At this point I despaired of ever discovering the meaning of the dream. As a last resort I decided to reenact it as best I could. If I could simulate the surreal experience, I figured, perhaps I’d discover a clue I’ve overlooked. I drove out to the state park on a Saturday in search of a wooded area that came as close as possible to the dark forest of my imaginings. Conditions weren’t ideal. Empty beer bottles, torn plastic bags, and a few families out for a weekend hike ruined the mood. On a vacated stretch of a trail I pretended that the white German shepherd was a few paces ahead of me and I started to run. It did nothing for me other than give me shin splints later. A real dog would have been better for the reenactment, but I’ve never owned one, and probably never will, not after what I’ve seen. When spying on the Palmers through the backyard fence, I’ve seen Spencer eat his own feces, and not once, but twice; I can say without a doubt that it wasn’t a random act or the result of hunger.
In my effort to find a more remote location, I somehow ventured outside the state park. I don’t recall seeing a sign or coming up to a fence, but an old man in overalls appeared out of nowhere to give me a piece of his mind in no uncertain terms. “What the hell are you doing here? This is private property!” He startled me sufficiently to elicit from me the F-word (see above). I didn’t take kindly to his rude behavior. I resolved to apologize and bridle my anger; but if he kept on, I told myself, I would make the cursing session I had with my next door neighbor Frank seem like a Sunday school picnic by comparison. I got no such satisfaction. Gramps retreated back down an embankment, leaving me to wonder how this old coot could own this prime real estate in the first place, other than perhaps investing the money he had earned as part of the hillbilly cast in Deliverance. After I peed on his property with relish and picked a few burrs out of my socks, I headed back to my car, lamenting another wasted day.
Ever since the dream and my subsequent search for understanding, it seemed as though everything was about the dream or dreams in general. On the drive home from the state park, as a case in point, I must have heard a zillion songs about dreams and dreaming on the classic rock station I had tuned into. When I pulled off the highway for gas, I decided to get a cup of coffee at the adjoined diner. Three booths down I heard two losers, local yokels with the requisite baseball caps and flannel shirts, talking about their love life, or lack thereof. “Dream on! You ain’t even half the man to get a babe like Danica Patrick.” See what I mean? I kept hearing the word over and over. Was it all in my mind?
I have been searching for answers so intensively that the universe appeared to consist of nothing more than the search, a galaxy populated solely by those whom I sought out or came across by chance in the course of my journey. Maybe I need to give this whole thing a rest or forget about ever getting closure. I might as well have consulted the scarecrow, tin man, and lion! Everyone I talked to had nothing of significance to contribute. I arrived at this conclusion after a thorough review of my experiences.
Pastor Bob’s spiritual interpretation was not off base, but in the end I decided that it didn’t make sense. Why would the Lord represent Himself as a dog? Moreover, I don’t possess the hardened heart Pastor Bob attributed to me, a diagnosis he insisted on more aggressively after I refused to hand him a check and we left the church. Dr. Constadter, as far as I’m concerned, was a whack job. Given her profession, her thesis wasn’t totally unexpected, but I’m not a Neo-Nazi with an Oedipus complex, or whatever it is she dreamed up for me. Darren’s ideas and schemes offered me little guidance, but I give him credit for making the afternoon at work fly by. Concerning my weird uncle, my dad explained he’s nothing more than a shyster who once got arrested for identity theft. I didn’t need this background information to reject his crazy story, but it’s good to have context anyway.
I’m glad in retrospect that I visited my grandaunt Malorie. In my heart of heart I was hoping for maybe an insight or two from someone who’s been around for so long; instead I left with a bunch of worthless facts about the silver screen in the days of yore. I won’t say much about Frank, except what I can muster in two year’s worth of high school French: he’s a douche bag par excellence. Finally, Charlotte, or Tabitha, or whatever hell her name is, strikes me as a decent person once you get to know her, if a bit chatty; heck, she and my brother are getting quite serious, as Charlotte had of course foreseen they would. But if I were more gullible than I am, her spiritualist mumbo jumbo could have put me on a train bound for New York to meet and possibly shack up with a non-existent hottie from Beantown! And for what? To help pay her college expenses? Lastly, Manny the shaman could have been helpful if Nikki had better bilingual skills. On the bright side, the trip to St. Paul wasn’t a waste if I’m insured of never getting prostate cancer.
All these encounters had consequences for my personal growth, some good and others not so much. Was this the purpose of the dream: to build relationships or embark on the road to self-discovery? It would have been easier to watch Oprah or take up yoga. I so desperately wanted someone to make sense out of this enigmatic dream, but the aforementioned people offered such diverse responses that I practically abandoned any hope of finding the meaning.
Then it came to me. It wasn’t the dream that had any meaning, but rather the reaction people had to it, the fact that they had such varied perspectives. I thought about the blind Indian boys groping an elephant, each one touching a different part—the tusk, ear, trunk, legs—and, based on their descriptions, coming up with a skewed conclusion. One feels the elephant’s ear and describes a fan. Another feels a leg and describes a pillar. Truth is in the eye of the beholder, and the best we can hope for in describing the world around us are half-truths borne of limited perspective.
The dream has no intrinsic meaning. Its details are random and do not signify a greater truth, either individually or collectively. It was merely a tool sent by God to put me on a journey towards understanding. This whole enterprise was a Rorschach test, my laconic description of the dream supplying the inkblot. With the exception of my grandaunt and the shaman, each person read into it what they wanted to see, their impressions revealing more about themselves than the dream. They had something to gain from their version. I was like Socrates who went throughout Athens asking politicians, poets, and artisans the meaning of the Oracle of Delphi, only to find a bunch of ignoramuses claiming to be wise. This insight—our search for truth is made more difficult by our limited vantage point–gave me a modicum of solace. I rested in the relative assurance that I had found, if you will, the moral of this strange story….until…
I see the selfsame white German shepherd, and this time I’m almost positive I’m neither dreaming nor in an altered state of consciousness. I wouldn’t completely rule out the former, though, because somehow I’m suddenly cognizant of having earlier gulped down a triple deluxe mocha, an amount of caffeine that often gives me a buzz. If anything, things present themselves more clear and distinct than ever before. Instead of leading me through a forest, the dog’s pulling me through the meadow. I say meadow, but it’s really a park, with a couple of teenage boys tossing a Frisbee and an elderly couple perched on a stony bench. A jogger in cut-off sweatpants and Nike shoes brushes past me and the dog, the muffled sounds of an indistinct hip-hop tune on his iPod trailing behind him.
I call out “Jasper!” and only slowly clue in that I’m addressing the dog with this name. Soon I realize that I’m holding the pooch by a leash. It’s as if I’m walking a dog in the park. Again, even as I make this conclusion, like becomes is: I am walking my dog in the park. Why didn’t I see this before?
I look upward and outward above the tree line where high-rise buildings reach toward a hazy sky. My uncle, a retired corporate executive, once worked in one of those towers—an uncle with no weird bone in his body, I might add. Somehow I’m conscious of having worked part-time in the mailroom of one of those office buildings when I was in college.
A woman named Sandy is signaling the German shepherd toward her, and for this reason Jasper is practically dragging me along like an Alaskan sled dog heading for the finish line. And how do I know the woman’s name is Sandy? I’m calling out her name too, and she appears to be responding. Yes, she’s making eye contact, we’re making eye contact, and she’s giving me the thumbs up sign! Sandy, my fiancée, wearing an autumn-colored halter top and faded blue jeans, smiles as Jasper in canine excitement waves his tail frantically. She genuflects on one knee to receive Jasper’s unbridled affection and he wastes no time in seizing the moment to paw her and lick her face.
We agreed to meet in the park at around 2 p.m. after her orthodontist appointment. She asks how my afternoon went on this fine Tuesday, the first day outside and unsupervised since my traumatic head injury. She hands me a cup of coffee, and I give her the leash. After taking a sip of her latte and bemused with Jasper’s hyperactive greeting of Sandy, I gently pull off the protective lenses the doctor had prescribed. The sun feels good on my face and the sound of her voice invigorates me. Is this real? I guess it doesn’t really matter.