Today is the first time in more than a week that the windows are not shut and the shades drawn by noon. The air conditioner and fan are taking a much deserved rest. We have experienced the first of the summer heat waves that come each year to Northern California and force new rhythms into daily life. Anything that requires driving, needs cooking or resembles moving must be completed early in the day – at least by those lucky enough to be able to escape into air conditioning.
This self-imposed isolation creates a world of its own in which the ordinary is suspended and the extraordinary the norm. In this cabin of my imagination I am thrown back upon my own resources – all escapes have been cut off except for books and movies. This week I have been absorbed by a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee, noted stripper of the 40’s; Manning Up, a sociological exploration of a new life stage called pre-adulthood; Colette’s book of short stories, The Tender Shoot; and Willa Cather’s My Antonia, a wonderfully lyrical book of life on the early western prairie.
The Cather book made me nostalgic for my own early days and simpler times but perhaps that desire to reminisce is just an aspect of aging for I am no longer beguiled by the magic promises the future can project. Through day dreams I journey back to the past which, although also out of reach, offer pictures and sounds and smells of earlier times I now view with tenderness and longing. The pain has now been tempered by time; the joys are now better appreciated. Gratitude is a prevailing quality.
In contrast to the isolation and hermetic quality of the days, the nights have become more alive. While the air conditioner sleeps, the windows are raised high, the sounds of traffic and backyard conversations fill the air. Likewise, my dreams take me down ancient corridors where beloved faces and voices come to visit.
Sometimes poignant and loving, sometimes frightening with old traumas and projections, the dreams float in on the cool delta breezes of the night and stealthily encircle the bed. In one I embrace my son and wake up weeping. In another, a woman – is it my mother or myself – berates me for failing and asks why I don’t try harder. I see long departed pets as well as a dog I do not know eager to run with me through the fields. I see myself as I was and will not be again.
Towards morning, a slight chill is felt as the mists lift. I pull the sheet around my bare shoulders while my mind stretches out long tendrils trying to recapture the messages the dreams have left behind. As dawn creeps over the horizon, a night bird sings its final song.