Mom and dad and I were on a roller coaster. It was a sunny and cool summer or spring day. I was my present age, or a little younger (I always feel younger around my parents). They were somewhere in their 50s and still married. And I was dreaming.
I was able to see the coaster from a third-person perspective as well as my own. It was like watching it on TV or in a video game. This allowed me to see the train moving so fast that sometimes there was no track under the wheels. We would be suspended on solid but invisible tracks for a second, like the cars remembered where they were supposed to go, before sections of track would suddenly blink into existence. My in-dream explanation was that the processor in the computer was too slow to keep up with the train. We were spinning and dipping and looping so much that I began to worry my dad would get sick. Plus, I felt bad about sitting with my mom instead of him.
After the coaster stopped, my dad approached the ride operator looking a bit rattled, babbling, shaking all over, with a wild look in his eyes. I assumed he was doing it for comic effect, and that the operator must see people behaving like this all day long. To prevent my dad from embarrassing himself, I took his arm to lead him away — a gesture, I was aware, both arrogant and presumptuous.
When I approached him, I saw that he truly was shaken. Never mind him getting sick to his stomach, it occurred to me for the first time that he might be having a heart attack. In my dream, he’d had one years before. Not so in real life, though we suspect it’s what finally killed him. We’ll never know for sure.
The next thing I remember is being in a parking lot at night. Maybe at an amusement park, maybe not. Mom was no longer around, and Dad was apparently feeling a little better, sitting in the passenger seat of The Car (any car). He looked over my shoulder and said, mightily impressed, “Huh! Look, there’s Shelley Duvall.”
The woman walking by had what looked like a short amber-colored perm, and she wore a knee-length beige skirt and jacket with brown piping and a white blouse ruffled at the collar. It didn’t look like Shelley Duvall to me. But I followed her as she walked to her car. When she opened the door and turned to enter, I saw that it was in fact Shelley Long.
Dad loves her! I thought. (In the dream he loved her, anyway, and I recalled memories of us watching Cheers together, memories that I now realize may or may not be real.) I thought I might make up for putting him through that roller coaster, cheer him up, by getting him an autograph.
As I approached Shelley Long, I glimpsed a guy crouched at the driver’s side rear corner just long enough to wonder what he was doing there, when — flash. “Got it!” he shouted.
Whether he was a paparazzo or a private investigator, Shelley Long seemed unperturbed, but I did not want to be associated with him. So I cleared my throat and began, “Excuse me, Miss… uhm… Long? Hi. Uhm, I have nothing to do with this guy, just so you know. But I was wondering if you could do something for me.”
The photographer had the gas cap door open, and he was tucking some money inside. “There,” he said.
She looked impatient. Well… and?
“I was hoping I could get your autograph, ma’am,” I said.
But I didn’t have a pen on me. Or paper. “Do you have any?” I asked, embarrassed at my lack of preparation. Clearly she did not. “Never mind. There’s one in my coat. Which is in my car. Just around the corner. I can go run and get it.”
“No,” she said, sighing loudly. “I may not be here when you get back.”
My mind raced. I must have that autograph! “Well, how’s about this?” I stammered. “I go run and get my pen, and if you’re here, great. And if you’re not, at least it’s my own stupid fault.”
She shrugged: agreement enough for me — or at least not a disagreement.
Then she crawled into her car and curled herself up so her entire body fit into the steering well. It did not look comfortable, as her head was now tilted nearly completely upside down, and her legs were tucked up somewhere behind her body. But she seemed unbothered by the posture. It was as if she were hiding from someone. And she was now in no position to sign anything.
I gave up on the pen. To leave her alone seemed dangerous somehow. Shelley Long was having an emotional crisis of some sort.
Stepped past the photographer, who was just sort of crouching there, I asked her what was wrong, but she said she couldn’t tell me. “Of course you can tell me,” I said. I fancied it a somewhat heroic gesture on my part. “You need to talk to someone.”
If she was worried that I was some kind of gossip reporter, she gave no such indication. I don’t remember what we discussed, but once she opened up a crack, it all came spilling out. I worried that the guy with the camera would be taking down every word, but he seemed to have stopped moving — like his wind-up clockwork had stopped running.
And that’s all I remember.
Usually my dreams are about ordinary, banal events like making coffee or being at work. Sometimes they’re overcomplicated versions of normal things, like trying to find my way through a stranger’s house on my hands and knees in a reality somewhere between M.C. Escher and Lewis Carol.
Sometimes they’re miniature fantasy scenarios, like talking on a video telephone to Madonna — until she begins to make dubious claims about losing the connection (“You’re fading, Eric. You’re fading.” Roughly translated: “You’re boring me. I’m hanging up.”)
Sometimes they defy normal physical laws, like the time I drove a car down an ordinary staircase into my uncle’s basement.
I find myself every once in a while dreaming about my childhood best friend, who told me to stop coming over to his house after his parents found out I was gay. Clearly an experience like that will leave a mark; I understand why that would be on my mind. But sometimes I remember a real doozy the morning after — like the one where a stained-glass rocking horse emerged from The Ocean (any ocean) to attack The City (any city), throwing immense objects out of its way, such as a radio tower and large pieces of the bridge I happened to be standing on at the time. I have no explanation for dreams like this.
Among those dreams that defy explanation, my favorites are the ones that last long enough to take completely unexpected turns. Like giving Shelley Long a shoulder to cry on. I tend to appreciate them as inexplainable little “art movies” rather than something with a psychological explanation.
I may never understand the apparent potency of an autograph from Shelley Long, but it’s not hard to see the value of a few stolen moments with my dad.