It began at 2:30 this morning.
Insomnia. Then thinking.
And I’ve been fighting some persistent lower back pain that started two days ago, after I’d been biking in the heat and slept all night on a sofa where I wasn’t able to spread out.
Physical pain always brings out the darker, deeper, mental kind of pain.
So, a question like: “What if this is a symptom of a larger health problem?” is not something you want to be asking yourself in the dead of night.
I got up to drink a glass of water and take over-the-counter pain meds, which eventually helped me sleep — and pulled me into the nightmare that I need to write about now.
First, some background is necessary: ten years ago, both my parents died; a year later, a love relationship ended; six years ago, I quit my job; and three years ago, I lost my home. In between, friends died or became more distant — it’s been one slow motion, seemingly never-ending shitshow of loss, uncertainty, and regret.
The upside is I’ve been rebuilding: I’ve had steady employment for the past year and a half, and now a new job with lots of potential and support that I haven’t known for a decade. It’s intoxicating. Add to that some positive feedback on a business idea reboot, and a welcoming back of old friends in fresh new situations.
Now if I could only get rid of this back pain. And get some goddamn sleep.
Well, at least I got the latter. I’m writing this while wincing in my chair, hours later.
When the alarm went off at 4:55 a.m., I awoke emotionally wrung from the nightmare. Here’s how it unfolded:
Two dear friends, identical twin sisters, were having what they called “a huge party.” Since some of us attending lived out of town, we brought overnight bags with a change of clothing, toiletries — everything we thought we’d need for the big blowout. All my stuff was in a red canvas overnight bag. I remember I put it alongside others’ bags, tucked underneath some furniture so it would be well out of the way.
So far, so good. But just as people were arriving for the party, I discovered my bag was missing! Others’ bags were just where they left them, but mine was gone.
I totally panicked. My wallet, my keys, my clothes — everything I owned was in that bag!
This is where things got nightmarish: no one cared. People started arriving and wanted me to enjoy the party, but I simply couldn’t. And the funny thing: the party kept getting larger: people I hadn’t seen in years, along with new faces and children wanting to play games; the house got bigger, with more rooms, making it even more difficult to find “my red canvas bag.” When I discovered a bag that looked like mine, it turned out it wasn’t! I couldn’t stop obsessing about losing “my stuff.” Why were my things the only ones taken? Why was this happening to me? Why? Why? WHY?
People then started to tease and cajole me: “C’mon, Mike, stop being such a wet blanket! Your stuff will turn up. Stop worrying about it!”
Then I grew resentful. Until I knew where my things were, I wouldn’t enjoy the party. At that point the others branded me a turncoat, an unfriend, and most of them went on their way — or wished I’d just leave the party altogether.
Finally, my late parents arrived and implored me to stay, but I couldn’t even look them in the eye. At that point I was in tears, despairing the loss of “my stuff.” They tried to hold me back, but I was rushing for the door — any door.
I awoke feeling absolutely heartbroken and nearly weeping.
So, I stayed in bed awhile longer this morning and thought. I’ve had the title above on my mind for a couple weeks now, Start With The End, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about.
The dream instantly connected with the title.
It’s ironic because the past ten years have felt like “The End” — almost to the point where I wondered if it was also the end of my life. I’d never before known so many endings, or seen so few “beginnings.”
That last image from the dream, of my parents begging me to stay — it’s important, vital I think, to what happens next (even down to the detail of shame, of being unable to “look them in the eye”).
What if I stayed? What if I’d been more honest with everyone: “Hey! I’m sorry but I lost my things and it’s really bothering me … do you think you could help me out?” Maybe they would’ve offered clothes if I needed them, or food, or even a big hug — and welcomed me back to my best self — that person attuned to appreciating new things and into the flow of whatever life currently puts in front of him.
It occurred to me the dream might’ve been a bizarre “message from beyond.” Perhaps the spirits of my late parents were sad that I’m “holding on to that red canvas bag” when there’s a rich banquet of life right here, right now, right in front of me.
“Son, listen,” Dad might’ve said. “Let it go. Start with the end. Because that’s where you’ll find the happiest new beginning.”
That’s really good advice. I’ll take it.