Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A most joyful, terrifying dream

As the son of a shrink, I grew up talking about dreams. I'd come downstairs on a Saturday -- the day I got to sleep long enough to make it through a dream before waking -- and sit with my Dad in his study. He'd stop working on billing or bills and we'd talk about my dream. He was good at providing both a Freudian analysis and "an accurate one," as he'd call it. That is, let's look at the symbolism, but let's also just think about what you're going through. Helpful, insightful and often fun times.

I have had lots of very weird dreams. Years ago my subconscious stopped trying to torture me with monsters and last-minute tests or work assignment and went to unsolvable or a-logical puzzles. Like, "You must arrange these names in numeric order and lay them out in the shape of grass." I'd wake up both stressed out and pissed off that my brain had been able to trick me, again, into getting all worked up.

But I hadn't had a real nightmare in many years. Until a few months ago.

I watch "Mad Men" and love it. I think it's the closest thing to poetry that TV has generated. And because it's about marketing, my field, the metaphors used often apply to my life directly, even if the substance doesn't.

One thing that became clear to me as I watched the first few years of the show was that, on some level, I wanted to be Don Draper. He is a philandering, shallow, self-centered, self-denying, chain-smoking, alcoholic, inveterate liar whose choices have made him deeply unhappy, probably unlovable and, I fear, eventually doomed.

But lawd a' mighty, what a very fine looking man. With a job that is, basically, the dream of anybody in Old School Marketing Town -- the Idea Guy. The guy who is paid to simply Think the New Thing.

And he's good at that. He's not telling tales when it comes to his job... which is thinking of new tales to tell. So, yeah... Of course he's an advertising genius. He's been spinning and branding his life forever. It's deep doo-doo and I love it and, some days, I fear it.

But still... Yeah. Don. Jeez. On some level, I would've loved to have been him.

Until my nightmare.

I often dream exceptionally realistic scenes and people. I've had dreams whose scenery and players I remember with more detail than my entire sophomore year at high school. Really crisp, colorful, highly exacting scenes.

This was one of those.

In it, I was older than the 48 I am now. It seemed maybe... late 50's. Maybe early 60's. I had thinning hair. Yeah, for those who know me, no... That wasn't the nightmare. I was wearing an expensive three-piece suit and sitting in an opulent, sky-high office. Big office. Great view of some urban metropolis... Maybe NYC, maybe Chicago or Boston. Didn't matter. But it was gorgeous. Floor-to-ceiling windows. Thick, dark red carpet. Huge oak desk.

One wall was covered with pictures of me with famous people in various settings. Clients, friends, vacation buddies, etc. It also had various degrees and awards displayed. And the shelves were likewise filled with trophies and awards and mementos of a very successful career.

In the dream, I knew who I was. The head creative guy at one of the largest advertising agencies in the world. Don Draper + 20 years. I had more money than the Catholic Church. I had entire offices full of people working for me. I had power and influence. I was The Guy You Called When You Needed The Idea That Will Save You.

I was not a bad man. I was not evil. I was not hated by my employees. I was just very, very dedicated to doing my job.

And I knew, in the dream, that that had had (fun to say three times fast) some personal costs. I was in the process of a third divorce. I had pictures of kids from all three marriages on my desk. And I was looking at them when the phone rang.

It was my second wife, with whom I knew I had eventually come to be quite cordial. Her name came up on the Caller ID, and I answered expecting to hear about some event that she wanted me to attend or someone who needed a job or an introduction. We were socially close.

No. She had called to tell us our daughter, who was 22, had killed herself with a drug overdose.

I have never, in any dream, felt the kind of sheer and complete terror/horror and pain as I did at that moment. I felt responsible for her death and my wife's completely numb grief. I couldn't breathe. I looked at the pictures of my kids on the desk and felt like the entire world should end so that I didn't have to feel that way anymore.

I prayed to God that I could go back in time and change something. Whatever that might be. Something that would keep this horrible, painful, shattering thing from happening. Prayed that I could take The Other Path. That I could choose differently and do things differently and be another man that wasn't the man who was about to vomit on the nice, dark red rug.

And then I woke up.

And for about half a second, I thought that my real life was, in fact, the second chance. That I had been that man... that slightly balding, rich, successful, powerful man. And that I had been sent back to do it again. To live a different life. To be... me. Instead of him.

What an awesome dream. What an awesome, awesome dream.

Now I watch "Mad Men" with a lot less angst. Because I know that, no matter how much I might envy Don his chiseled good looks, I will never, ever again envy his fate.


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