Book Excerpt: Life Goes On -- A Skeptic's Afterlife Education
Written By: John S. Weiss
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Life after Death?
“He’s a liar. He’s delusional.” That’s what many people will be saying about me when they read this book. Honestly, I can’t blame them. I’m even quite skeptical about all this myself. The mere notion of a life after death experience appears to be a massive stretch of my imagination. But it’s all true; at least I think it is.
If this profound, let alone confounding, experience of mine is true, then life is even more of a miracle than it already is. To me, life is now more precious than I ever suspected and, as I have now learned, must be experienced to its fullest every moment of the day.
Of course, there’s nothing new about the concept of life after death. The whole idea has been around as long as, well, civilized people have been around. It’s part of most peoples’ most intimate belief systems. But not mine. I fervently believed that when you died, that was it. Adios forever. That’s probably why I’m still having trouble fully accepting my awakening.
What I’d like to do now is take a moment and tell you a few more things about myself that may help you form an opinion. First of all, I don’t drink. Not a drop. I’m diabetic, and alcohol conflicts with my drugs. Speaking of drugs, I’m clean in that department too, unless you consider insulin, aspirin and Tylenol substances of abuse. Now I have to come clean about coffee. I’m seriously addicted. I’ll have to admit the same for tobacco. I smoke a pipe. It makes me look like a professor, but that’s not a valid excuse.
I don’t believe in UFOs and little green men. I don’t see or believe in ghosts. I think the horoscope industry is a scam. I’m not into conspiracy theories. I think that people who are against gun control should be shot. I’m not a member of any cult. And I’ve never been religious, even for the sake of tradition.
I’m, fortunately, a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed about six years ago and had to endure very major surgery and months of chemotherapy. It was horrible. Even when I was at my worst, I never gave a moment’s thought to the comforting notion that maybe, just maybe, there was something after this life. However, during my hundreds of hours of chemo torture I perfected the art of meditation. Thanks to this, I was able to experience the awakening you’re going to learn a lot more about.
The science of it all
Science is an integral part of understanding (and maybe even believing in) the survival of death. But the theories can be very difficult to understand. So, I’ve tried to put everything I’ve learned into the simplest possible terms, precisely as it was related to me. At one point during the writing of this book, I seriously considered leaving the science out, but it’s just too important and too fascinating. I also considered having a science-only chapter, but it wouldn’t have complemented my experience. So, I’m reporting the science in the same sequence as it was explained to me and in virtually the same words.
Christ no, I don’t want anyone to think that this is a ‘religious’ book. Indeed, some may perceive it to be because of the overall implications. The book may actually reinforce the concept of faith with many who seek assurance. It may also make the most devout atheists think twice about their staunch convictions. All I can say is that it should be read with an open mind. A very open mind. If you get goose bumps, great. If you get pissed off, that’s your right.
Not so funny
The concepts presented in this book are of a very serious nature. In fact, few things in the world could be as serious. And during the time I experienced the events you’re about to read, I was very nervous. And when I’m nervous, I attempt to take the edge off it with humor. It calms my jangled nerves. So, you’re going to find a degree of humor throughout this book. Please don’t be put off or offended by it. Likewise, do your best to overlook any language you deem to be offensive. There’s nothing like a foul four letter word to express an emotion.
“Death–the last sleep? No, the final awakening.”
“Memories are all we really own.”
“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”
Marcus T. Cicero
“Memory is the scribe of the soul.”
“Memory is the mother of all wisdom.”
“Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.”
“Life is all memory except for the one present moment
that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”
“Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly
and safely insane every night of our lives.”
Charles William Dement
“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.”
“Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling,
even our action. Without it, we are nothing.”
“As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence, I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling! And I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
It had been a long, tiresome January day. And I was glad to curl up with a book before I went to sleep. I was about half way into a really gripping World War 2 story about Iwo Jima, and I just had to read one more chapter. That’s what I always tell myself, ‘just one more chapter.’
World War 2 history books have fascinated me for years. From the battle strategies to the weaponry to the human drama, it’s all beyond exciting to me. What’s more, if I’ve had a bad day, reading about all the terror and misery that millions of people endured makes me feel as though my problems are rather trivial.
When I finally put my Iwo book down and turned off the light, I began a ritual I practice that thoroughly relaxes me: meditation. It’s the best way I know to fall soundly asleep. Most importantly, it opened the door to the unbelievable world I’m going to tell you about.
I tried meditation many years ago, but was unable to concentrate or focus my mind. But when I was in chemotherapy, I perfected it and became sort of an expert. During chemo, I spent countless hours sitting in a comfortable chair while the poison slowly flowed through my veins. Sure, you can read, but even that becomes tedious, especially when you get dizzy and nauseous.
So, I learned to completely relax, and remove just about everything from my mind. It’s not easy. I didn’t chant a mantra, but simply focused my mind’s eye on an acorn and buried all my thoughts. Why an acorn instead of a leaf, a mountain, a bicycle or a raspberry pastry? An acorn was the first thing that popped into my mind. They’re pleasing to look at, and there’s really nothing about them that will lead your mind to other thoughts.
After my drooping eyelids told me to put the damn book down, my mind was racing with very vivid images of the tumultuous Iwo Jima battlefield, and it took the passive little acorn a few minutes to help me eliminate them. As usual, meditation sent me off to dreamland, but, this time, to a land that has profoundly changed my life. The next thing I remember was the annoying sound of my Casio alarm clock welcoming me to a new day, a hot shower and a short walk to breakfast.
By the time I strolled the seven blocks to my favorite breakfast spot, the Juan Valdez Café, I was literally craving my next wakeup call: a nice, hot cup of coffee. So I ordered a Café con leche and my usual almond croissant. After about three bites, a dream from the previous night popped into my consciousness. It was about Iwo Jima.
Well, not just about Iwo Jima.
I was there.
In the middle of a real shit storm of a battle.
At first thought, it all made sense. After all, I was entrenched in a rather intense book about the subject. So why not dream about it?
But what a dream this was.
It’s very rare that I ever remember a dream. And when I do, it’s usually murky and surreal. Sometimes I’m trying to run, but my legs are as heavy as lead. Sometimes I have the ability to fly. On rare occasions I have a classic nightmare that scares the crap out of me, and I always wake up. But my Iwo dream didn’t wake me up, although it could be considered a nightmare.
This was like a real memory – something I actually experienced. All my senses were completely tuned in. There I was, trying to flatten myself into a large depression on the edge of a beach. The sand was very fine and darkly colored. Ugly. Everything was ugly.
My ears were pierced by a thundering wall of sounds: huge explosions, rifle and machine gun fire, bullets buzzing by like hornets, soldiers yelling, screaming, and crying, mechanical clinking and clanking; the only normal, pleasing noises were the sounds of a pounding surf. That seemed out of place in this hellish arena.
The smells were like nothing I’ve ever experienced. My nose was assaulted by the stench of sulfur, gun powder, burning flesh, blood, superheated metal and charred rubber. My mouth was completely dry, but I seemed to taste everything I smelled. I felt intense heat, perspiration and the sand.
But what I felt more intensely than anything else was fear. There were constant blinding flashes, followed by all sorts objects sailing through the air: stones, charred wood, twisted chunks of metal, rifles, helmets, pieces of blood soaked uniforms, all manner of body parts and geysers of sand. What I saw on the ground was pretty much the same.
In my immediate vicinity, sharing my crater, were two soldiers. The guy on the left of me kept peering over the edge of our shallow crater. Then he’d raise his gun over his head, a Thompson submachine gun, and fire blindly. What a sound that thing made. And the hot, ejecting shell casings kept raining down on me, stinging my face and hands. I didn’t see his face. Yet.
The soldier on my right was nearly in the fetal position.
But he appeared calm.
Almost like he was enjoying this nightmare.
He looked right at me and said with a smile, “The fellow next to you, Shorty, is going to get shot. You know, wacked, zapped, wasted, plugged, blown away.”
At that moment, I felt a searing pain on the side of my neck. Shorty, had dropped his Thompson, and the hot barrel brushed my neck. I quickly turned, only to closely view this poor guy on his back, eyes and mouth wide open and blood trickling from a hole in his temple. I saw his face and will never forget it.
Over all the explosions, I barely heard a voice from my right say, “See, I told you so. He never knew what hit’em.”
The guy was grinning. I vividly remembered being incensed at his total lack of empathy. It was as though he was completely detached from the tragedy.
Then he spoke again. “Shorty and I went to high school together. He wanted me to relive his death with him. He’s watched me get mine on Omaha Beach. A real bummer. I never even got to kill any krauts.”
I remembered being very confused by this banter. But I distinctly remembered everything he said – like it was really said.
Like it wasn’t a dream.
Pondering all this nonsense while I savored my almond croissant, I remembered the last thing I heard him say, with a broader grin than before.
“Hope you’re enjoying this as much as I am.”
That’s where the dream clicked off. Too bad. I actually wanted a couple of more seconds so I could have slammed this asshole in the mouth. But this was a dream. How could I, honestly, give a damn?
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get this stupid dream out of my head. Every moment of it kept coming back, and I couldn’t help from analyzing every aspect of it. As far as I could remember, I had never read this sequence of events in any of the many Iwo books I’ve had over the years. Of course, all the action and sensory information was a compilation of things I’ve read. Even the way Shorty had been killed.
The rest of my day was thoroughly uneventful. Not even the staccato sound of a machinegun or the scent of a burning tire oozed into my consciousness. Once again, I was very tired, but after fluffing up my pillow, I instinctively reached for my book. As soon as I saw the cover, I winced. ‘Could reading more of this now regurgitate my dream?’ I asked myself. No, I couldn’t let myself become a victim of my own dreams. With that solved, I got comfortable and jumped back into the book.
The next thing I remembered was waking up at around 3:00am with my reading light on and the book resting on my chest. I had dozed off in the middle of a good chapter. Didn’t even have a chance to meditate. Just shows you how zonked I was. I didn’t even remember falling back to sleep after I turned off the light.
When my Casio once again woke me in the rudest of manner, I felt totally refreshed. All I wanted, craved to be more precise, was my coffee and pastry. When I left my home, it was misty, drizzling and cold, but the walk to Juan Valdez was invigorating. Along the way, I tried to remember if I had had any more dreams. Nothing. My mind was clean. What a relief. That dream had obviously been a fluke.
I have to admit, I did think about my Iwo dream a few times during the day. How could I help it? It was now a part of me. A real, well sort of real, memory. Why deny it? That night I grabbed my book without hesitation, read until I could have sworn I saw sheep in my room, and went to sleep. But not before meditating.
As soon as my Casio gave me a swift kick in the balls in the morning, a new memory hit me.
Just as vivid.
I was crouched in the same spot, dead Shorty on my left, asshole on my right. Hell everywhere to be seen, heard, felt, smelled and tasted. The difference was that I knew I was dreaming and saw that it was a continuation of my last one. While I was marveling at this anomaly and wondering how it could be possible, I felt a hard tap on my right shoulder.
When I turned, I wasn’t even surprised to see that jerk staring at me with his big brown eyes peeking out from a banged up helmet, gobs of grease and soot smeared all over his gaunt thin face. This time, though, he wasn’t smirking. With a note of seriousness, he barked, “If you want to experience combat the right way you’ve got to be in uniform.”
That’s when I realized that all I was wearing was my usual sleeping attire: a pair of underpants.
It was embarrassing.
“Did you hear me, soldier?” he asked. “Answer me,” he demanded.
I didn’t know if I could talk coherently in a dream. Thought my mouth might move, but certainly nothing would come out. I also thought that trying to speak might wake me up. But I didn’t want to wake up because, believe it or not, this whole thing was intriguing me.
It was just too real.
Maybe I was going crazy. Maybe someone had slipped some LSD into the insulin shot I took every night. Then I figured, fuck it, I’ll talk to this guy. Nothing to lose but my sanity.
“I don’t have a uniform. And this is just a stupid dream,” I yelled, trying to be heard over all the thundering noise.
Well, the words came out of my mouth. I wished I had said something more astute, more clever. Wow, I didn’t even wake up.
He slowly shook his head, while intently staring at me. Then he said more seriously than I could believe, “This is no dream. This is real. You’re damned lucky to be a part of it. I’m doing you a favor. Now get with the program.”
It took me what seemed like an eternity to fathom what he had just uttered. No, this wasn’t real. Seemed like it, but couldn’t be. Of course not. It was a dream. And, yes, I was lucky to be having such an absurd experience. They didn’t even say ‘get with the program’ back in the ‘40s. And he was doing me a favor?
KaBoooommm. An enormous explosion a few yards in front of me brought me back to my senses.
Without thinking, I screamed, “I don’t have a uniform you lunatic. I’m asleep. At home. In New York City. In my Fruit of the Loom briefs.”
His sand encrusted lips moved, “You’ve got a uniform if you want one. Just imagine you’re wearing one. Think hard about it. And don’t forget boots and a helmet.”
Without further pondering the absurdity of what I was experiencing, I followed his advice. Why not? I’ll go with it. You know, get with the program. What a joke.
All of a sudden -----POOOF. I was in a uniform.
He acknowledged my abrupt transformation with an approving nod and said, “How do you expect to kill Japs without a weapon? Roll over, and grab Shorty’s Thompson. He doesn’t need it any more. And take the pouch of ammo clips off his belt. You’ll need’em.”
Once again, I followed his orders while repressing a laugh. I couldn’t imagine what his response would have been if he caught me giggling. Not that I honestly gave a fucking damn. With the gun firmly in hand, I wiggled over the edge of the crater, aimed at what appeared to be a small cave opening and pulled the trigger. The noise was deafening.
And the gun was kicking, jumping and spewing expended shells all over the place. How could you hit anything with this heavy piece of junk, I thought to myself. But it was fun. Serious fun. Thrilling, in fact. I’ve got to admit that. Over the years, Thompsons have been glorified in hundreds of battle stories I’ve read. They’ve also been romanticized in numerous movies about gangsters in the 1930s. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to shoot one. Now I knew. Or did I? Must be my imagination on steroids. He was laughing. At me.
“If you could only see yourself,” he said. “That gun nearly hammered you senseless.”
“No shit,” I answered.
“You gotta get used to it. With practice, you’ll see that it’s a damn fine weapon. You’ve always known that, Johnny boy.” he said as he took a swig from his canteen.
“By the way, my name’s Lyle,” he said.
Still flabbergasted by all this, I decided to set aside my disbelief and just go with the conversation. I had nothing to lose. Presumably, I was getting a good night’s sleep, anyway. And the dream now seemed like harmless fun.
“How do you presume to know what I’ve always known? And how do you know my name,” I asked.
Of course he knows everything about me. He’s an offshoot of me in my own head, I thought to myself. Then I slapped a new clip into the Thompson.
I decided that to actually enjoy this dream while it lasted, I had to skip the conversation and pretend to be John Wayne. Got to have some fun. So I jumped up, held the gun at my hip and let loose with a long, ripping blast. Emptied the whole clip and slapped in a new one. I was getting the hang of it.
After the acrid smell of gunpowder faded in the breeze, I smelled something new. Lyle was smoking a cigarette. With a Camel hanging from his lip, he was shaking his head and laughing again, really enjoying the pathetic vision of me acting like a complete fool, in my own dream.
“Nice shootin’,” he said. “Do you really want me to answer your last question? The answer’s going to mess with your head.”
“Make it quick,” I said. “Before this dream is over I want to do some more shooting, and I’ve got to toss a few grenades. That’ll be a blast. No pun intended.”
“You’re beginning to slip out of this dream space, he said, so I’ll be fast, direct and honest. I’m not you. This is not a dream. You’re not crazy. Here’s a grenade. We’ll meet again the next time you meditate and fall asleep.”
I didn’t listen to a word of that nonsense. ‘Not me? Not a dream?’
But I gladly accepted the grenade, pulled the pin with my teeth, just like John Wayne, and tossed it at that cave opening.
Karrrrummmph,KaBooom, ring, ring, ring. Ring?
That’s my fucking Casio.
If I still had the Thompson, I’d blow the shit out of that infernal clock. Time to get up. Reality had returned.
I yanked myself out of bed and went through my usual routine. During breakfast, I thought long and hard about my dream. It no longer bothered me; I sort of got a kick out of it. It was certainly strange and disconcerting, but fun, none the less.
Dreaming, in general, was a mystery to me. People analyzed dreams to death, and I was certain there were a million theories. What’s a ‘normal’ dream? I had no idea. And still don’t. Yeah, it sure was strange to dream so damn vividly with such a sensory overload. Maybe this was going to be like a mini series, and I’d return to Iwo tonight. I actually hoped so.
Lyle, obviously my split personality, told me we’d meet again the next time I meditated. Maybe he said ‘medicated’ and I misunderstood him over all the racket. The meditation connection made a lot sense to me. Meditation puts you in a very focused state of mind. Add that to being nearly mesmerized by a book and I suppose it could conjure up the type of dreams I was having. It had never happened before, but there’s always a first time for everything. When I first started meditating, a couple of people told me that it could be a direct route to paranormal experiences. What a bunch of crap, I thought.
That night, I was way too tired to read. A long day, followed by a big dinner, will always do that to you. When I turned the light off and got into my meditation mode, I hesitated for a moment. I asked myself if I really wanted another Iwo episode so soon after the last one. Wait a second: no Iwo book, no Iwo dream. I’d have a sane evening after all.
Up in the Air
When I woke up, I had no idea what time it was and couldn’t care less. I didn’t glance at my watch, which I always wear while sleeping, and avoided trying to focus on that stinking Casio that I had obviously beaten to the punch. All I knew was that it was pitch black, the city was unusually quiet, I was very secure and comfortable, and I had a lot to occupy my mind. After the brand new dream I had just woken up from, I wasn’t sure if I still had a mind. Maybe I was sane and Lyle wasn’t. But Lyle was me. Or was he?
I had fallen asleep with nothing on my mind except the view of my acorn. Hey, wait a minute: could this be a hallucinogenic acorn, something Timothy Leary hadn’t even known about?
All I can remember, and vividly so, was that my first sense was my freezing cold derriere plunked down on an exceptionally uncomfortable metal railing, a rather telling indication that this was definitely not an Iwo dream. Anything cold would have been welcomed on Iwo.
I was in some kind of a huge metal structure that was seriously vibrating. There were rivets all over the place, about to shake loose, I thought. Instead of explosions and screaming, there was an annoyingly loud droning sound. Couldn’t figure it out for the life of me. I also couldn’t figure out why the several guys I saw were dressed in large puffy leather coats, wearing equally puffy gloves and hats. Shit, where was I? The smell didn’t give me any indication either: it was a mixture of oil, gas and gunpowder. Maybe I was in the bowels of a submarine or something like that.
Shit, where the fuck was I?
Just as I wondered if my old crater mate, Lyle, was inhabiting this dumb dream, I saw him walking towards me, slightly off balance. At first I didn’t recognize him because he was all bundled up like the rest of the guys in this strange vehicle.
Laughing hard, he sat next to me on the uncomfortable steel girder, and looked me up and down, seeming to scrutinize every shivering inch of me. Putting his hands over his face, he laughed even harder, like a certifiable maniac.
After regaining his composure, Lyle asked, “Know where you are?”
“I don’t have a clue,” I said.
“Come on, use your imagination,” he said. “I thought this would fascinate you. It does whenever you read about it, and you always enjoy movies of this genre. It should be obvious.”
Then it smacked me in the face.
It was obvious, something I should have realized right away. It’s just that the transition from my Iwo dream was completely out of context.
This, I never expected.
It was even stranger than the Iwo dream, if that’s at all possible, because not one shred of it was on my mind. I hadn’t read any books about this in over a year, nor had I seen any movies.
I was flying who knows where on a bomber.
I always loved reading about battle exploits in the sky. It always amazed me how anyone survived, considering the percentage of planes that were literally blown to hell.
Just as Lyle was about to put in his two cents, having obviously read my mind, all hell broke loose. The airman closest to me let loose with a 50 caliber machine gun that I hadn’t noticed before. Turned out he was just testing his gun, not zapping some Jap or kraut. The noise made the Thompson sound like a child’s cap gun. Incredible. It was almost impossible to hear the tinkling of the spent shell casings bouncing around the steel floor.
Clapping his hands to get my attention, Lyle spoke in his distinctly midwestern accent. “Well?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Took me long enough to get it.” I said.
“Well?” he asked again.
“Well what?” I answered.
“Don’t you think you look like an absolute moron sitting on a B17 Flying Fortress wearing nothing but your ridiculous underpants?” he chuckled.
“Oh. Right. I know the routine,” I said trying not to laugh.
So I did the good old imagination thing, and, kazaam, I was properly dressed. ‘John,’ I said to myself, ‘Just shitcan the common sense and go with the flow.’ It was a logical thought in a situation that defied all logic.
I took it a step further and asked, “So, Lyle, what’s this all about?”
As seriously as he could, Lyle explained, “Its January 27, 1943, and we’re on our way to blow the shit out of a Jerry town called Wilhelmshaven. Right now we’re still over the English Channel, just about to fly over the French coastline. In a few minutes from now, all hell’s gonna break loose.”
“So I guess we’re going to see some vicious flak action and probably a swarm of ME109s. Right?” I asked.
“You bet your ass,” he answered. “But,” he continued, “when you experience this, I want you to seriously think about something extremely important.”
“Important? Extremely important?” I asked.”
The only thing important to me, I thought, is that I don’t wake up before I see one of our gunners turn an ME109 pilot into hamburger meat. Even better, I’d like to be the one doing the shooting.”
Lyle brushed his hat back an inch or two over his forehead, put a hand on each of his knees and leaned towards me. Shit, I thought, looks like I’m going to get some God damn lecture.
Of course, this ain’t really happening, I thought, so I’ll take it with a grain of salt. But it’s got to be quick. Can’t wake up yet. Got to get an enemy bandit with a 50. I was having a shit load of fun.
Knowing full well every thought in my mind (he is me, damn it), he calmly said, “I know you think this is all bull shit, and I can’t blame you. You’re also thinking you’ve got a few screws loose. Let me assure you: you’re perfectly normal, this is not a dream and I am neither an aspect of you nor a figment of your imagination. Think about what I just said, what you consider to be nonsense, and, maybe, just maybe, we’ll take the next step.”
Give me a break, I said to myself. It’s just a dream.
And what is this ‘take the next step’ baloney that Lyle uttered?
Enough thinking -- time to bring on the ME109s, duck some flak and turn some jerry buildings into dust. I’m going to wake up sooner or later, I feared.
After plenty of action, I was squinting at a 109 banking hard to my left, trailing oil smoke from its engine.
‘No more sauerkraut for you, Fritz,’ I said to myself.
Then a cloud seemed to light up with 7:30 AM written on it, and it sounded like it was buzzing.
My Casio brought me down from 20,000 feet to pillow level, as aggressively as ever.
I decided to stay snuggled up in bed for a while so I could reflect on every second of my dream. It was an awfully good one. Just as vivid and real as my visits to Iwo, more like a lifetime experience. In no way was I going to let myself forget any moment of it, as was the case with dreams of my past. They would all get blurry. Quickly.
But these weren’t really dreams, not as I had ever experienced, read about or possibly imagined. Of course, they were dreams. Had to be. To say the very, very least, I was confused, perplexed, confounded, concerned and worried. Yes, I was worried about my mental health. But I was also thankful that these weren’t terrifying nightmares. A nightmare at this level of reality would be devastating to my nerves.
Before I threw off my sheets and jumped into the real world, I thought hard about anything that could be causing these dreams. Was I taking any new medication? Was my Tylenol way beyond the expiration date? Was I sniffing glue? Was anyone slipping anything into my food? Was I washing my fruit? Did I have a brain tumor? Had I offended a voodoo practitioner? Was there any mold in my pillow?
I couldn’t seem to blame it on anything. There had to be an explanation, and I was on a quest to discover it. Screw all the analysis for a moment, I thought, these dreams were fun and terrifically thrilling. I wanted them to continue.
Tonight, I’d love to be back in that B17 dropping bombs. I never got a chance to do that. Maybe all this stuff that’s happening to me is 100% normal. Why worry about it? Then I remembered that I had recently been trying a new toothpaste. New toothpaste? Nah, couldn’t be that.
On my way to Juan Valdez, I continued to ponder my airborne dream and the prospect of returning to it soon. Hopefully, in fact, tonight. But this time, I hoped for a logical variation. This time, I wanted to be a fighter plane pilot. That’s something I’ve dreamt about since I was a kid, and the written accounts have always knocked my socks off.
The fighter of my choice would definitely have to be a P-51 Mustang. All I had to do, I assumed, was find a combat history book involving this plane, read some juicy passages before meditating, fall asleep, and, kazzzam, I’d be roaring towards an ME-109 or a Jap Zero, with my 50s and 20mm cannons spreading a path of instant death and destruction. Sounds pretty vicious, but, hey, it’s only a dream. Right?
Another reason I longed for one of these special dreams to take place in a fighter is simple: They’re single seaters. You know what that means: no room for Lyle. Just me. These dreams are screwy enough as it is. But having to talk to some strange variation of myself is just too weird.
It’s not that I don’t like this apparition, it’s just that he freaks me out. Especially all that nonsense he dispenses about these not being dreams. It just wastes valuable dreamtime. And I no longer need him to point out that wearing only underpants is no way to fight a war. If I want to be practically naked in a P-51, so be it, I thought.
Fortunately, the rest of my day was normal. During dinner, I wondered if my dreams could go far beyond World War 2 situations. Stimulation via reading and meditation might take me anywhere.
That evening, I stopped off at my parent’s house. My mother had been rummaging through a cabinet and discovered a box of old family photographs. So, I couldn’t resist the temptation to look at them all. Honestly, it hurts to see your whole family so young. You really long to bring back the past. To get rid of the wrinkles, trim the waistline, restore a drastically receding hairline, return to a simple, innocent time.
That night, all I could do was reminisce about my wonderful days growing up in Purchase, New York. It was beautiful. We only lived there for fourteen years, but it felt like an eternity. When you’re a kid, time goes by very slowly. Too bad you’re not wise enough to take full advantage of every second.
My mother had given me a bunch of the yellow tinted photos, every one of which I studied until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. After what seemed like a two second meditation, I zonked out.
Whenever I wake up in the morning before my Casio has had the chance to insult my whole being, I just lie there with my eyes closed, hugging my pillow, feeling the comfort and security of soft sheets enveloping my body.
On some occasions, my top sheet and quilt are missing, the obvious victims of a restless night. That was my first realization when I woke up in what I assumed was the morning. Not only was I uncovered, with no pillow at all, but what I assumed to be my bottom sheet felt mushy and sort of prickly. There was also the sensation of a mild breeze, as though I had forgotten to turn off my fan. My fan? It was January, so that device was safely stored in my closet.
I still hadn’t opened my eyes. All this, I thought, was simply my fertile imagination at work. Even the smell of freshly cut grass, or the feeling of the sun on my skin, didn’t ring any bells. But when I was startled by a seriously tickling sensation on my face, and scratched a large bug off my cheek, I reluctantly opened my eyes.
‘Fuck,’ I exclaimed, ‘What the fuck?’
I hadn’t been snoozing on some bloody sand, or in a B-17, or even in my own damn bed.
I had woken up in a dream on a lawn.
A fucking lawn with fucking bugs.
I sat up, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and thought to myself, what kind of shit is this? Grass? Bugs? It took about two seconds to focus my eyes and carefully examine the immediate vicinity. I knew exactly where I was: right smack dab in the middle of my old back yard in Purchase.
Then it hit me again:
Before my pre-sleep meditation, I had been literally dreaming about my old home. So this all made perfect sense. Perfect sense? Well, in the scheme of everything that had been happening the last few nights, it did.
Well, enjoy it while you’re here, I mused. There was nothing unnatural or dreamlike about anything I saw, felt, touched, or smelled. I knew I was in a dream, but seemed as awake as ever.
I was definitely in Purchase.
In my good old back yard.
Analyzing all this seemed a waste of valuable, fleeting time. I had done that on Iwo and in the stratosphere over Germany, without arriving at any comprehensible conclusions.
Get off it, John, I thought to myself. Going to wake up soon, and it’ll all be over. Now it was time to explore. Cover every inch before waking. As far as I could tell, it was midmorning, most likely July. The year? Who knows? Who cares? ‘54? ‘59? ‘62? It always looked the same from this perspective. After a bit more thought, I headed first to our garden.
My parents had always planted a rather large garden since as far back as I could remember. And here it was – with its kaleidoscope of lusciously colored flowers, and row after row of vegetables. As I had done many times before in my past life, I grabbed a few cherry tomatoes, marveled, once again, about this unreal, yet painfully real experience, and popped them in my mouth. Literally shivering with a combination of joy, nostalgia, and total disbelief, I felt the tomatoes bursting in my mouth, releasing a rich flavor that ignited a powerful flood of memories.
Too bad I took this for granted way back then, I thought. Wiping off some juice that was trickling down my chin, I felt that all my senses and emotions were in hyper drive. Shit, this was real. Shooing away a bee, I looked beyond the garden, past an enormous oak tree, and peered at the side entrance to the house.
I fully expected to see a very young version of my mother, sister, father or grandparents open the door. But that didn’t happen, although I was absolutely certain that I could will it to happen.
I also had to see my dog and cats. And could I ride my old bicycle? Drive my Mustang? Start my favorite model airplane engine? It would all be possible; I just knew it. ‘Please don’t wake up,’ I kept urging myself. Please don’t.
The sounds of buzzing bugs, chirping birds, a distant lawn mower, highway traffic, and my own chewing were interrupted by a squeaking sound. Not an unfamiliar squeaking sound, though. It was the noise the swings made as they went back and forth on our jungle gym.
Examining it in my right field of vision, I fully expected to see someone from my past. Instead, I saw something that seemed to violate this wonderful experience. It, of course, was Lyle. On my swings. Apparently enjoying himself, no less. This shouldn’t surprise me, I thought. He was, after all, some kind of projection of myself or maybe someone I knew. Couldn’t be. Must be. Confusing as shit.
“Enjoying yourself, John?” he inquired. “Quite a but different from the last few nights, wouldn’t you say?”
My honest response: “This place is personal. I’m trying to think you away, but it’s not working.”
“Maybe you should be thanking me,” he had the audacity to say. “I brought you here, knowing full well all the memories it would unleash.”
Then, throwing his legs back to gain more momentum on the swing, he laughed.
Why was I bothering to talk to him, or even acknowledge his presence, I wondered. I’m just breathing more life into this imaginary figure – this warped reflection of myself. See if you can intelligently get rid of it, I thought to myself. Absorb it back into yourself.
“You cant,” was his response. “I’m not you at all.”
After spending a few moments in what appeared to be careful thought, he continued, “I owe you an apology. This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like this, and I’m sorry I’ve confused you and gotten you so pissed off.”
How am I supposed to respond to this gibberish, I wondered. More to the point, this was the first time I had ever done anything like this. I’ve never before dreamt with such spectacular clarity, and I’ve never had an imaginary friend.
A new tactic: “Why are you doing this to yourself?” I pointedly asked him.
Then silence. No answer. He was deep in thought. Thrusting his legs all the way forward while throwing his head back, he seemed to fly on the swing. Just like I always did. For the first time I noticed how young he was, 20 at the most. And his clothing was duller than any I’ve ever seen. I never really gave a shit about clothing, but I certainly never wore anything remotely like that. God, it was all so strange.
“Remember when I said something about taking the next step?” he asked, intently staring at me.
“Yeah. Whatever.” I answered.
“This is important,” he said.
“I don’t have a clue why I’m doing this to myself,” I mumbled.
“Here I am in the middle of the best dream I’ve ever had, and it’s being interrupted by some imaginary vision of myself. It’s self-destructive. And now there’s a next step that’s, of all things, important? Please, just vanish before my mind turns to oatmeal.” I yelled.
Well, I figured that would do it. I was waiting for a flash of light or something, and then pooooof, no more Lyle. But no such luck. He just kept on swinging, seemingly lost in thought.
“One more thing I want to say,” uttered good old Lyle.
“For Christ’s sake make it quick,” I stammered. “I’m gonna wake up soon.”
“If I vamoose, you’ll be able to dream a little while longer, but never again with the same intensity. You’re here because of me and me alone. And regardless of what you think, I’m not you. Not at all.”
“Horseshit,” was my response.
“You’re narrow-minded,” was his response. “No imagination. No curiosity. Firmly cemented in your own limited way of thinking.”
“You win, asshole,” I said. “We’ll take the important next step, but something tells me I’ll have dog shit all over my shoes. My dream shoes, that is.”
“Excellent decision,” he cried. “Now, you’re in for……”
I never realized that Lyle had such a ring to his voice.
Then it dawned on me (no pun intended): That’s not him. It’s my fucking Casio. I’m waking up. Leaving my cherished back yard. My dream’s over, and I’m left on a hook.
That day, every corner of my mind was consumed by this whole thing. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bury it in some dark corner. Still couldn’t figure out what Lyle represented in terms of my own subconscious thoughts. But I knew the answer lurked in some crevice.
There was no other explanation.
It occurred to me that it might not be a horrible idea to consult a few close friends or family members. I was itching to reveal this to anyone willing to listen. Maybe I’d get an answer. Or an inkling of one. People would listen kindly, probably break a little sympathetic smile and offer a few empty words of logic. They’d be thinking to themselves: John is seriously fucked up.
Yeah, this was my own personal problem. Or opportunity, depending how you looked at it. If I just went along with everything: you know, conversed with Lyle about who knows what, what would be the downside, I asked myself.
If I could keep my head screwed on, however, there would only be an upside: I could continue having these awesomely spectacular dreams while getting a good night’s sleep, and possibly even maintaining some semblance of my sanity.
Lyle, old boy, you win.
After a whole day with all this shit rattling around in my brain, I was overly ready for bed. And did I study my Purchase pictures before meditating? You bet your ass I did. Then I was back in the same spot, like I had never left my yard. Lyle had slowed down his swinging, looking far more serious than before.
I was ready.
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