few moments before I surrender to sleep.
Pink hibiscus with evening light
I capped a busy Monday with a quick walk through my neighborhood wetlands. These shots were taken within an hour of sunset, and the long light reigned as I walked past thousands of tall thistle that have begun their subtle blooming.
Heavy morning rain yielded to high humidity and gusting wind in the early afternoon. I didn’t see reliable sunshine until well into the evening. At this point, the star of this show is definitely my pink hibiscus. It will open its hundreds of blooms over the next month, and I will photograph many of them, hoping to see them anew each time.
Last night I had the first lucid dream I’ve had since my early surgery recovery in March. In that dream, which must have been fueled by the painkiller regimen I was taking in the days after my surgery, I was a cashier in a large baby supply store. My boss asked me to stay after closing for a special customer who was slated to arrive then. After the regular customers had left, a middle-aged woman arrived and purchased enough infant clothes, furnture, and mattresses to fill a box truck. Her purchases were intended as anonymous gifts for expectant mothers in need. She had a self-inking stamp engraved with the phrase, “A Gift from Don Longhorn.”
She had me steady every crib mattress as she stamped it with her oddball message. She had such a chaste aura that she seemed the type who’d invent tame terms for the grittier facts of life. In her mental lexicon, it was possible that all babies conceived without medical assistance were a gift from someone’s Don Longhorn.
Last night a storm raged outside, and I slept through it with a lucid dream about a place that was very in-between. I went there with my parents, my brother, and my sister. All of us had made some sort of pact to start over in a new place, and we were to “cross over” in a small town that looked like it was plucked from somewhere in the American Midwest of 1950. We reached this town by walking through an old elevator with a bellows style inner door in a forlorn building in our own town.
By the way, it was as if this entire dream was based upon an alternate reality to begin with. My brother, my sister, and I all looked about 18 years old at the same time, which is impossible considering that my sister was almost 9 years old when my brother was born. It was like all of us had hit a pause button on aging waiting for my brother to become an adult. With Mom and Dad, just the five of us were a family. No grandchildren, spouses, or significant others had appeared in our lives yet.
I don’t know what struggle or impasse inspired a pact to cross over to whatever lay on the other side of this town. There was a hospital waiting room with a glass wall for observation that we had to cross through to reach this promised land. I was last in line. As my hand held the door open, I knew that I could not join them. I needed to get back to the reality we had known.
As we had been walking through this small town, Mom and Dad quietly warned us that we should not be seen by the fellow in charge. He looked to be a combination of a school principal and mayor, and he was dressed like an early 50’s funeral home director. This role was played by none other than the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. Dad said that we’d have a hard time leaving this town if this man knew we were there.
As we walked up to the hospital waiting room (all the buildings in this one street town had open walls facing its Main Street, by the way), Dad handed me the key to the old elevator we used to enter this city. He told us that if we didn’t succeed in our plan to travel to the new land through the hospital, we could go back home through the elevator. We could not let anyone see us go back into the elevator. Once inside, we’d have three minutes to cross through, or we’d have to go back into this oddball town and try to be unseen opening the elevator door again.
In handing me the key, Dad must have known that I had the least resolve in the pact for our relocation. Once we left the hospital waiting room, we could never go back, but we could cross freely between this Styx-like town and home indefinitely if needed.
I was last in line to enter the waiting room, and I felt a deep conviction that I could not go along. When I announced that I planned to stay and possibly join them at some point in the future, my sister told me that she was never going to speak to me again. Mom and Dad glanced at me in resignation, and I turned back to this mysterious town.
It seemed that I spent the better part of a day milling through town and gauging its power structure. I quickly realized that I needed to get home via the elevator with the key Dad gave me, lest I be stuck in this place for years.
Chester (who seemed to be the mayor) kept a constant pulse of the town’s activities. Who was visiting? Would they lure anyone away? Was everyone wrapped in enough tasks and conversations to avoid noticing how long they’d been there?
There was a rose bush salesman who was to arrive that day, and this seemed a significant foreign threat for some reason. Two women attired in long-skirted suit dresses were watching and waiting for his arrival, musing over whether the salesman would offer bushes of a better quality than the acres of flowers that already enveloped the town.
He arrived and chatted with Chester in this office, who told him that they did not want what he was selling. The salesman left a sample bush in the street, spotted me and quietly let me know that many people had tried to call my dad at work and wondered where he was.
As Chester distracted he people who were trying to get a closer look at the new rose bush (which was full of antique yellow blooms, by the way), I saw my chance to use my key to get back into the elevator home without anyone seeing me.
I opened the outer door and quickly closed the inner bellows door behind me. The inside was not an elevator but a small waiting room attached to a lobby of sorts. There was a black rotary phone on a side table that rang, and I felt compelled to pick it up. The call was for me, but I have no recollection whatsoever of the conversation, of the other speaker, the subject matter, etc. Between the telephone conversation and the furnishings that begged speculation about their age and style (the room was stunning), I exceeded the three minute rule. It was as if this room was designed to seduce its visitors into staying, which is odd because it seemed unremarkable when I passed through it with my family earlier in the dream.
I woke myself up in dread over the possibility of going back into this town to endure the incognito process all over again.
And now for a coda to this dream . . . It is odd indeed that my mind conjured up Chester Bennington for this dream. He reached fame right around the time I became a mother, and there’s nothing quite as effective as parenthood to insulate someone from the currents of pop culture. At least in my case, my perspective turned much closer to home once my daughter was born. Sometimes bands are defunct before I hear them for the first time. It seems that no more than a fortnight lapses between a movie’s premiere and its release for home viewing.
There is only one song I know well by Linkin Park, and that song is “Waiting for the End” from 2010. It’s one of the few songs that have captured my attention in the last ten years, and it is one of my favorite songs for car singing. (Who else is a secret car singer?) For whatever reason, I immediately dismissed the possibility that this song could be about death. I thought it was like the Death tarot card, just signifying the prospect for deep change.
Now that Chester Bennington has taken his life, I remember a crucial quote from Maya Angelou, “Believe people when they show you what they are.”
This reinforces me how serious mental illness can become. Here was this wealthy, famous, talented man who spoke plainly of his suffering. He sought treatment and confided his struggle to millions, yet he lost his battle.
Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow morning, so I’m uncertain whether conditions will be favorable for another installment in my ongoing Saturday garden posts. In the flurry of wrapping up my Friday evening, I snapped this wider picture of my main garden.
This picture reminds me that perspective is so vital to photography (and to life in general as well, I suppose). I’ve gleaned so many moments I value from this small patch of earth that it’s odd to see how small it is.
When life feels drab, zoom in on the smaller details. May you find another realm of things to cherish.
Rose mallow hibiscus at dusk