Copyright (c) 2003 J.D. Chapman All Rights Reserved
Things start to come together for me as I glide toward Pico. The jigsaw puzzle of my life, before just pieces connected at the border, is now moving past blobs of color. The wind is whistling in my face while all of the little tidbits of my dreams and thoughts are starting to sort themselves out, lining up in all the spaces, and creating a landscape that I can almost see. I futz with my goggles and stomp the cycle into third gear. I think back around eight years ago — shortly after mom died — I recall that’s when my vivid dreams started.
In my dream my stomach hurts. It’s a dull pain — not really my stomach: up a couple inches from there, somewhere between my stomach and my heart. When this happens I feel grouchy, plonked; I scrunch my eyebrows and stare out at the wind rattling the leaves as I feel the sting of my mom’s nagging ass-grinding. Her scolding rains down upon me like hot ashes. I duck under an overhang (a tent of sorts) but dad is there with a broom and he uses the wide brush to shove me back out under the falling ashes. The dull pounding of my heart fades and returns — a heavy and angular deadweight presses on my chest; I breath deeply and let out a slow stream of cigarette smoke through my nose, not quite a sigh. Then I’m coughing and spewing out mom’s ashes. When I wake up my throat is sapped like I was sleeping for hours with my head in the clothes dryer; I pull a pillow feather out of my cotton-mouth.
This was a year after Mom died — she lay in a hospital bed for six weeks with tubes in her arms and nose, skin becoming transparent, eyes sunken and mostly closed. I could tell that she was still thinking though — I could feel her thoughts: the times when she wasn’t praying for relief or fighting pain or asking for more drugs she would be reminiscing about her life, dolls, boyfriends, dances, and laughter with girlfriends. There was shit that I could do about it (and I don’t blame myself) but that doesn’t stop any of the pain. Dad probably still thinks it’s my fault — somehow he felt I trapped mom at home to raise me and that started her smoking, which we all figure eventually lead to her cancer. I gulp the ocean air deeply and let out a slow sigh, then a bit of a cough as a bug crashes off my cheek. Cancer mangled her and finally wiped her out. Traffic here is light and I kick the cycle into neutral and rev the engine a couple of times, then pop it back into gear.
I had a dream where I was in a jail cell. Dad would stumble by and throw things in at me (usually empty beer bottles, shot glasses, sometimes an empty whole vodka bottle) but I would dodge away and he would never hit me. In my dream he would always be mumbling — I could never make out anything real that he was saying, but I could tell he was angry. Rumbling thunder and clouds of red anger. Most of the time he would just be talking to himself, rambling. Then he would suddenly stop and just stand there staring at me moping. Then a glass missile explosion — me ducking — him glaring and cursing. In the corners of the cell slivers of glass sparkled in piles.
Dad used to get drunk a lot starting when Mom got sick; he worked odd jobs for whatever friends felt sorry for him at the time. Yard cleaning, hauling trash to the dump, chopping up a tree, or detailing somebody’s van. A few hundred feet up ahead of me the signal at Pearl changes to red and I slow down.
After a couple of years I began to get a headache in my dreams and locked myself in my room, propping a chair under the doorknob handle. I would be torn apart by swirling tornadoes and whirling carpets of fear and anger; I would press myself against the wall to avoid the whirlpools sucking me in. There would be nothing I could do about it — I would dream of being in bed, tossing and turning, putting my head under the pillow, rubbing my temples, and putting on headphones with no sound, just silent. I had my very own personal shock therapy: lightning and electricity would pour out of the headphones and erase my pain and all of my memories.
After mom died I would put on the stereo headphones with loud techno-punk to escape the souls of my mom and dad at war. The soul of rock and roll mated with my family and blended everything together like pizza.
I remember a dream where I was losing things… junky odds and ends, then keepsakes, then shoes, clothes, books. I would look where something used to be but then I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t like I noticed gaping wiped-out losses — just when I wanted something in my dream (say to put on my wristwatch) I couldn’t find it. The more I looked the more I became frustrated. I would suddenly be at school and I would be unable to find a pen or my textbook. I would sit in class pissed, and the sound of the unconnected chattering of the teacher and my friends had no meaning — just babbling noise. I could have been living under water in my own world, observing but not understanding.
The light turns green and I pull away from a line of cars behind me. When mom died it changed my head on everything. All of the usual things that I had thought were important just faded rapidly from my brain and vanished. It’s like when you find out about sex and then suddenly girls aren’t just skirts and jewelry. It was a swift kick in the butt… I guess they call that a paradigm shift.
Then I’m in a jungle: I’m starving, my stomach hurts, I’m looking up and down for something to eat, maybe some fruit, shoot, I’ll even eat some leaves if they’re soft enough. But there’s nothing around. I am starving. I see a flash out of the corner of my eye, turn and chase; it’s a woman, a jungle woman. She’s more beautiful than Jane, sleek muscular legs, great boobs, and long hair. She dodges around behind trees but I’m faster — I catch her in a corner of trees, pin her to the ground and screw her. She fights a little but I am stronger even in my hunger. But something is wrong — she pokes me in the eye and I pull away, damn. She is gone, my stomach hurts, my eyes are bleeding, I’m stumbling around and I can’t see. Snakes wrap around my legs and I’m down on the ground with dirt in my mouth.
A couple of years after mom died I had a one-night stand. It was great of course, but I was also angry afterward — angry that I couldn’t relate to women and that I was lonely. Well, I realize that now, but at the time I was just angry. I couldn’t tell if my bad luck with women was because I was angry or if it was the other way around.
I’m in a college gym — it is empty except for a large square red mat in the middle of the floor — nobody else is there. I walk over to the mat and then I’m kneeling and wrestling with my dad. He has me in a headlock and my neck hurts. As I twist to escape, my chest hurts. We pin each other and then break apart, pin each other again. He pulls my hair, I throw a punch. He is choking me. I make a prayer to God: Lord give me a way out of this, Jesus save me. Suddenly dad is gone and I am standing alone on the mat. Then I am an eagle, flying high above the gym, then high above the city, relaxed and soaring in updrafts. Down below I see little toy cars and ants of people. The air is clean and smells different, high-altitude air, ozone, jet stream.
I awake with a jerk and drenched in cold sweat. After I lie still for a minute I get up to go to the bathroom, but something is immediately different about me. It’s like I’m there but part of me is separated — part of me is just watching me — and then the part that was watching me is moving away, it is leaving. And I’m still shook up by my dream so I let it go.
I wake up from a dream in a dream where I drag a comb through my hair and look at myself in the mirror. I look different — it’s still me, but when I stare deep into my eyes I see a certain emptiness: blank cartoon-dot eyes. Then the reflection in the mirror doesn’t have any eyes: the eyelids are closed. Then I am an eagle again, flying but feeling lighter and both saddened and happy at the same time. When I fly with the wind the ground moves below but I don’t feel any air over my skin. A burden lifts from me, but I know that I have paid some kind of price. I try to keep tabs on the piece that is missing, that is traveling, but it fades in and out, a shortwave signal whistling on bounces from the clouds.
Then I am at a quiet beach bar having a beer. As the sunset hypnotizes me and the beer dulls my loneliness I touch the piece of me that has left and imagine it finding a small fresh body — a body still inside of a womb. I am a little bit surprised, but just briefly, and then I am not surprised — after a while it feels right. At the same time it is a bit of a wicked feeling — I can focus on my vibes from the “me” that is at the beach bar, or the “me” that is in the womb, and lots of times the feelings balance each other out, the good and the bad, but a lot of the time they crash, intensely and sublimely opposite. I am the man and the woman, I am a fish and the fisherman, the fire and the ocean. I can float just by suspending myself between the two instances of me.
A few years ago I felt I was actually going schizoid. I wasn’t sure if my dream life was more of a real life than my real life was. One day, feeling depressed, I walked the streets in search of relief and I saw a man go by on a motorcycle. Somehow I identified with him, his running, and his search for a way to break out from his miserable suffering.
I have a most peculiar and fractured life. I get a job at a coffeeshop and drop out of school. I listen to heavy-metal rock and roll when I am disconnected from my better half, and drink booze. When my better half connects to me I listen to classical music. I am in a completely different world when this happens — like lying in a warm bath. Like being stoned on opium. Then my better half leaves and I am wracked again by loss and despair. I think that I must be manic-depressive.
In my dream I buy a motorcycle. At first it takes some getting used to, but after a while I’m pretty comfortable on it. I take it up in the mountains: the scenery and the quiet away from people is relaxing. The motorcycle rumbling and the pine smell of the mountain air turns off my battles, I just let it all go, I’m here in the present with the sunlight streaming through the trees and the dapples on the highway. When I am in the mountains I become a young child on a swing and it is like being in heaven.
The vibrations from my motorcycle and the forced concentration as I bog down in the highway 1 traffic gives me a pleasant numbness — it hypnotizes that part of me that would otherwise kill me.
On one of my longer rides my other half connects to me, then leaves me for an hour, then when I approach the coast it connects to me again. For the first time in my life I ask it “who are you, where are you from, why is it that you leave me?” (less than words really — more just thoughts — and they don’t really happen in English, they just happen). It is soul-to-soul communication. As I head down PCH near Kanan I get the answers transmitted back: the other half is part of a woman, not my future wife, no, something else, a young girl, off in her own world, wondering curiously about me too, trying to understand my dark side.
And then she’s gone. Like permanently. I spend what must be a couple of years in my dreams searching for her again. It is not a sexual craving; it is plain love, a desire to be with her so that I can share her life, mostly to escape from my own. I don’t know what she looks like, but I know that I will recognize her instantly when I see her. In my dreams I am on my motorcycle driving through snow, driving through deserts, driving through cities, looking for this young girl.
And then one night in a dream I find her. I am driving down a coastal route in a city: I recognize the city and yet I don’t know its name, but it is familiar in the sense that nothing that enters my gaze strikes me as new or peculiar — I have been here hundreds of times. I stop at a signal and then I see her, our eyes lock, and I am once again an eagle. We are flying together, sharing light and love and the warmth of the sun, permanently connected.
As I turn onto Lincoln my radio crackles: “unit 43 respond to 11-80 … Ocean Park and Lincoln, motorcycle and a big rig. 10-54 11-40.”
Hmm, it seems like a rather bizarre place for a big rig, but I suppose that a Vons truck could be delivering to one of the local stores. I raise my flashing lights and burp the siren a couple of times — the accident is probably only a mile or so away and it doesn’t sound like my presence is going to make much difference (judging by the participants). A cyclist doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell against a big rig. I figure it will just be a pitch to the coroner, managing some traffic, and cleaning up the scene. I’m not particularly looking forward to that last part. I pick up the mike: “43 10-4.” For some reason my sense of smell heightens: the sea breeze is a bit acrid today — I notice chemical differences in the currents from Long Beach.
People act strange at the scene of an accident: deep spiritual fires burn, souls touch. I’m there to move cars and people along a very controlled, narrowly defined path. Assess the situation, secure the scene, first aid, gather information, and restore things to normal. I’m accustomed to dealing with strong feelings and emotions — it’s become my nature now to react by de-escalating. While civilians are standing by in shock taken by how extraordinary the situation might seem, it’s just a routine call for me — I see it a couple times every week. Help to the extent that you can, arrange for clean-up, pray for the soul, and move on. My wife will ask, “How was your day today dear,” and I’ll reply “the usual.”
As I cross Pier traffic starts to back up. I move out to the painted median and flip on the siren. Up ahead I spot the top of a tractor-trailer cold in the intersection: a double rig frozen in mid-turn. I sense an air of frustration from the drivers I pass, solemn respect plus a bit of pity, both for what’s askew and that I’m the schmoe that needs to deal with it. There’s also a certain reverence — they grasp from my own demeanor that something serious lies up ahead.
As I approach the intersection I slow and turn off the siren. The stopped traffic reflects the setting sun off car metal; out in the middle of the intersection on his back lies a body: male. No helmet, nearby a motorcycle, his legs are out straight, leather jacket, arms by his side, as if he just decided to lie down and take a nap. As this intersection crosses a major thoroughfare with a busy street, traffic here will be a mess for a while. I look over at the cab of the truck — the door is open and a man, apparently the driver, starts walking in my direction. I concentrate hard on having no expression at all — half of cop work is acting — I even relax my lips to avoid pursing them.
I pop open the latch of my trunk, flip the flasher bar to amber avoidance, and pick up the mike: unit 43, 10-97, 909. As I open my door I hear the dispatch send a nearby safety cop to help with the traffic; I head back to the trunk for flares and the crash kit.
Out of the corner of my eye I spot the overhead traffic light changing — now moot — an electrical piece of equipment temporarily orphaned from the world. Although traffic is still completely stopped, in case we need an ambulance I don’t want things to get too backed up. I put the flares in my back pocket and carry the crash kit over to the body; the fellow from the truck meets me just as I’m about to kneel down. “Is he dead?” he asks, in a tone that seems understandably depressed. In my heart I pretty much already know the answer, but I also know the right thing to say. It seems inordinately quiet and I can hear the clicking from the relays in the signal box on the corner along with the squawks of a couple of overhead seagulls.
“Are you the truck driver?” I ask. He nods, saying “shit.” I motion with a curved wiggling finger: “Let me see your license” and at the same time reach into my back pocket for the flares. We exchange the flares for the license. I glance at the license and place it into my shirt pocket. I grab a lighter out of another pocket and hand it to him: “put one of those flares over there” I point to the middle of the two approaching lanes on the right “and the other one over there” I point to the middle of the approaching lanes behind us “and then go stand over by my car.” He shakes his head side to side as if to say he can’t believe it, sighs, and heads off to set the flares.
I kneel at the body. A chill passes over me and my first impression is hey, this guy is dead. There isn’t any movement and the skin is pale. I place the kit down on the asphalt and open the top, then turn back to check for a pulse at the carotid. The skin is cool, the neck has no pulse. No chest movement… I put my ear by his nose but I can’t hear or feel any breathing. For a moment I start to break, but catch myself and stitch together the crack, take a quick snorted inhale. I open an eyelid; the eyeball stares out into space, dilated. Yup, this guy is dead. I sit back for a minute to collect my thoughts and instinctively reach into my pocket to pull out the trucker’s license.
This seems like a fairly young motorcyclist, probably middle twenties or so. I catch myself before I can begin to think about anybody that he might know. I put the license back in my pocket and put my ear down on his chest just to check for a heartbeat again. Nothing. I do a quick check of the souls around the area. I will want to nail down a few witnesses, of course I will need to arrest the driver, and people are getting angry as the traffic backs up further behind the truck.
The soul from the deceased is hovering a few hundred feet above the intersection. I nod my head a couple of times and send a quick prayer to God, “Lord please let this gentleman not suffer too severely, for he has done no wrong here.” The truck tires no doubt smashed this guy’s internal organs beyond recognition. I reach into the crash kit for the automatic ventilator anyway; out of the corner of my eye I spy the truck driver walking over to the squad car. It feels strangely quiet, silent, as if the scene is frozen in time. In the academy they call this projected terror drilldown, PTD for short: identifying with the victim’s last moments and being hypersensitive to everything.
I put my hand under the victim’s neck and tilt the head back, place the Autovent over his face and flick the switch, and take the reflective blanket out from the kit and place it under his neck for support. I back away and prop myself up from my knees, pull my shoulders back straight, and walk over to my car. Off to the side I spot the flashing light from the traffic cop just pulling up to the corner. The truck driver is leaning on the squad car; as I approach he stands up straight. I put my hand up and motion for him to just stay right there. I get into the front seat of the car and pick up the mike: “unit 43 I’ve got a 10-55.” Dispatch answers, “Unit 43 confirm 10-55.” I radio back “Yeah, it’s a 10-55″ and pull out the trucker’s license again. “Hey honey, 29c for me California N81345624. I wait patiently while they punch up the license in the database. Dispatch comes back “Okay dear you’re 10-26 on the license.” The driver’s clean.
I exit the car and motion again to the driver to stay put. Before the traffic cop starts waving people through I want to get a couple of witnesses. As I walk through the intersection over to where the cop is getting out of her car I make eye contact with the folks in the front line of cars. I jot down a couple of license plate numbers and put a single finger up to the traffic cop to tell her to wait a minute, then I walk up to the passenger side of one of the cars and tap on the window. The gal inside reaches across to roll the window down and raises her eyebrows. A young girl, maybe seven years old, is in the back seat with moist eyes.
In a streetside tree I hear some birds chirping and fighting. “Can you pull up over there” (I indicate across the street) “next to the curb”. She nods. I put up my hand to hold the cars that aren’t moving anyway, while the woman traverses the intersection and parks. I walk over to the traffic cop. It feels like an hour has passed and yet by my training and experience I know that I’ve reached exactly the halfway point.
“Bad place for an accident,” she says; “yeah, and the wrong time of day too,” I answer back. “Do you need an ambulance?” she asks, although she is really inquiring whether or not the guy is dead. I shake my head “No, I called for the coroner already.” I look back at the scene. “I guess we should move that truck,” I turn to tell her, but she is already setting out more flares and putting on her white traffic gloves.
I walk back to the body and turn off the Autovent. Nothing, no motion. I remove the reflective blanket and cover the body partially, leaving the head exposed. I still need to have the truck driver uncertain. Then I walk back to my car and curl my finger to beckon the driver over for a chat. I signal him around to the back of my trunk where I reach in and pull out a couple more flares and some hazard cones. “So is he still alive?” The driver asks. “Don’t know,” I answer back simply. “Are you okay enough to move your rig for me?” I ask, closing my trunk. “I just need you to move it up about a block and then leave it up there in the street. It’s okay if you take up a lane — I just want it out of the intersection.” He nods and I add, “come back here when you’re done.”
I follow him part way and then ignite a couple more flares. As the truck rolls out of the intersection I walk back to the victim, pack up the crash kit, and set cones out around the motorcycle and body. Plastic markers for a plastic body — nobody home. Cars start slowly crossing the street as the traffic cop waves people around. Out of the corner of my brain the soul of the deceased is shimmering.
I wait for a couple of cars to pass and then get into my cruiser to pull it closer to the body. I pull up around five feet away, cut the engine, and then get out of the car, leaving my door open and also opening the rear passenger side. The truck driver walks up, shaking his head. “Boy, I’ve had a really rough time lately,” he says. “Can you sit in the back for a while?” I ask. “I’m going to need you to fill out some papers.” He nods, and as he gets into the back seat I hand him the standard accident report and a pen and close the passenger door. I stick my head in the front side. “I need to go talk to a couple of folks,” I add. “When you’re done with the form, wait here.” I wait for a couple more cars to pass and then head to where the witness is waiting, over at the corner.
When she sees me approaching she rolls down her window, but I go around to the passenger side instead (the window is still open there). “Did you see the accident ma’am?” I ask, the same time that I am smiling at her kid in the back seat. The kid’s eyes begin to tear up — she probably figures that I am arresting her mom or something. Her mom clears her throat as I meet her gaze. “Uhm, yes sir.” I turn back to her daughter. “Don’t worry now,” I say while looking around the car a bit to avoid alarming or overwhelming her, “I just want to ask your mommy some questions. She’s not in trouble or anything.” The back seat has two Dr. Seuss books, a gym bag of some sort, and an empty Starbucks cup.
The mom smiles at me to thank me for my courtesy. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?” I return back to the mom. She nods, “sure, fine.” “Did you see the truck hit the motorcycle ma’am?”
“Well, no, not really. I was waiting at the stoplight. You see, I work at Aurora Life Assurance in Santa Monica, over on Colorado. I do internal auditing — balancing computer programming runs and stuff like that. Anyway when five o’clock rolled around, I picked up Jenny,” she tilts her head back to her daughter, who now is wiping the tears from her eyes, “so I could take her to her ballet lessons.”
As usual I had picked a real talker… well, better to keep quiet and let her continue. I hear rumbling as another truck passes, and the reflection of the sun on a passing window briefly shines on Jenny’s face.
“Her studio is down on Colorado at 26th.” I nod my head. “Traffic was rather nasty with rush hour and all, and a couple of times people made quick lane changes in front of me. I was stuck forever making a left at Colorado and Lincoln, and squeezed through to make the turn just as the signal was changing orange. So that’s why I was at the head of this pack of cars on Lincoln.”
“Then when I got to Ocean View the light turned orange. When I rolled up to the signal I saw a truck in the left hand turn lane over there, already halfway out into the intersection. It went forward, shifting gears, the cab portion turned across and left onto Ocean View. I saw the back end of the second trailer rise a couple of feet, and then thump down. And then down on the street, exiting from underneath the back set of double tires, a motorcycle, and then the man.”
Now the mother’s eyes are getting moist, but she checks her emotion. “Anything else, ma’am?”. She sits still for a couple of seconds, although it feels like a couple of minutes. Another hour passes; I’m three-quarters done here.
She shakes her head, “no, that’s all. I don’t even know where the motorcycle came from.” “Okay, thank you ma’am, you can go ahead now.” She inhales and exhales deeply and nods.
As I turn to the young girl I see her again wipe the tears from her face and then she finally turns peaceful. Now she lifts her eyebrows and holds her eyes wide open, inhaling and holding her breath, as if she has suddenly just had some type of amazing revelation.