It was the winter of 2009 shortly after the doctors told Robert Sherwood Babcock, III he had terminal lung cancer, that he began to have virtually lifelike dreams. He could not distinguish between their reality and fact. The repetitive enactment that gave him the most shivers was Mrs. Dâ€™Angeloâ€™s outraged response to his simple request.
She had picked up a sharp kitchen knife with an avowed intention to sever his most precious parts. He tried to recall the question he had put to her, but it had eluded him.
He remembered leaping down a full flight of stairs, one flight after another, safely distancing himself from the crazy woman. But what was he doing inside the empty trashcan? How had he gotten into this predicament? He thought he could hear heavy breathing from someone sitting on the trashcan’s cover and muttering curses in Italian. All he had asked Mrs. D’Angelo, â€œWould it be all right with you if my liaison with your daughter was resumed?â€ The foul odor inside the trashcan was irritating his nostrils and he clutched a handkerchief to his mouth and nose with one hand to stem the sneeze he was afraid was coming on. With the other hand, he was holding tightly to his family jewels. He had no recollection of having confronted Mrs. D’Angelo.
Quite suddenly the scene changed. His attention was drawn to an army of children of all ages and sizes who, were shrieking and screaming, â€œDADDY, DADDY, DADDY,â€ while running towards him with wide spread arms. He could hardly believe that he had impregnated so many women and fathered that many. By comparison, King Solomon must have been impotent. ‘But I’ve got to get away from these raving hordes.’ He was in an open field now and could not find a building, or tree, or place of refuge. The unruly crowd was closing in and his feet were like lead and refused to obey his urgent efforts to flee.
Scrambling out of bed, almost falling to the floor, he was still concocting a story that would mollify his mad assailant and another excuse to tell his mother for his soiled clothing. The floor nurse, who had been alarmed by the commotion issuing from his hospital room, asked him,
â€œWhat on earth are you doing thrashing around the floor?â€
Sheepishly, and not answering her question, he crawled back into bed, pulling the covers over his head. He did not go back to sleep. He positively didn’t care to return to slumber land and find Mrs. Dâ€™Angelo patiently waiting for him or facing that rambunctious mob of bastards.
He knew something serious was underfoot when his primary physician, his oncologist, his cardiologist, his neurologist, and his orthopedist came in together. Their simultaneous arrival and somber faces were very ominous.
â€œWhat else can you infer from the x-rays and the biopsy but a cancerous tumor?â€ The doctors were speaking. â€œThat strange mass seems to be growing. What if it spreads to the other lung?â€
â€œThe MRI is normal for a patient his age.â€
â€œIt may be hereditary. His parents were heavy smokers and heavy drinkers, but he is neither. He’s a vegetarian.â€
â€œI recall a couple of years ago he was hospitalized with congestive heart failure. We couldn’t find a pulse.â€
â€œAt his age he should give up his business and other activities. Retire and watch television.â€
â€œYes, he keeps stumbling, tripping, falling and breaking bones. He refuses to use a cane or a walker.â€
To stop the cacophony of the medical magpies, Bobby called out, â€œHELLO, hey I’m the patient! Isn’t Early detection; Early treatment the road to survival? Two months ago my lungs were clear. What happened?â€
â€œPerhaps the tumor or the neoplasms may have metastasized,â€ a doctor suggested.
â€œIn which case, gentlemen, I am doomed. I have been on the brink twice before and evaded the swift sword. I could be lucky once again. Have you a treatment up your sleeves?â€ The doctors marveled at the spirit of their fatalistic patient.
â€œNot knowing what we are dealing with limits our choice of treatment. We have contacted the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for advice. They may have seen something like this or have knowledge from abroad. They are always alert to a possible pandemic.â€
A week ago he had complained of a slight occasional pain in his right chest.
He told his daughter, â€œItâ€™ll pass in a few days. It always does.â€
â€œBut what about this hacking cough you have had? That has not gone away in over two weeks.â€
As if to confirm her observation, he involuntarily broke out in a paroxysm of coughing and choking.
â€œDad are you alright?â€
â€œI’m fine. Nothing is coming up.â€ He was croaking and hacking with evident distress. He clutched a Kleenex to his mouth.
â€œWe should see the doctor anyway.â€
But, as usual, he was reluctant to visiting the doctor. â€œHeâ€™ll just prescribe another damn pill. Iâ€™m taking too damn many pills as it is.â€
In the end and still unwillingly, he consented to go to see his physician. His daughter hurriedly telephoned and the doctor. He had urged her to bring her father in at once. It was a safety precaution. When they arrived at the doctorâ€™s office, they were pleasantly greeted by the nurse, â€œHow are you, Mr. Babcock? Itâ€™s so good to see you again.Â We missed you. And how are you feeling today?â€
There was no point in answering these rhetorical questions nurses and doctors ask. But he scowled anyway. ‘I was watching a boring rerun of Law and Order and decided bothering my doctor would be more fun.’
â€œAre you in any pain?â€ The nurse was all smiles as she took his temperature, blood pressure and respiration. She said, â€œThe doctor will see you shortly.â€ She hardly gave Roberta a second glance. The doctor was also broadly smiling too.
â€œHow are you, Bobby?â€ ‘Same old crap.’
â€œTake a deep breathe, inhale; hold it. Take another. Hold it. Breathe normally.â€ Is there another way to breathe? Thump, thump, thump first on the chest and then on the back. Is anybody answering?
â€œI think your father has pneumonia, Roberta. I am not sure. He should have a chest x-ray. That should tell the story.â€ Without asking permission or discussing the matter with his patient, he made arrangements for Bobby to be admitted to the hospital. Turning to the daughter, he said, â€œThis may be nothing, but I donâ€™t want to risk it at his age. They are awaiting you at the hospital. X-rays are mandatory. They may suggest other tests after the x-rays are
analyzed. Meantime Iâ€™ll give you a prescription for an antibiotic pill, just in case pneumonia is confirmed.â€
The doctor was visibly relieved after he had shooed them out of the office.Â At the hospital, his temperature, blood pressure and respiration were taken again, first by the nurse and then again by the attending physician. He was asked if he had any pain. This time he firmly answered, â€œYes!â€ but he refrained from telling them who was the cause of his irritation. Later, the radiologist came to see him. With a stern matter-of-fact attitude, he said, â€œYou donâ€™t have pneumonia. That is the good news. But there is something growing in your right lung. That is the bad news. We need to make some additional tests. Meantime, you will need to be hospitalized for a few days. Iâ€™ll take care of the admission right away.â€ With that, he turned and ran off. Mr. Babcock was well known at the hospital for his temperament. No questions asked and no other statements made.Â Rather than his former irrelevant, discontinuous and
vague fantasies, the images were recognizable figures not wispy and fleeting imagery. These was real, live people, not to be confused with doublegangers. He simply could not be sure when he had been dreaming and when he was reliving the past. There was a fine line between reality and fantasy and he could not distinguish between the two. Occasionally he had momentarily dozed off or had he?
Was he dreaming or was he living the images? He thought many of the dreams were recollections of events of an earlier time, and some so long past were repetitions or reenactments of happenings half forgotten and best expunged from memory. Strangely odd, the dream sequence was not always as he remembered it or even the event itself was unrecognizably altered. He made many vain attempts to recapture the â€˜trueâ€™ replay, as he wanted it to be or as he remembered it. He seldom cared for the new accusatory and despicable versions.Â He was exiting from a theater. Out of a corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of his father and mother also leaving. He turned around and craned his neck to get a better view of them, but the pressure and jostling of the crowd obscured his vision of his parents as he was pushed further and further out of the theater. Angry voices telling him to move on further clouded the sight. An altercation with the nearest theatergoers was narrowly avoided when he woke up.
He did not question that his parents in no way resembled the figures in the open coffins, they were the healthy, vivacious gallery hopping, gay Saturday group he lovingly remembered as a teenager. He had particularly enjoyed those Saturday excursions not only for the art, but also for the
luncheons earlier at Longchamps at noon and the dinners at Quo Vadisâ€™in the evening. He did not differentiate the passage of time that had occurred, everything was so real.Â He was disturbed by some reminiscence that he was positive had never happened. It simply was not in his character to have behaved in so crass a manner. One such scurrilous and revolting act involved the promise he was supposedto have made to marry that Angelina girl, (Her name still rankled in his memory.) before she would let him have his way with her. After several amorous sessions, Angelina reasonably pressured him to fulfill his vows to wed or at least announce their engagement. But instead of fulfilling his pledge, he told the deceived paramour that he had a headache and could not possibly marry anyone. She found his explanation slightly unacceptable and asked him to explain his non-compliance to her mother. In the recurring dream sequence he did not remember what her mother looked like, but he had no clear vivid remembrance of this dastardly act. He was explaining to Angelinaâ€™s mother, Mrs. D’Angelo, why he was reneging on his promise to honor her daughter.
He saw himself standing fearlessly but politely before Mrs. Dâ€™Angelo and pleading.
â€œMadam, I canâ€™t marry your daughter right now. I am only five years old. I have no job and no means for supporting a wife.â€ Mrs. Dâ€™Angelo was seriously considering the extraordinary revelation.
â€œHow can five year old support a twenty-four year old girl? Of course he canâ€™t. Itâ€™s absurd to expect so.â€ He smiled to himself with solemn relief and complimented him self on his clever quick thinking and obviously convincing craftiness.
â€œMrs. Dâ€™Angelo, Angelina and I, could we continue our relationship until I grow up?â€ Sometimes in reality one oversteps. He was moved and disturbed by Angelinaâ€™s crying and weeping. But more so by her mother’s active threats to emasculate him, by brandishing a butcher knife and making for him. He thought it best to leave quickly without bidding his farewell. His instinctive preservation of his manhood overshadowed his bad manners. When he awakened, he was not quite sure it all had ever happened. The dream had been too convoluted and improbable that he dismissed it as a bad dream, or so he hoped. Some of the clear but flashing vignettes of friends long since gone were pleasing and welcome. But he could not be sure that he had recognized who was who. The images were real enough but were fading before he could recall their names. Who was that? Was that Robin? Roslyn? Rose? Richard?
Rudy? Ronald? Helen? Names kept neon flashing through his mind and he was unable to make a positive identification of the vision or connect it with a name.Â The repeated dream that disturbed him more than any other occurred when he felt his father bump him as he walked passed. He called out, â€œDad!â€ but the man showed no sign of recognizing him. He called out several times â€œIt is me, dad. Bobby.â€ He hurried to catch up with the figure that was receding from his view and he tried in vain to grab a hold his father, but his feet would not move fast enough and the wraith slowly distanced itself. The scornful glares his father had cast in his direction bothered him greatly. He believed his fatherâ€™s rejections were bad omens. There were similar encounters with his mother. She too appeared to examine him closely before drawing away.
Once he grabbed her skirt, â€œMother wait. Itâ€™s Bobby.â€ When he looked down at his opened hand, he saw it was empty.
Darkness closed slowly in on the figure flitting away. He was sorely distressed for several days after.Â He was familiar with the Freudian Interpretation of
Dreams and had not the slightest belief in the psychoana lystâ€™s interpretations but the dreams did cause him to wonder. Freudâ€™s concept held all dreams to be sexual wish fulfillment. His experience in spelunking was the sexual act of entering the vagina. But there was no repetitive entering and withdrawing as exemplified in the climbing and descending of stairs. The absence of any Oedipus complex was blatantly evidence. The idea of sleeping with his mother was an abomination. The revolting thought made him sick to his stomach. His relationship with his mother had always been strained. On the other hand, he had been strongly bonded to his father. He tried to recollect the courses in psychology he had taken as an undergraduate, the names of Alfred Adler and Carl Jung cane to mind, but nothing to satisfactorily explain his dreams. Eugene Asennskyâ€™s REM sleep added to his confusion. He had no idea what the dreams were trying to tell hum or to warn him of.
Still he was a worried sick. He made a mental note to look up dream interpretations on the Internet when and if he got home.