Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Phantom of the Opera


The Dream:
I am with my mother in a subway. We are planning to meet my father and my daughter at a play. The subway we're on is due to make a special stop to accommodate opera goers. We are running a little late, and I'm getting anxious. The subway operator announces that we are going to skip the extra stop, and I'm relieved at this time saver. I had thought our meeting was at 8:30, but mother tells me it's not until 9:00. Again I'm relieved; we have a little more time to make it. 

“Oh, yes,” says my mother derisively, “you and your father will be getting nervous, but your daughter and I won't be concerned.”

Mother is an insulin-dependent diabetic. To add to my anxiety she announces she needs food (to avoid a life-threatening insulin shock). We get off the train and go in search of, but nothing seems right or appropriate. The few food stalls we find have the wrong sort of food.

Apparently we do find a place where, as I continue to worry about being late, an Italian woman serves me a bowl of soup as I sit/lie on a twin-size bed. The soup looks better than I had expected, with lots of julienned strips of vegetables like zucchini. I eat while still in the bed, and spill some. It makes a mark the color and consistency of pomegranate jelly. I point this out to the woman and tell her it can be cleaned up easily; I start scrubbing with pretty good success.

The Italian woman's husband comes in and the woman signals to him that outsiders are present. They speak in Italian. Soon they switch to a combination of English and Italian. Meanwhile I become aware that my mother is incapable of feeding herself. I sit down next to her at a small circular table and feed her.

Even with the best of mothers, and my mother was as good as it is humanly possible to be, some dregs of unhappiness will settle to the bottom of the mother/child relationship. In this dream, years after her death, I look at some of this murky sediment. The first thing that struck me about the dream was my mother's derisive comment. She did have this hateful way of criticizing me occasionally; rather than acknowledging that there might be a reason for my anxiety (or other negative feeling) the message was that I was wrong to feel it. The comparison to my father in the dream reflected a frequent jab as well: comparing me to my father was an indirect and implied rejection. She must have felt that she was the superior one; he was not the one to emulate. Here (on the subway) we see the subterranean conflicts of the mid-century marriage. We're running out of time. I do feel that, especially after my younger brother's death.

Despite Mother's superiority she needs to be taken care of. The diabetes of the dream was real, and it had us all running in circles. She was very brave about it in many, many ways, but the threat of insulin reactions , horrible to behold, was ever present and frequently happened. The need to get access to food could be, and often was, a problem. This created an on-going anxiety: another sort of running out of time.

I eat, forgetting the purpose of the stop for food was mother's need. Am I demonstrating my selfishness? I've certainly been accused of it, directly and indirectly, by Mother. The foreign language being spoken tells me that there is something I don't understand. When the language switches to a combination of English and Italian, I begin to get it, partially: I must feed (take care of) Mother. Now I have to ask myself, "Is what I've come to understand that I do feed mother, or that I should feed mother?" She has been dead for 8 years. Is it appropriate, at this point in my life, that I feed her? Or am I living with an unpleasant burden that I have created for myself by continuing to feed her? Time is running out, and if I want to skip the work (the opera) and get to the “play” I probably need to sort this out.

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