This is a work about dreaming, and dreams of being awake.
And this is part of how it was, you see.
Helen rode a very large motorcycle. In earlier days she’d been gay. Now, having taken a fancy to me, she’d decided to go straight, at least for awhile. And I was a child, of only twenty-two. I was very naive, an idealist, a pushover. I’d just stepped out of a Walt Disney movie.
I rode behind while Helen roared us 'round the Berkeley hills, the wind tearing through our hair. I ducked my face down behind her back. She wore a leather jacket. I forget what I wore; but it was cold!
After awhile we roared across the Bay Bridge doing fifty or better. The crosswind made it a bit hairy!
Coffee, sitting opposite, in an all-night diner in San Francisco. Helen was beautiful. We talked awhile and she suggested sex. "Why not?" I thought. Helen got right to the point.
In the wee hours of morning, after another wild ride back across the bay, I unfolded the sofa-bed in my little Oakland apartment. I think we took a late walk, arm in arm, past a dark pool hall and a little cafe that was closed. I think we shared a beer or two and made spaghetti. When I turned the pan to drain the stuff, the lid slipped off. The egg-noodle-worms slid down the hole; and we laughed. The night traffic rolled by. The night lights shone through the pulled-down shades.
And I told her, in the cool room, waiting for the heater to warm things up, about the boy on the ward where I worked, how he’d gotten off a ship and gone to a party. And someone put drugs in his drink. He cried, then, and talked with Jesus and prayed to him for help. And Jesus told him to cut off his penis. So he got a sharp knife and cut himself badly. Then he knelt down and prayed on the hot register, till he’d burned through the flesh of his knees, and fell through the adjacent window to the pavement two levels below.
We talked of nicer things, of love and of Kierkegaard. Then we undressed. It was still cold. We got under the blanket. I reached over and turned out the light. Then we turned toward each other and, a little shyly, a little clumsily at first, we made love.
Next morning, I was through with her in my head. I was angry and I was scared. I went off to work at the hospital. She went off to school. I didn’t call her up. Another day went by and she called me.
"Why haven't you called," she wanted to know. Did I want to see her? Was I coming over? Did I want her to come over there?
"No," I told her. "I don't especially want to see you. But if you think it is necessary, if you feel we have to talk, then, yes, you can come over."
"Might as well get it over with," I thought.
She came over. It was very late. She was very angry. She yelled a lot. I waited and wondered how her strident voice sounded through those thin walls.
"I'm going to kill you!" she said. Helen was very emotional.
"Well, you expect too much," I said. "I never talked about forever. Besides, I'm very unreliable. If you really knew me you'd have noticed that already. But I just don't love you," I said. "And I don't like girls riding me around on motorcycles."
She seemed for once at a loss. She was still mad; but tears filled her eyes and streamed down her face.
"Well, if you're going to kill me," I said, "you might as well get on with it."
It all came out OK; and we remained friends afterward. Helen tried a couple more times to make it with me. But I only wanted it for the moment and I thought she expected more.
Later, when she was gone and I was in another state, drinking beer on a hot, muggy night, with a chorus of crickets roaring in the backyard, I opened all the gas vents.
"Why not?" I thought. "Might as well get it over with."
I settled down and drank another beer. I lay back on the bed.
I waited and wondered how it would feel at the end. And it crossed my mind I might have been a fool not to stay with Helen.
The gas hissed out like a half-dozen snakes. After awhile I didn't feel too good at all. My head felt about to burst and I needed to go to the bathroom! I got scared they'd find me like that, trying to shit or messed up on the bed. So I got up, stumbled over, and slowly shut off the gas vents, one by one.
In a dream was born an image:
A great sea, vaster by far than any earthly ocean.
Inundate whole island-universes,
To the farthest, outermost photon of starry light.
In all the known reality
We are all and everything utterly, utterly submerged.
Are we drowning here below, deep in these inky depths?
That flows in abundance just as the air?
Up to that rarified realm?
But here all we know is a submarine life,
So let us sing songs of drowning,
I am grateful for the dream’s image
There may yet be another part;
So come, my wretched companions, and swim with me,
For those whose vision is not yet petrified
Our being is one of great mystery,
Leaping, splashing, and bounding through
Suddenly welling up, unexpectedly flashing with brilliance,
Nurture and sustenance to unguessed billions and billions
Simply being, in unfathomable depths,
Floats us along beyond,