Watch Out for Highway Workers (excerpt from the conclusion)

Shortly after the accident, Susanna told Amanda, “I was praying right after it happened.” Amanda’s response was, “Aha.” Amanda hadn’t prayed because she hadn’t believed in God. She still doesn’t.

Rick didn’t have a chance to pray. This is what is assumed. He died instantly. His loved ones hope he died instantly so he wouldn’t suffer.

Amanda and Susanna suffered because they lived.

Sandra might have suffered.

Amanda still doesn’t know what really caused the accident. She has a hard time believing the police report, which quotes Ken as saying: “I fell asleep for a second.”

The accident occurred some time shortly after 9 in the morning.

Amanda’s car is the only one that collided with Ken’s on a freeway containing other moving vehicles.

Everything happens for a reason.

E = mc2.

An apple falls, not floats, from a tree.

You build it – It can fail.

It’s like this see. Material, moveable objects within the same atmosphere = encounters, collisions, explosions, implosions. Place a thinking human being in that same atmosphere and you have more of the same, and then some. Every motion, collision, explosion, implosion has a traceable cause. Man is the story.

Amanda does not express her spoken responses very well. She prefers the written word. “Just teaches you to enjoy the moment. Live. Really live, man.” To which she writes: We live somewhere between memory and fantasy. Never here. Never now. It only appears that one has lived here and now, after he has left his trace.

She still doesn’t know why she lived and why he died. She stopped asking why, taking the human out of the equation.

A 53-year old highway worker was struck dead this morning on the off-ramp of Highway 15. The first highway message board on Highway 15 reads: Safety Alert! WATCH OUT FOR HIGHWAY WORKERS.

Another message board half a mile down the highway reads: WATCH OUT FOR HIGHWAY WORKERS.

Watch out for highway workers.


Slumber Citizens (Condensed Addendum)

2. Slumber Citizen 013654 Works as a Private Tutor for Deviant Citizen/The Flavor of a Dream

Several years of the incarceration of Deviant Citizen 166601 passed in the Institution, and this with only mild success. His parents, who could no longer afford the trauma brought on to the family, nor the expense, hired Citizen 013654 for her services as a private tutor. By this time, she was seeking early retirement; consistent self-discipline and adherence to a stringent schedule had begun to take its toll. However, she found the case of Deviant Citizen to be pitiable and at the same time intriguing; therefore, she took up the office of his tutorship.

Our son suffers from what we believe to be the oppression of nightmares. In turn, these nightmares, when forgotten incarnate into monstrous selves of equal or worse quality to his deviant, core self. We have discovered that our son is soothed, his parents insisted, by intimate acquaintance with literature. His instructors at the Institution – while well trained in the area of discipline – are not of the literary kind (they read only fairy tales to him, inducing tantrums because the characters – as he insists – are interchangeable and therefore disposable). Somehow exposure to various fictional yet unique individuals makes our son more tolerable. Perhaps these literary characters become so real to his imagination that he can no longer distinguish between their personages and himself. We have exhausted our literary knowledge. Whatever it takes, they begged. Just don’t include literature of the kind to do with devils or demons. Other than that, the world of literature is yours.

Entrusted with Deviant’s care, Citizen 013654, well versed and well read in various genres of literature, began with her favorite author – Jorge Luis Borges.

The challenge with Borges is that he is an author of ideas more so than an author of character. Where there are characters in his stories, they are ultimately ideas. Citizen decided to go with her instincts anyway. She started by tackling Borges’ “Nightmares.”

She didn’t confess this to his parents, for they would have wondered, why begin with a nonfiction essay that is not about people but ideas? Yet, her choice turned out to be clever in that Deviant’s real issue turned out to be that he could not really distinguish between waking and dream. This fact may explain why his treatment in the Institution failed. They attempted to stimulate pleasant dreams, hoping these would produce more tolerable selves. But while awake he often believed he was dreaming. Often these delusions of dreaming were for him nightmarish. Once when he found himself behaving like a gentleman with delicate manners and etiquette, it felt so fake and freakish and different from his core self that he pinched himself in an effort to wake from the nightmare – which was really a waking reality.

Of course, the opposite would occur as well. His nightmares would often feel so much like waking that when he really woke up, it would feel like he hadn’t slept at all. He would, like most children, arrive at the day’s duties with lethargy and the desire to return to sleep.

Now, it would seem that such an effect – particularly in Deviant’s case – would be considered ideal – a sleepy, therefore docile and controllable self. Not so. After a very brief period of time, he would be re-energized more than ever to terrorize.

What if – rather than taking on the impossible task of crushing these nightmares – they could be somehow confronted and their impressions diffused or even reverted? And so, (based on a loose interpretation and reading of Borges), Citizen came up with a unique and unusual concoction to approach Deviant’s nightmares (whether waking or sleeping). She approached each one (remembered or not) as a flavor.

What does this one taste like?
A burp.
And do you like this taste?
(When he liked the taste of a dream, she presumed it would become recurring, as children tend to hold on to likeable nightmares and dreams.)
And last night’s?
Like mildew and vanilla crème.
Do you like this taste?
No and yes.
(With a mixed response such as this, its recurrence would be uncertain and therefore any further exploration set aside for the time being).
And yet this other?
Blah. Bleh.

It came upon Citizen to take such a negative response a step further; she would insist that Deviant explore the taste of repulsive flavors further and deeper. Try it again, she’d recommend after having him wash it down with one of his favorite drinks (usually water sprinkled with lime). This approach often led to a watered down version of the taste – less dominating and even verging on appealing. At this point, the nightmare could turn into a friendly dream.

For example, a nightmare in which an axe murderer chases Deviant’s pet dog down into the bushes before whacking it into a million different pieces could, when watered down, could become a dream about a woodsman discovering a dead deer on the highway and cutting it into several pieces to feed his family.

Now at this point, it may appear that Citizen’s efforts at curing Deviant of his nightmares were off the beaten path, if not in defiance of his parent’s original wishes. Remember that they wanted Citizen to read and explore classical literature with their son in order to heal their son and make him more socially acceptable. It could even be argued that he became more or less Citizen’s experiment in psychology rather than a patient to be cured. Should she have exposed Deviant to the true character of Borges himself – both his private and public persona, overall likeable – rather than to his nearly blasphemous interpretation of dreams? Whatever the case, the results of this aspect of her tutorship were quite impressive.

Treating each nightmare (whether imagined or lived) as a flavor turned it into some kind of a game. She gave Deviant the freedom to taste a variety of nightmare flavors as he would various flavors of food, and the end result was at times – equal to giving even the most repulsive of tastes a chance – the exploration of nightmares as approachable as dreams. In turn, releasing him from the fear of nightmares resulted in the promotion of selves that were not to be feared. And this, after all, was the goal of his parents, and for that matter, the Institution. Explore your various selves – any other than your deviant self.

But it must be added that (as with any other child’s game) Deviant grew bored and tired of this flavor game and more often that not, reverted to his core, troubled self.

Addendum to the Addendum: Relative Quotes from Borges’ Nightmares:
“…for poets and mystics, it is not impossible for all of the waking life to be a dream.”

“What matters, as Coleridge said, is the impression produced by the dreams.”
“I have come to the conclusion, though it may not be scientific, that dreams are the most ancient aesthetic activity.”
“Duality is part of the horror of dream. And nightmare has a ‘flavor.’ (This last quote has been paraphrased.)

Nothing is my everything

In dreams you can have one thing
be your everything.
But you must be a child
or at least childlike.
Every child wants to fly.
I’ve forgotten my flying dreams
but still remember the ones
where I hovered,
my back against the ceiling
even after I awoke.
The heavy yoke of sleep lifted
and my eyelids fought the weight of
lazy honey dreams.
And still I hovered above my bed,
my arms motionless wings.
Every child wants to fly,
and remembering is like dreaming –

Read my newly published “Letter to Bao Ninh” (author of The Sorrow of War) at The Asian American Literary Review

Here is the link: