I've never had a dream that foretold the future. If I had, some of the mistakes I made in life (one big one in particular) might have been avoided. Judging by the number of books and articles and charlatans expounding on what is going to happen to you tomorrow or next week or this month, in horoscopes, tarot cards, dreams, tea leaves, and personal revelations, there must be a shitload of people who believe that the future is predictable. I don't. A big proponent of Free Will, I think that what I do the next day is dependent on the decisions I make, not the dance of planets, not some groove that I run in like a frantic dog on a chain. And of course, doesn't it seem likely that if you know the future is going to be bad, then you will do something different to try to change it, and so it won't be a true foretelling? Then the charlatan will answer, oh, but what you try to change will just be the thing that makes the predicted future happen! And my answer to that would be, pretty damn futile exercise, don't you think? What would be the point in knowing the future if there was no point in knowing the future? More profitable to know how to read the Yellow Pages to know how to find tomorrow's pizza.
In seventh grade, we had a terrific science teacher who walked into the classroom one afternoon to find about ten girls twittering over the horoscopes in some teen idol magazine. This poor teacher was idealistic and enthusiastic and really interested in elevating the minds of the Penn's Vale youth, so he leaped at his opportunity to explain the "scientific method" and how science is tested and truths are known by repeatability of results. He explained to the class that astrology is not science, because the results are not reliable. Of course the girl gang ( I was grateful not to be one of them) were adamant that their horoscopes could tell them what to expect in their future, based upon when they were born and what stars were influencing their lives.
The teacher enterprisingly brought The New York Times in every day for a week, and asked the class to read their horoscopes, and did they see a correlation in what was happening in their lives? About half the class did, a few bravely said they did not, and most of the rest were farm kids who knew they only had another year and a half to tough out school and so they opted not to participate except with grunts and blushes. (More than one of that last group had hard work just writing their own name legibly.) The next week, for about 15 minutes of the class, we were asked to write down the events of our day before that were important decisions or even just reasonably memorable events. He did not bring in The New York Times, and rightly guessed that none of us would have access to it. (There was no county library yet -- that was two years in the future, though the acquistion of a library was predicted by the town council.)
The following Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, he presented us with mimeographs of horoscope readings for the entire previous week and asked us to match them up with our experiences, taping them to our little journal entries. None of the readings had the date or the zodiacal sign attached to them. On Thursday, he brought in the Times for that previous week and let us compare our matchups of days and readings.
Perhaps three of the students got one entry with their correct zodiacal sign, but the wrong day. One of the farm kids got his day matched up, but with the wrong sign, and he admitted he just taped them on the sheet as he picked them up. Some of us roared with laughter at how far off our guesses were, and some students' faces were red when they realized they had been mistaken. The teacher triumphantly spent Friday re-explaining the scientific method and how it is a foundation for learning. On Monday, he was called into the principal's office and reprimanded and put on probation for teaching occult practices, after complaints were filed by three of the parents of the twitterers who had brought in the teen magazine.
When people ask me what their dreams are telling them to do, I usually quip, Stop eating weird stuff before you go to bed. And then I launch into a protracted story about my friend Susan who spitefully ate an entire jar of dill pickles that her mother had been saving, and had dreams about evil duck-people that night. The future-seekers will inevitably find that boring and change the subject, thank God for Susan and her duck-people.
I don't think dreams will tell the future, or that anything will. How would we find the strength to continue on if we knew what we were going to have to face tomorrow, and the next day, and the next?
About a month after Dad was killed, I went to spend a weekend with Mom. Her phone conversations had started to worry me. Her voice wasn't right. The quavers were getting worse, making her sound much older than her early sixties. And when she would try to tell me what she had done that week, she would forget the name of household objects. The stove was a 'whatchamacallit' that wasn't working properly. The window was the 'whatchamacallit' she had to go open. Every few sentences she would say, "Ah - ah - ah ..." and lose track of what she was saying, often starting to chatter disconnectedly about a different subject completely. I was very worried about what I was going to find.
Sadly, worried as I was, what I found was worse than I had imagined. My mother greeted me with a false jollity that was grotesque on her. She was horribly thin, and had a sickly yellowed cast to her skin. Her eyes looked huge in her face, and her once piercing stare looked bleary, cloudy. When she smiled, her teeth were yellow, and needed brushed. "Mom!" I reached out and hugged her gently; she felt made of bird bones. "Have you been sick, and didn't tell me? Why are you so thin?"
"I'm not thin! All my clothes fit. And I haven't been sick, either. Well, maybe I have lost a little weight, but there's so much to do with your father gone. Keeping busy is as good a workout as at one of those - ah - gymnasiums. Now there's that Mrs. Harpster across the street, she has to go work out twice a week, but I don't have to. If she just did her own yard work she'd lose that weight fast enough."
We went into the kitchen, the place everyone congregates in most every household, and where all family conversations seem to begin. In the heart of the house, will this be less frightening? "Can I put some water on for coffee for you? Just instant, I don't bother brewing it anymore since it's just me. Or I have some ah - ah - oh, whatchamacallit, in the little bags."
"Tea?" I supplied, feeling a kind of panic set in.
"Tea! Yes, tea! I have so many things to do nowadays I can't keep track of anything. Mrs. Harpster's son is in rehab now since he had that DUI, and I swear I don't know what I'd do if I had a grown son I had to drive around all the time because he lost his whatchamacallit. I thought of planting a few flowers this year, just enough to put some on your father's grave every Sunday, but I'm just too busy!"
There were things that were uncharacteristic, out of place. No butter dish on the counter. The sugar bowl with a layer of dust on it. No cooking smell in the house at all. I got up and nonchalantly went to the refrigerator. Opened it, and there was far too much empty shelf space.
Defensively she cried, "I was waiting for you to get here to go to the store. I don't know what you want to eat. There's a MacDonald's over by the store, you could get whatever you want. I always just get a small hamburger with cheese, that's so big for me to eat anyway. But I know you like a big meal, so you could get the ah - ah - you know, the big one they have. Or we can go to the store and you can pick out what you want." Her voice was getting hoarse and she started to cough a little. I got her a glass of water. She sipped and then put the glass down.
The water for my coffee was boiling, and I reached down a mug from the cabinet to the left of the sink. I looked into it, a habit developed as a child after my mother had mentioned how roaches would fight and leave legs and antennae in the dishes when she and Dad had first moved in. No insect parts, just dust that I rinsed out.
"Oh, was that dirty? I really must wash all those dishes again one of these days, when I find a little time. I usually just use this cup and the plate beside the sink. Did I tell you about - ah. Ah. What was I going to say?" Her mouth open, frozen with the concentration of trying to gather her addled thoughts.
"Mom, who's your family doctor?"
"I don't have a family doctor! I'm not like that Joyce Arment, always moaning about her innards and what all the doctor did to her with all those tests. I'm never sick, so why would I need a doctor? Are you trying to tell me you think I'm sick?" Her voice was rising with a weak anger. If this was the old days when I was a teen, I would be beating feet to escape the wrath that was sure to follow the imagined insult.
"No, Mom, I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell what is going on. But you've lost a lot of weight since Dad passed away, and I would rest better if I knew that you were all right." I'd deepened my voice to try to sound authoritative enough to convince her.
"Don't think I don't know what happens when women my age go to the doctor! First thing they do is prescribe all kinds of pills, and then you go so dotty with all those medications that you end up in a nursing home. No thank you! I'm in good health, and I am not going to a doctor!"
I shut up and took her to the grocery store. We bought a small chuck roast and a package of chicken for Sunday. "We can have the roast today, and that will leave you some for sandwiches. We can do some chicken tomorrow, does that sound good?"
"Oh, it sounds wonderful!" she said, the false note back in her voice. I bought some bread, and some potatoes, too. "I never cook potatoes anymore," she croaked. "Too much trouble for one person, you know."
"No, Mom, I don't know. I cook potatoes for me frequently. Just use a smaller pot."
"Well, you eat more than I do! I won't let myself get fat! You used to be so slim, and then you married that no-good trucker and just let yourself go to pot whining about him!" God, anything sets her off, but she's not well, and I won't be drawn into a fight.
Get food, listen to constant chatter about television shows I had never heard of and the Governor's inability to manage state funds, cook food, listen to criticisms of my cooking techniques (always too much, too complicated, too many dirty dishes) put food on the table, listen to her talk with her mouth full, each bite lasting through many sentences, plenty of I-told-you-so's about Adam, what I could have done with my life, what she did with her life that was so much better, talk so much that the food gets cold, so much praise for how good everything tastes, but so little tasted, all punctuated with the "ah - ah - ah" loss of train of thought every sentence or so. I took my dish to the sink to rinse it, and turned around to see her surreptitiously shoving a piece of meat back onto the serving plate. "You served me too much!" she complained.
I pretended that her explanation satisfied me, and took the remaining dishes to the counter to wash and put away. I used that opportunity to examine her plate and the remains of her meal, and seeing how much of her tiny servings remained frightened me.