Chapter 1: Pleasant Dreams
[Note to Reader: Most people would consider the concepts here serious. Just as in life, you’ll find a degree of humor throughout this book to lighten things up a bit. In the same way, the language is presented the way I heard it. I ask you to overlook any words you may deem to be offensive, focusing on the story, insights, and lessons instead.]
It had been a long, tiresome January day…
I was glad to curl up with a book before I went to sleep. I was about halfway into a really gripping World War II 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 II 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…
© John Weiss 2012