Again last night, a trip to the land of my dreams:
We are in a Range Rover, following a car as it cuts through sand-dune switchbacks. The driver of the car in front of us winks in the rearview mirror. It's Alan Hale, Jr., the Skipper from Gilligan's Island, but I know we're supposed to call him the Captain.
"I don't know who that is," my friend says.
"No worries," I reply. "I do."
My point of view shifts: I now see us from above. We're winding our way up a mountain of sand to a massive stone monument. The Captain is a good and sure driver; the taillights on his car never flash.
Another fast cut. We are inside the monument, only it looks like the inside of the Teatro Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil. The lights are dim. There are no seats, no stage, but the Meeting of the Waters curtain is here. Our footsteps echo as we walk under the chandeliers and the painted ceiling panels, down a center aisle to what looks like an altar near the curtain, a small spot of hope and light in an otherwise dark and imposing world.
It feels scary. Oppressive. I start to limp. I want my cane but I've left it in the apartment back in Springfield, almost 3,500 miles away. Too far to run back now and grab it, and it's not safe outside. I realize Ann Patchett is right — this opera house is the only civilized line holding back the teeming jungle. If I go out there all hope will be lost; it will be my one trip down to hell.
I call out to no one: "Why are we here?"
A voice rolls from one of the wrought-iron balconies above us as a snare drum starts a rat-a-tat salvo. "Don't misserve your own needs."
My friend says: "That's great … "
"It starts with an earthquake," I say without missing a beat.
Michael Stipe sings: "It's time I had some time alone."
I am alone on the street outside the theater. The air is thick, chewable. I try to walk but my left leg won't obey. I start to cry and I try to cover my face with my hands, but my left arm won't go any higher than my waist. My fingernails are embedded in my palm. The knuckles on my left hand are purple. I'm having a stroke. This time it hurts.
"Ron, wake up." My friend is shaking me. My left arm is asleep. Outside a jabiru is clacking. A capuchin is laughing at me. We are at the Pantanal.
"Bad dream," I mutter, flexing my left hand. "How are you?"
My friend looks up from Patchett: “Now is the time to think about you and your own well-being. Don't be so focused on what you're looking for that you overlook the thing you really find."
"What did I find?" I ask, but there is no answer, there is no friend, just the sound of the cat scratching under my bedroom door in Springfield. My pillow is wet from tears and sweat.
What did I find? What am I looking for? What's best for my well-being?