In the middle of writing the first notes for the novel The Holy Spirit of My Uncle’s Cojones, I recorded the above dream. My son Ben had been born two months previous. He was our last of four children, and my mind had focused on that—the youngest. There was a brittle feeling about it, though I couldn’t figure it out. I had walked around for two months, once again a happy, proud father, but confused; something was going on in my head that, in my waking hours, it couldn’t figure out.
But it sure figured out something in the dream. Now, just to be clear, the above scene is, in my head, not a surprise. My subconscious likes to play and I don’t mind at all, no matter how disturbing the images are. Oh, there have been few times I’ve startled awake with something much more horrendous than doing an autopsy on my son who’s rotting on the inside. But, I’m not one to use the word “nightmare” much. If anything, these dreams are more a telling, with my subconscious hurling stark scenes at me. I understand the dream; it has roots; and Jung would remind me that the dream has little to do with my son—it was all about me.
It’s not happenstance that this dream popped up while I was writing Cojones. It reflects a theme in the novel, one that I hadn’t figured out at the moment. And it wasn’t a surprise, but illumination. Through forty years of journaling, which itself demands discipline as much as fiction writing does, I’ve had wondrous moments such as the one above, in which the very writing in a diary slices the thinnest, tiniest razor-slash into the cerebrum and plunges into the limbic system, where our real selves live: emotions, memory, learning all unleashed in dreams. Journal writing has given me hundreds of opportunities to explore myself, not just in my waking hours, but in sleep, where the demons play hopscotch with gods. There are no abstracts in there; the inner brain hurls my dead son at me, puts a scalpel in my hand, and gives me loving characters who I cannot see but who whisper to me about the necessity of cleaning out the putridity in my child’s guts who weren’t really Ben’s, but mine.
I love my dreams, what some call nightmares. But I didn’t know, until the other day, when my son Ben, now twenty-one, was talking about how lousy a dreamer he was, how powerful my dreams might appear to others. He said he was the shittiest dreamer on the planet. “All I see are blurs!” My wife Michelle said the same, though Ben’s brother, José David, said he enjoyed weekly dreams of being Superman and once even got a chance to be Wolverine. I said I had them all beat, and brought out that journal and read the above scene to them, as though it were something cool; it was cool, to me, so groovy that I was stupid to the pall I had put upon the room. Michelle looked at me and said, “Well, I’m glad you never read that to me back then,” and turned away. Ben, one of the most positive people I know, looked at me as though he’d lost me. I thought I had been the one who had disturbed him, reading to him such an image, of me cutting him open. But no, that wasn’t it; Ben knows my history; my whole family does. He could see glimpses of that history in the dream. I apologized, said I hadn’t meant to upset him. “No, it’s not that. I’m just sorry that you have such dreams.” He hurt for me. But I didn’t hurt, at all; the dream was liberation, one of many subconscious liberations I’ve enjoyed, due to writing fiction and journals. And it is based in a little reality: I’ve held dead babies. Three come to mind.