the bizarre dream began when i switched to the night shift.
there was something about going to sleep in the middle of the afternoon, while the rest of the city went about their day, that stimulated my mind. well, at least my subconscious mind.
i had had this type of dream before; one in which i read a book, but, in the past, the words were just a bunch of jibberish - a story that went nowhere. but when i got into that regular pattern of sleeping in the afternoon, the dream became more regular and more personal. it still involved me reading a book, but now the book wasn't a story of wandering nonsense.
it was the story about me.
my life, from birth, written out like an adventure tale. but apparently not written by me, but rather by someone who knew everything about me - in intimate detail. then again, it could only have been written by me because it related hidden, secret feelings that i had had as a child, things that only i knew. things i had forgotten about. and the story was perfectly complete. it covered everything. there was absolutely no one other than myself that knew that much about me. but the book was written in a style so different from my own that it couldn't have been me that wrote it.
but, jesus. look at me. i am trying to rationalize dreams; those mysterious movies inside one's head where anything is possible. i guess there is no point in trying to explain it. the main point is that it was fascinating going to sleep and reading about my life, especially about the things i had forgotten or never known.
every afternoon, when i returned from work at the ford plant and fell asleep in my second floor apartment in suburban detroit, michigan, the dream came. it always began the same way:
i would walk into the public library of plymouth, michigan, the small town where i grew up, and upon reaching the counter, the librarian, a wrinkled old woman of about 60 with a warm face, a pleasant smile, a bit too much rosy blush, and ancient perfume (the kind my grandma used to wear), would turn to me with a book in her hand and say "i think you may find this story fun. it has such an interesting ending!"
i would take the book from her, carrying it - and a small whisper of her perfume - from the counter to a quiet desk in the corner. she would smile at me and say "i most certainly hope you enjoy it. it is so nice to see young people still using the wonderful resources of their public library!"
just like that. every time i closed my eyes and fell asleep, that is how the dream opened.
on the first day of the dream, i sat and examined the cover for a while - it was a thick, leather shell dyed deep green, etched with a weaving gold medieval pattern. the title, written in a bold, flowing script, read: "A Complete Life." at the bottom of the cover, in the same script but in a smaller font, the writing credits read: "By Michael Kivisto &..."
but i couldn't quite read what followed the "&."
puzzled, i opened the book and read the first line: "michael arvid kivisto was born to karin oscarson and alvar arvid kivisto on november 15, 1971 in ann arbor, michigan at 3:35 in the morning..."
i jolted out of sleep. strange that reading about myself at first seemed like a nightmare.
my conscious life sometimes seemed like a nightmare too. well, that was overstating it. maybe it was just a little dull, a little lonely. i lived alone in my apartment and had been working on the assembly line at ford since i was 18. i was 34. 34 and still living alone. i never had much luck with women and i wasn't sure why. i guess i was too shy. or a little too mean. well, i wasn't mean really; i just had a bit of a temper. i would shoot my mouth off, quick to anger sometimes. i was never malicious though; the worst name i had ever called a girlfriend was a son of a gun. and that was when i was really, really mad. i think my quick temper arose from an emptiness that i felt. i was a sad guy, maybe like a homeless dog that lashes out at a hand he only expects abuse from. he is lonely and scared, so defensive because he long ago abandoned the hope that someone would ever extend a loving hand to him.
damn! look at me again! i'm not looking for sympathy here. i guess the dream just got me thinking about my life, and about some things that i'd like to change. reading about yourself in that way, in a story written in the third person, helps you gain a new perspective on your life.
so on the second afternoon that i had the dream i knew what to expect. i walked into the library, i got the book, i sat in the corner, i examined the cover - but this time there was something else. sticking out of the top of the book was a bookmark. i opened the book to the mark, and looked at it. it read: "congratulations! you are still alive!" weird, i thought. i took it out of the book (it was marking page one where i had left off the day before), and i began to read.
i quickly became absorbed in the story about me. not that i am some ego-maniac, but what would you do if you could read about what you were feeling when you were one day old?
it was written right there. and apparently on day one, and for a number of days following, i was really, really, really fucking nervous.
mmmhmmhmm, hhhhammmhhha, mmmmmmmmnuhhhh. i was trying to think but my mind was too new to form proper thoughts. my brain was a brand new machine being fired up for the first time. oh, the faint scent of hot metal as the cogs and electronics received the heat of life for the first time. but from the mush of letters written there i understood what the one day old me was thinking; i guess no one understands you better than yourself. in my garbled words i could sense that i was trying to express the overwhelming shock at being delivered into a conscious, living state with no idea what i was, where i was, or what i was supposed to do. i had no idea how to even think. brand new at everything. there was really only one thing to do.
cry. i cried. i cried a lot. i chuckled when i read this part because i remember my mother always telling me that i was a crier. hey ma, i can explain why now!
i sat there for hours, at least for what felt like hours in dream-time. at two weeks old i was beginning to smile for the first time, having become a little more familiar with the machine that was my body and with my surroundings. i was reading about that when i woke up.
wow. wow, wow, wow. that's how i felt then and every time i woke up. i had all this insight into myself, all this understanding of who i was, from the very beginning. it was incredible to read and i wanted to sleep more often so i could read more. my past life was much more interesting than my present one.
work seemed to drag after that. my 8 hour shift felt like twenty. i rushed home each afternoon, barely taking time to eat, and hit the sack.
for weeks i read through the intimate details of my life, reading things about myself that no one had ever read about themselves. i discovered people that i had forgotten about, i recognized turning points in my life, little incidents that meant so much then but seemed so insignificant to the adult me. did i think that? did i actually say that? i never felt pain while reading; i was in that euphoric dream-state that separated me from the "character" in the story. there were, of course, many painful incidents in my life, especially when i got to my teenage years and had trouble making friends. i felt alone a lot. i was scared of women. things hadn't changed much i thought.
i spent a lot of time at work thinking about my past and how it related to the present. i had a few friends at the plant but none that i was very close to. a buddy had set me up with his sister but i just didn't click with her. i guess really she didn't click with me. i would have liked to have spent more time with her but she got back together with an ex i heard.
the only time i really enjoyed myself was when i was asleep. each afternoon i walked into the library in my head and opened my life to the marker reading: "congratulations! you are still alive!" still alive. hmmm. alive in the story but quite vacant outside it. i felt alone when i was awake. the most intimate contact i had with a woman was with the librarian in my head. i could even sometimes still smell her perfume when i awoke.
so i read and read and read. 34 years was a lot to cover but i spent most of my time at it so i got through it fairly quickly. however, when the story drew closer to the present, it became very dull. i knew this stuff already. it was fresh enough in my mind so that reading about it was very uninteresting.
but then something occurred to me. something really exciting. something that freaked me out a bit as i closed the blinds in my bedroom one afternoon.
was my future in that book?
the title was "A Complete Life" implying that it was all there. my past certainly was, and i was currently reading about the near-present (i was 32 in the story)...my god. how did it end? what was going to happen to me? why hadn't i turned to the back pages?
the reason was that i had no control. i was on automatic pilot while in the dream. i could only start reading at the page where the marker was and i never thought of looking ahead. i never did that in real life so i guess the dream-me followed the same rule. why ruin a good story?
but as i said, the story wasn't that good anymore. i was anxious to get to the future, if it was written in there. in the present i was merely going to work, ignoring my friends, and lamenting the absense of a woman in my life. living it and reading about it was not very fun.
on the afternoon that i reached the absolute present, i took a deep breath before turning the page. i was awash with wonder at what lay ahead: my future. it was there after all. it looked pretty thick too so i guess i was going to live a long time. i slurped up the details with a new-found zeal. the present had been boring but certainly the future would be much, much more interesting. i ate the words with wide, attentive, consuming eyes but then something woke me up.
i sat up, annoyed. there was a sound streaming from a different apartment. a loud noise that drilled through my ear-plugs. i threw the sheets off me, and pulled the crooked eyeshade off my face.
i heard music. what in god's name was someone doing listening to music at...oh. it was 4 in the afternoon. people with normal schedules were awake living their lives. i forgot about that i guess.
i was cranky but awake. i dragged myself out of bed and walked to the kitchen. i thought about the book in my dream, about my future. was there a woman in there i wondered? did i finally meet "the" girl? i looked around my apartment at the sad state of it: an open pizza box spilling crumbs on the floor, my greasy work clothes piled on the couch, the stove stacked high with dirty dishes. being alone sucked. at the very least it made me untidy. i never really cared about being so clean for myself. i turned on the television and stared absently at some horrible daytime programming. i fell into a dreamless sleep on the couch, using a workshirt as a pillow.
i awoke with a slick of black grease on my face. it was 10 at night and i had to be to work in an hour. i showered, put on some wrinkled clothes and headed out the door.
at work i thought about the book again. i became apprehensive about falling asleep and reading my book, seeing into my future. because, i thought, what kind of future was it? what direction was i headed in? what was my life really all about? i was alone and had been for too long. loneliness was suffocating me. reading a story about myself made me realize how absent love had been from my life and about how sad it all made me. if the future was going to be more of the same, i didn't really want to know it. i certainly wasn't going to meet anyone living the way i was - living for sleep. but i figured if i could read just a little more then i might find a clue about what to do. i never believed in crystal balls or tarot cards, all that stuff was not for me, but i now had my own personal guaranteed psychic living inside my head. to consult her, all i had to do was fall asleep.
but that became hard. well, falling asleep wasn't hard i guess, but staying asleep was. i would walk into the library, take the book from the woman, open it, begin to read...and then something would wake me up.
arggghhh! my temper was firing. it was that music again. every afternoon it was the same thing. my ear-plugs were powerless against it. to be fair it wasn't bad, annoying, loud music. it was just persistent, steady, and, if it hadn't been keeping me from getting any sleep, i'd even have admitted that it was lovely.
but it was keeping me from sleep. the resulting exhaustion affected my work, and, more critically, it kept me from reading about my future, and therefore, i couldn't figure out what to do with myself.
my shift ended everyday at 3 in the afternoon and i was usually asleep by 4. at about 4:30 every afternoon, music came flowing out of an apartment somewhere near mine. no matter how much i covered my head with pillows or how far i shoved my ear-plugs in, i could always hear it. i tried sleeping in different rooms, on the couch, in the shower even, the bathroom being the farthest away from the window, but i still could not block out the sound of that music.
after about a week i was going mad. the dream became an evil temptress. i would talk to the old woman, i'd examine the cover (i still couldn't read the second author, the name or whatever that followed mine at the bottom of the cover), i'd turn to the marker, i'd read the saying "congratulations! you are still alive!" and then the music would come, wrenching me from sleep.
i put up with it for a few more days but the bags under my eyes began to sag down to my mouth it seemed. i was so tired. being awake all that time made me feel lonelier. and my apartment was too drab and dull to be in while the sun shone outside. depression tightened it's hold on me.
but then i fell asleep and something in the dream changed. all the details i have described earlier were the same, but one small thing changed.
the librarian said something new to me. she repeated the same stuff she always did, but this time, as i took the book from her and began to walk away, in that moment when our eyes were met and she was exclaiming her joy at the youth still utilizing the library, her face turned stern and her tone became serious. i was so struck by this because previously everything had been so predictable like in the movie groundhog day. i gasped at the look on her face and i listened as she said:
"you know, reading is a great thing, but if you spend all your time reading about others, who is going to write the book about you?"
i stumbled over to the table and looked over my shoulder as she went back to serving another customer as she always did. there was no further difference in the dream after that. i looked down at my name on the cover, "By Michael Kivisto &..."
and then i was awake again (of course.) the librarian's words still rattled in my head like her perfume in my nose. "reading is a great thing but if you spend all your time reading about others, who is going to write the book about you?" what exactly did that mean? i was reading the book about me. the book about me was already written and i was reading it. did i misunderstand her?
the librarian never repeated her challenging question. in subsequent dreams she just smiled at me as she handed me the book and told me to enjoy. i couldn't get any farther in the book - the incessant music woke me each time - but i didn't really care because i just wanted to hear the librarian's question again; i was more concerned with that than anything else.
i thought about her words while at work. i stared vacantly across the breakroom table while sipping my coffee, thinking about what they meant. i thought about them while driving home. while eating, while watching television. "who is going to write the book about you?"
then one day i couldn't take it anymore. it was 4:30 in the afternoon and, although it was a perfectly acceptable time to play music, my life was swirling into the toilet and i had to get some sleep. i decided to hunt down the musician and put an end to it. a piano player was responsible for the penetrating racket.
i strode out of my apartment into the sunlight of the mid-afternoon and made my way towards the sound. it was coming from a third floor apartment across the courtyard from my building. the glass security door stood open and i swiftly climbed the concrete steps to the third floor. the music grew louder as i ascended. when i found the right door, i knocked firmly.
the music halted. after a moment i heard some shuffling, and then someone walking delicately across the wooden apartment floor. a small knot twisted in my stomach - i wasn't one for confrontation. i was frustrated and tired but i didn't want to lose my temper with this person. i hoped they would understand.
the door opened and something clasped my heart.
there she was. the woman who had been waking me from my dreams for two straight weeks. the woman who's music jarred me from my slumber and kept me from reading about my future. the woman who caused me to fall over at work in a sleepy daze, almost costing me my job.
and she was worth it.
she was so beautiful. i could not even speak to her. she looked up at me from her small frame and didn't say a thing at first. her green eyes examined me from between strands of her long dark hair that framed her small, thin, lovely face. her mouth was closed in a soft smile but it spoke to me. i stood silently, smiling down at her, overwhelmed by the clench on my heart. i could smell her, the scent of vanilla and lavender softly floating from her slender neck to my drunken nostrils. her small hands rested calmly on her little hips, but not in impatience. she was relaxed, and inviting. i felt something from this woman instantly, something i was not used to. love. instant love.
my frustration disappeared and my head filled with a new intoxication. i simply said to her: "your music is wonderful. i just wanted to tell you that. i hear it everyday and i just wanted you to know how much i like it." i couldn't stop smiling at her, my heart was so obvious, but she didn't back away. she stood there confidently, gently.
"thank you so much. i just moved in here a few weeks ago and was afraid i might be bothering people. thank you for letting me off the hook." she laughed a bit nervously and smiled widely, showing her white, straight teeth. i was lost in her. "my name is rebekah," she said. she tilted her head slightly and offered her hand.
"i'm, uh, m-m, michael," i said as i took her hand in mine. i felt a warmth from it that i didn't know existed. i didn't want to let go but i did, stupidly leaving some machine grease on her pinky finger. i apologized but she waved her hand at me.
"ahh, a little grease never killed anyone, did it?" she laughed and so did i. i had to get out of there before i screwed it up. but right then, as i stood there looking at the most beautiful woman i had ever seen, i heard the words of the librarian who lived in my head and understood them for the first time: "who is going to write the book about you?" you can't do it on your own, i thought. a good book involves many people, people in relationships, people in conflict yes, but most interestingly, people in love. i had to see this woman again.
"rebekah, i'd love to hear some of your piano playing up close, rather than through my windows. do you ever give recitals?" i asked.
she laughed a bit and said "i don't know. i am not that good. you might decide to move apartments if you hear me without the protective barrier of dry wall." i threw back my head and laughed.
"i'm sure you are an excellent player. and i used to play myself - maybe we can play 'heart and soul' together sometime," i said.
"that sounds like a great idea, michael," she said.
we made plans to get together that weekend, over a bottle of wine and some bach. i flowed down the stairs like a waterfall back to my apartment.
rebekah and i got together that night and several nights afterwards. what i thought was instant love blossomed into true and complete love over the months that followed. we seemed made for each other and all the emptiness and loneliness of my life disappeared. i switched back to the day shift so i could spend more time with rebekah. she was a music teacher and worked mostly during the day. we were so happy together.
as the months went by i became so sure that rebekah was the one that i decided to propose. one night i took her to dinner in downtown detroit and i popped the question at the top of gm place. she accepted and made me the happiest man alive.
i forgot all about my recurring dream. ever since i met rebekah i slept more normally and peacefully, dreamlessly, save for the occasional flying dream which is the best dream ever.
but one night, as rebekah lay in my arms, i guess it was about a week after i proposed, i fell asleep and found myself walking up to the library in plymouth again. at the counter i met the old woman, my good old librarian with the smile and the strong perfume. she turned to me and handed me the familiar book, the one about me, and said "i think you may find this story fun. it has such an interesting ending!" i had expected her to say that of course, but then she added something else: "they write so well together, don't they?"
i walked off perplexed as she made her familiar statement about the youth still using the library. i got to the table and set down the book. i reached for the book marker and pulled it out, reading the familiar words: "congratulations! you are still alive!" i smiled at that and began to read about when i met rebekah. the description of the love i felt moved me to tears, something that previously hadn't happened. usually i felt disconnected from the me in the book but now i was tied in emotionally. i read about my leaping heart, and about the love that raced through me. i read about my proposal and the joy i felt at her answer. the tears streamed down my face and plopped on the wooden table. i sniffled out loud and some of the library patrons even shushed me! i chuckled softly to myself, the laugh of a man giddy in love, and then, when i read up to the very present, i closed the book.
i didn't want to read about the future. i wanted to take my love for rebekah wherever it would lead. i would go anywhere with her. i was not scared or unsure of myself. i was not that one day old child who was nervous of the world around him; i was the 34 year old man who had found his live's love and that made me fearless.
i was half-awake/half-asleep then, as rebekah began to stir in bed next to me, but my mind still held onto the dream for a moment longer, just long enough for me to look again at the cover. i read the title with a smile on my face: "A Complete Life," and then i dropped my gaze down to where the author's name was, and for the first time ever i could make out what it said: "By Michael Kivisto & Rebekah Maeve Evensen."
rebekah kissed me on the cheek right then and the dream vanished in my head. i turned my head towards hers and she opened her green eyes, those the color of the hills in ireland during the rebirth of spring, and she asked me "how are you, michael?"
i kissed her on her lovely mouth and said, "my dear, i am so, so happy."
August 2005 - Mendoza, Argentina