Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Stranded on foreign planet. Send translator.

This morning I had another strange dream. Most of it has disappeared, but I remember that a bunch of adults—including myself and my ex-husband—had returned to an elementary school class as students. We weren't being punished; it wasn't remedial education, it was more like a reminder of what being a kid was like. We had a vocabulary test of some sort, in a bright, cheerful room with a blackboard at the front, a smiling teacher, and colorful cartoon animals on the walls. We sat in little chairs with attached desks, and miraculously we fit. For the test, we had to come up with five different words containing the word "comfort." I went into my usual competitive-thinking mode, coming up with "comfortless," "comfortable," "comforting," "discomfort," and "comforter." 

My ex-husband could not come up with a single word. (This is unfair to his character. He was in fact an excellent storyteller, with a real ear for language and a talent for onomatopoiea.) He was forced to play a game of charades with the teacher, telling her about some little cushioned objects they used at his construction job, trying to work his way to—what? Comforter? Watching, I felt both smug and embarrassed. And then my alarm clock made its pinball sound and I woke up, silently mouthing words to myself as I swam into consciousness: Comfortable. Comfortless. Comforting.

I wonder whether this dream has anything to do with my mild aphasia. Although it might come as a surprise to anybody who reads my writing, I'm often stumped for words and names when I'm speaking. An old-fashioned pencil sharpener becomes "That thing, you know, with the handle. That turns." Or I come up with the wrong word altogether: "Put your dirty clothes in the dishwasher. I mean the oven. I mean the washing machine!" At my last internship, I told my supervisor that my brain was like a room full of filing cabinets that were stuck shut. All the information was in there, but some of the doors were jammed. If I had a particularly nonverbal day, I could tell her that my filing cabinets were locked, and she would know what I meant.

My husband, however, is special because he can read my mind. Early on in our relationship, I was trying to tell him about a movie I had seen. I couldn't remember the title, so I decided to list the actors. This also failed. "It had, you know, that guy, the weird one. He dances in that music video?" That was all it took. Derek said, "Christopher Walken." From that moment, I knew we were meant to be together. He was my translator!

Perhaps the dream expresses my sadness at being distanced from my translator, my companion, my comforter. In New York during the week, I watch myself flail around, miming a life. Everybody else has all the words. I stay busy, eat alone, and dream.