The mind is an ocean, is it not? Set aside your psychometrics and fMRIs and just feel the epic slosh within your head. They never taught you that metaphors are magic, did they? How we used them to claw our way to the top of the food chain: a stick is an arm and a fire is a stomach and the infinite is the sky is a father. And I’m telling you, just as true, that our mind is an ocean. And where you actually live, my dear friend, is behind the controls of an infinitesimal submarine plumbing these depths, pointing at your radar screen and hollering back that there is nothing out there. Nothing at all.
The problem is that you have forgotten, though every desert hermit and bodhisattva tried to tell you there are realms outside your canned air and seaweed cakes. But it is okay, my child. It is almost never too late. I am here to remind you. To remind everyone. See, I dive into it every day, leaping from an impossible cliff while my Sleepers build, brick by brick, the kingdom we will share. I pierce the waters—the metaphorical, the actual—and I hold my breath for longer than a mere mortal is allowed. You don’t believe in anything anyway, right? What all could there be to lose?
It was even in her dreams, as she would learn all things are. On a Friday night, she would drift to sleep as though being lowered into a bed of ferns that would nod over her through the night. And Mike would come to be in there with her even if he never appeared, a hidden limb in the dreamed tree that covered against the rain and held her gently swaying. Saturday morning they woke interleaved, a glow of the day settled on them, the warmth of their bodies held radiant in the blankets, his half-sleeping pull at her waist and her hips nudging into him—even his morning breath, a humid smell curling like a fairy tale spirit over her shoulder and down her chest. On these mornings, she reveled in her humanness. How grand it was to be finally human and not something purer and less wanting.
They worked long weeks, of course. Lynn was a therapist—perhaps will be again—at a mental health clinic. Back to back sessions in a tiny office with no window. Her patients were all traumatized, mostly on disability or court orders, and she kept them from their edges the best she could. Some nights it required hours to unfeel all their pain. Mike designed micro-controllers for the world she never noticed: subterranean pumps, far-flung weather stations, waste disposal facilities. He was always pointing out the invisible workings behind the conveniences of their world. She was giddy for their weekends together, though, as if they were something they’d swindled out of the work-
week. Mornings in bed until one of their stomachs rumbled, breakfast in the kitchen watching her retired cat blink and contemplate in the well-sunned window. His cultural references were all scattered and so there was always something new for her to share with him. The music and movies, the books, that had been with her along the way to now. She thought of their life as a physical body and these days the heart.
One morning, he had made them mushroom and onion omelets and put on that 4 Non Blondes song. She had laughed to herself hearing him in the kitchen belt out “What’s going onnn!?” without the least irony while she sat at the dining table he’d made from a piece of old barnwood, among the many plants he was encouraging her to grow, and flipped through quote memes on her phone. The words of Ram Dass and Chopra and Abraham Hicks floating over sunrises and mountainscapes. Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. She’d settled into the thought with an affirmative sigh. All the wisdom they’d overlooked in her ethics courses and abnormal psych 101.
“Can we go to the zoo later?” Mike had said, bringing out their breakfast on a tray, his eyes craved over her legs and hips—even in sweatpants. “I’ve been wanting to look a chimpanzee right in the eye.”
She’d laid down her phone on its screen and felt herself beam up at him: his lean, capable face with its arching eyebrows—part analytical, part fascinated—and lips whose default smile would be wry if it were not for the stoic jut of his chin, his shoulders bigger than her hands, the network of veined muscle down his arms. She couldn’t help herself; she did not want to help herself.
“Only if we check out the gibbons.”
“Which are those?” he’d said, setting the plate in front of her.
“Cute little tree swingers with the bright eyes,” she’d said. “They mate for life.”
His sparkly-eyed and subtle chuckle, an infinitesimal spurt of joy through his nose and his teeth.
They didn’t go to the zoo that day, but weeks later, and this is how their lives were brought together. As if threading patchwork one eyelet at a time. There were, of course, manageable hiccups and figurings out. He liked things spotless, but often left his half of the tidying undone. She was learning, under his sometimes groaning insistence, to trust that he did not disappear when he went into another room to study or tinker. This clinging was, professionally, “anxious-preoccupied” and of course she shouldn’t cling to anything, so said the Buddhists. And yet, how could this not be an exception. He tried to convince her, succeeding mostly, that his past was not worth speaking about, the wretched and isolated farm of his youth, the years he’d spent trying to rejoin the world, were things he’d almost forgotten when he’d met her. And she tried to remember that when her restlessness over his solitude grew acute, he would soon return to pull at her and cup the back of her neck with his expressive hands and kiss her as though he needed it to sustain.
Their first winter was under a cavernous gray sky. They traveled to the desert for a long weekend, they scraped each other’s cars of ice and snow. Without the sun, she grew anxious and heavy at work. Some days she resented her patients’ incapacity and told them to just wake up on time for once and treat their loved ones like human beings and then she’d spend her lunch-break scarfing donuts in her car. But some nights she coaxed Mike into hot yoga and they showered together after, this sweet new capsule of them. And he took to observing who they were through their imperfections, lavishing love on her flaws with a smile in the corner of his mouth. All this like logs slid into the fireplace to keep them warm. When the wet spring finally came, they were more than they’d been in the fall.
“I had a dream about my dad last night,” Lynn said, one of their mornings. He listened intently when she spoke of her parents. His mother gone, too. “I was watching a movie. It was people sitting shoulder to shoulder eating in this mess hall sort of place. Eating and talking about their. . .dreams, I guess. Or a book they were reading. I was watching this little scene over and over again.”
“Was it good?”
“I guess I thought it was? I was watching it endlessly. Every little gesture, and the details of the background and. . .I wrote it all down in a notebook, this big leather-bound thing. Trying to catch every little detail, what the director meant, you know?”
He teased: “Ruining it, you mean.”
“Oh, shut it.” She smiled. In the dream, her father was there next to her, suddenly, in this orderly office which she’d never seen. And he was younger than he is, his hair still black, the cigarettes having not yet worked the deep ruts they would cut through his face. But one of his eyes was clearly blind: a white iris, a pupil the color of eggshell. He was asking her how she could possibly know the meaning of such a scene and Lynn, seeing him for once curious about her mind, tried to explain the film’s symbolism—forgotten now—with her best college words.
“Did he follow?”
“I saw him nod and think.”
“And then what?”
“And then I woke up to those hands of yours searching over me. . .”
“For meaning?” he asked.
And that was all that was required for breakfast to end, for them to return to the pile of themselves.
Yet there was another morning like this. She told him her night’s dream, a garden of hammocks, a man whose skull peeled to a florid ecosystem complete with pollinating bees, about her mother, gone now more than a decade, living peacefully in a hut under a sun that rose or set constantly.
“I can see it but I’m not smart enough to describe it. She was like a monk, I guess. Up in this little mountain retreat. . .and it was like I’d gone there through osmosis, like she’d summoned me.”
“And she was trying to tell me something she never got the chance to. . .She was there and I could, like, smell her, and I could. . .” Her hands slopped a little coffee and she watched as some of the droplet absorbed into the untreated streaks of their table and others beaded-up where the paint remained. “I mean. . .it’s kind of weird, but if all possible realities are real. . .couldn’t we. . .couldn’t she be out there somewhere?”
“It’s just defrag,” he said. “All day your brain is bombarded with so much stimulus you don’t even have time to process it. Like, petaflops of it. Things you see, hear. Dreams are just your brain sorting through irrelevancies, determining what goes in which folder, what gets tossed.”
He’d been wanting to say this for months, she sensed, and a droplet of ridiculousness seeped into Saturday mornings gone by.
“But I feel them,” she said, looking to the cat, who merely blinked and licked his paw.
“Qualitative data,” he said, shaking his head. “If you didn’t dream, your RAM would seize up. Smoke would come out of your ears. By definition, a dream is meaningless. Otherwise, you’d be able to remember them. Little moments stick because those are the bits that, just by chance, are not total nonsense. It’s all to make some order up here.” He tapped his temple a few times. “It’s a computer, the brain. A complicated one but, you know, we built computers using the thing, after all. There would be no other way to do it.”
He said all this with the certainty he must use in his job, with his naive clients and the workplace idiots he saw himself surrounded by. Lynn always worried that she was secretly one of them. She was sensitive, she knew, thoughtful, given to moments of insight. But she never considered herself smart. His confidence in his mind, his resourcefulness in a kind of embodied wit, was what had cleaved her to him first. That problems were surmountable to him and that his world made sense. Maybe he was right.
So, she kept her dreams to herself, remembered them less and less. She felt their home grow like a small muscle they could only squeeze if they worked together. He learned about the Coen Brothers and LCD Soundsystem and sushi. She learned how to use an electric drill and reset the router. And though there were short-lived spats and some terse evenings, he criticized carefully and she tried to leave him alone sometimes, tried to overlook his colloidal past and remember that it was who they were together that mattered.
Coming into fall, she dreamed for weeks about a warmth in her belly, and then she missed her period and they both marveled at what was happening inside her. Called it button and breadloaf and bumblebee and there were days so happy she could hardly look at them full. She considered getting some words tattooed just above the circumference of leafy twigs around her ankle, something that marked how she was finally being mindful enough to simply love. He asked her to marry him and she wept precisely as she never thought she would.
He earned a promotion to Project Manager and she found a way to be confident at work, to let the pressure and pain pass through her. Stress is good for you if you think it is. And she felt, with little Fiona or Jordan very small in her, that she had to justify what she did and said, how she felt, and her daily flailings winnowed to no more than brief confusions. She took to saying if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is after reading it in Papyrus font backdropped by a shady waterhole somewhere in Texas. And she watched Mike tighten in all he did, watched him redouble his efforts to bring their home into order. He paced, in his mind at least, as if hungrily searching for what needed doing. And she worked on loving even his preoccupation, the way he bristled at her coiling up to him and the way he said sorry afterward and looked for her eyes.
So, Lynn did not tell him when she dreamt of his death—glass and splinters and inertia, a shock of white. And it felt real enough that he started to disappear again when outside or in another room, when her texts met a slow response. She followed him around, when she could, keeping at least one sense tuned to him. And he bristled as he bristled and, days after this dream, left the house angry. “I want some peace in my life. . .and I’m hoping I can have that with you.” Not an hour later, her phone rang with his name and a steadfast voice told her that his SUV had rolled four times, that it slid down an embankment on its side where it collided with an eighteen wheeler at freeway speed.