<By Rob Williams>
Some mornings I’ll flip open the trashcan in my kitchen and see the wrappers of all those Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and have a weird twinge—a realization that without this visual proof, my stoned, nearly somnambulatory binge would have been forgotten forever. But a glance at those crumpled wrappers is all it takes for the memory—the mental picture of me sprawled out on the couch, ripping open chocolate eggs—to come rushing back.
Other lost memories are much more difficult to find. Especially the memory of a dream, since those are always the most fleeting. As soon as you wake up, they begin to fade. How then, I wondered, as I sat at my desk, rifling through the drawers for a clue, could I track down the memory of a dream I’d had more than a year ago—in a foreign country, no less. Unless!—it occurred to me—those kinds of memories are actually easier to recall. Yes, that almost made sense: Because they occurred in an unusual setting, they are less likely to be obliterated forever in the crushing pile of one’s day-to-day memories. They’re probably in their own smaller pile, in some separate corner of the brain, if only it could be located.
The memory in question was of a dream I’d had about a year ago—in February 2010—in Prague. I had been there to visit a friend of mine, Anna, a tall, stoic, Polish woman I’d met while traveling in India several months prior to that. I’d stumbled across her sitting on the balcony at a hotel in Varanasi, looking out at the Ganges River, in all its mysterious, holy, and wholly polluted glory. There was a package of Gold Flake cigarettes on the table, and I asked her for one, although mainly I just thought she was beautiful and needed something to say. As usual, the first words were the hardest, and our conversation didn’t end until three weeks later, when I flew back to New York.
When we reunited in Prague a year later, our easy chemistry was gone. We recognized each other, of course, although neither of us seemed quite sure who the other was. She was even thinner than I remembered, gaunt, and I’m sure I looked different too, since people are always changing in small, unsettling ways. We regarded each other skeptically, trying to make the new pieces fit. Perhaps we were both just wondering what we were doing there, on the cold, snowy streets of Prague, rather than on the hot dusty roads of India where we had met.
Our days were spent sightseeing, wandering around the outskirts of the castle, looking for Kafka’s house, roaming through the natural history museum and the various art galleries, those kinds of things. Anna’s sister was there too. She took many photographs and occasionally had tearful arguments with Anna in Polish. I was never able to understand the source of their conflict, except that the sister’s emotions tended to run hot, while Anna’s were much more cold (from her sister’s point of view).
Days passed. In between our rambling walks across the icy city, Anna and I spent a lot of time sitting in the tiny kitchen next to the room we were renting, smoking rolled cigarettes and drinking tea. I wasn’t finding anything interesting enough to write about, but I didn’t mind, since I don’t really travel to write anyway, or at least I hope I don’t. But one night, toward the end of our two weeks in Prague, I had a dream that was so strange and hilarious—or so it seemed to Anna and me when I told her about it—that I promised myself I’d write it down when I got back to New York. But I never did. For some reason, for that whole year (2010), I didn’t feel like writing anything at all. I did make a halfhearted attempt to start the story though—I created a Word file called “Prague Dream” and wrote:
As we walked down the cobblestone streets from our room near the castle, Anna and I didn’t say much. We were both too tired. It was about 10 o’clock at night, and we’d just woken up from a nap that had been longer than either of us intended. I was more confused than usual, and Anna even more quiet. We’d been in Prague for many days now—days mainly spent wandering around the city and looking at odd sculptures, smoking cigarettes while gazing at snowy rooftops, eating enormous servings of Czech food, and drinking cappuccinos. We had reached the eating portion of the day again.
But that was all. I hadn’t opened the file in a year, and now, staring at this single feeble paragraph, I couldn’t believe that that was as far as I’d gotten. What about the dream itself? I had no memory of it whatsoever. Then I remembered that I’d written some notes on a scrap of paper as well, to prompt myself when I finally did get around to writing the story. I knew the paper was in my desk drawer somewhere, and I rooted around until I found it at last, buried under a pile of tax documents, old birthday cards, and a bullet-riddled paper target from a friend’s bachelor party at a shooting range in New Jersey.
The note, handwritten in blue ink, said simply:
—Roast knuckle of pork with Bohemian potato dumplings and braised white cabbage
—I am not living in a “post-racial” society in my mind!
In other words, it was virtual useless. The first detail, I already knew well. Anna and I had gone out to dinner late at night and I had eaten a ridiculously large knuckle of roast pork. Anna had been highly amused by the spectacle of me gnawing on this monstrous portion of food and had remarked that eating such a large meal so late at night was “going to give me nightmares.” I snorted indignantly and assured her that it would not. I’ve always been convinced that this piece of popular folk wisdom—the idea that eating certain foods, or large portions late at night, gives you strange dreams—is pure fantasy. It’s one of those things, like food poisoning or jetlag, that I absolutely refuse to believe are real, because they have never happened to me.
As we staggered back up the winding stone streets to our room, I was telling Anna this—that there was no way my dreams could possibly be affected by the food I’d had for dinner, unless I was deluded enough to believe it—and she was laughing, telling me that I was ridiculous, which, coming from a beautiful woman, is always sweet music to my ears. Back in the room, we quickly lapsed back into a powerful food coma (to use a phrase I am simultaneously appalled and amused by), dead for the night—except for the strange machinations of my mind, the mysterious dream that I can no longer recall.
I do remember that I told Anna about the dream the next morning, and that she thought it was extremely funny. My note about “not living in a ‘post-racial’ society in my mind” obviously indicates that there was a racial aspect to it—almost certainly something offensive, given what I know about the way my own mind works. (This is not to say that I am racist, at least no more so than most people, just that my mind is not a very politically correct place!) And what about the phrase “post-racial”? I must have been thinking about President Obama when I wrote that, about the absurdity of the phrase itself—the suggestion that his presidency somehow marks the beginning of a new era in American life and politics that transcends or somehow otherwise eliminates all questions of race and racism, or whatever the phrase is supposed to mean. This is clearly a lie, one of the many phony social and political narratives that the media is hell bent on creating and repeating, ad nauseam—that much I knew for sure. But who cares about all that—what about the dream?
Stymied by the limitations of my own mind, the apparent impossibility of retrieving certain memories—a fact that makes me feel slightly nauseous if I think about it from the wrong angle—the only thing left to do was e-mail Anna and ask her if she could remember what the dream was. This was a real shot in the dark, considering that the conversation had happened more than a year ago and was just one of many odd, slightly humorous conversational gambits I tossed out over the course of our two weeks in Prague. Then again, it’s unpredictable, the things people remember. I’ll never forget the time Anna told me that she felt such a profound kinship with elephants that she was sure she’d been one in a previous life. We were bouncing up and down on the back of a bus somewhere in the south of India, and we had just passed one of those majestic kindred spirits of hers, sending Anna into a state of reverie. Then we hit a bump that was so huge it sent Anna’s head all the way up to the ceiling and she let out a protracted whoop that left us both in hysterics.
Now Anna was living in London, back at her job as an engineer—and very restless, I’m sure. The last time I spoke to her was a few months ago, just before I quit Facebook. I’d announced in my news feed (or on my wall, or whatever it’s called; I’ve already forgotten the lingo) that I was quitting and urged my “friends” to get in touch and stay in touch in the real world, if they were so inclined and could locate such a place. Anna was one of two or three people out of two hundred that e-mailed me and said that they would.
So, determined to get to the bottom of this Prague dream mystery, if at all possible, I sent Anna an e-mail that said:
Hi Anna. I have a random question for you, which I don’t really think you’ll have the answer to but which I might as well ask anyway. Remember when we were in Prague last year and I ate that ridiculous roast knuckle of pork right before bed one night and then had a weird dream afterward? Do you remember what the dream was? I know I described it to you and you thought it was funny—but I can’t remember what it was anymore. I’d been meaning to write a story about it for a long time, and I thought I had some notes to help me remember what it was, but all my notes say are “Roast knuckle of pork with Bohemian potato dumplings and braised white cabbage” and “I am not living in a ‘post-racial’ society in my mind!” I think the dream involved black people? I guess that’s what that note is about? Dammit, I can’t remember! Any thoughts?
A full week passed and I didn’t hear back. I was starting to think that perhaps that was for the best. I had continued to turn the matter over in my mind, and it had occurred to me that there had been a disturbing and potentially embarrassing element to the dream—possibly sexual in addition to racist. I remembered Anna asking at the time, somewhat incredulously, if I “would really write a story about that.” And I remembered assuring her that I would, though perhaps I had just been showing off. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that the dream involved urination—either me urinating on someone or me being urinated on. And of course there was the racial aspect to it too, implied in my cryptic note to myself that “I am not living in a ‘post-racial’ society in my mind.” Perhaps this was actually a dream that was better left forgotten!
Then, just like that, I got Anna’s reply.
Dear Rob, I have been trying to recall the dream but I think no luck. What came to my mind was a bit weird and I wasn’t sure if I should/should not share it … I remembered/or my mind made it up for me/that somebody was pissing over somebody. As there would have been a difference in level, different height location, and the person who was higher obviously could piss over the person who was sticking out from the ground. It probably doesn’t make any sense to you. So, yes, ignore it. My memory might have used the picture of two guys located in front of Kafka’s museum (light green installation). Do you remember them? Pissing over Czech Republic? Anyway, sorry I couldn’t help.
Egad, I thought, the dream had involved pissing. I let her e-mail sink in. I was pretty sure that I was the person “sticking out from the ground” that she mentioned. I had totally forgotten that part. But it was all coming back to me now …
I was wedged in a sewer drain, the top half of my body sticking out onto the street, my legs trapped underneath. I looked around for help, but the streets were empty and eerie and calm. Then I saw a group of black teenagers. I called out to them for help, for them to come over and pull me up out of the street, which was eating me. They stared at me for a long time, deciding what to do. I liked them, their style—skinny black jeans, black metal-studded coats, and other “punk” accoutrements that seemed incongruous with their skin color—and I felt confident, pleased that my fate was in their hands. I like these guys, and they will like me. But, to my surprise, when they finally approached, they didn’t try to help me. Instead, the leader of the group unzipped his fly and began to piss, not over me as Anna had said (though she was probably just being nice) but directly in my face.
Then I woke up.
Rob Williams is a mercenary copywriter and copy editor who currently lives above a meat market in the East Village.
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