Dreams of Kurt Vonnegut, and other post-surgery irrelevancies

In my mind, I’m the one in the Western who takes a bullet in the arm and then gets back up on his horse and rides into the desert to hunt down the guy who shot him. And who knows? Hot-tempered and vindictive as I can be, if somebody pissed me off enough, it could happen.

Where more commonplace pain is concerned, though, the past twelve days have revealed to me the role I’d actually play in a cowboy movie. I wouldn’t need a holster and a saddle and a giant plaid shirt so much as I would a petticoat and a friend to wring her hands and administer smelling salts. This realization is more depressing than the incision under my neck and the sports bra I’m required to wear for twelve weeks to keep it from stretching.

I wasn’t planning to get into my skin cancer scare here, but guilt over the long absence, and all the kind get-well email you’ve sent, have driven me to it.

I had a “severely dysplastic” mole — not surprising given the deadly cocktail of a corpse-like complexion, Miami childhood, and adolescent determination to tan come hell or sun poisoning (an utterly fruitless quest, by the way; at my darkest, I’ve approached the shade of a Glaswegian shut-in). The good news is, I don’t have melanoma. The bad news is that the mole was getting ready to turn into melanoma, and after the biopsy results came in I had to go back and have a big chunk of surrounding flesh carved out.

Recovery’s been slow, mainly because the muscles in that part of the body move whenever you do. And I don’t know exactly how far in he dug, but that shit hurt. I spent most of last week blissed out on painkillers.

Here’s the best thing about coasting through life on opiates: they replace my usual nightmares with incredibly vivid, entertaining dreams.

Last Thursday night I dreamed that Kurt Vonnegut showed up to play poker with my gang. He ranted with us about how untalented Celine Dion is, and then he imitated her in a series of tuneless croaks between puffs on his cigarette.

Even better, when Reeves “go ahead and buy in for another twenty (so daddy’ll have more whiskey money)” Hamilton laid out a flush, Vonnegut had four of a kind.

Hamilton was pissed — his eyebrow twitched, and he rammed his cards into the chips in the middle of the table — but he thought about it for a second and got this What the hell, it’s Kurt Vonnegut look on his face. He shrugged and said, “Good hand, man.”

Then Vonnegut handed him the cards to shuffle. (The only thing Reeves hates more than dealing after a losing hand is somebody else drinking the last of the Bushmills. That and anybody blocking his view of the hula-hoopers at Prospect Park.)

When I told Reeves the dream in email, he said, “You forgot about the part where I casually mention that Slaughterhouse-Five didn’t make any sense and Vonnegut puts his cigarette out in my eye. Good times!”

I had to stop taking the meds over the weekend. I was going back to work on Monday, and it wouldn’t do to trudge through the hallways drooling and glassy-eyed and chortling at the carpet. I took a quarter dose on Saturday and nothing on Sunday. On Sunday night I lay in bed and gave myself a little pep-talk.

Now, I’ve never had any interest in lucid dreaming. It’s always sounded like a bunch of new-agey twaddle. One Vonnegut dream, though, and all of that changed. I was ready to believe. Sure, I’m going off painkillers, I told myself, but that doesn’t mean I have to go back to the nightmares. If I think about Vonnegut now, maybe I can dream about him again. And if I keep a dream journal, maybe I can dream whatever I want every night!

My subconscious laughed heartily at this and then unleashed a nightmare so gory and deranged I’m afraid to repeat it here. Someone would dispatch the men in white coats, and that would be tedious. I’ve had enough medical attention for one month.

Apparently my body wasn’t thrilled about returning to life without pharmacological assistance. Not only did the nightmares return and get bloody, but my entire digestive system revolted and I felt like I was walking through life wrapped in gauze. I’m only now starting to feel more normal, thanks largely to GMB‘s dietary advice.

My friends and Max have been great through all of this, and not just in a “can I get you some soup?” kind of way.

The weekend before I even got the biopsy results, I was out at breakfast with the Antigeist, G., and Max. The Antigeist turned to me and said, “So, have you decided on funeral arrangements yet?”

G. and Max started to laugh — they understand my fatalism, but not nearly as well as the Antigeist does — as I told her, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you guys about that. I definitely want to be cremated and placed in one of those urns that turn into a tree. But I haven’t figured out where I want to be buried. You might have to work that out on your own.”

This announcement spurred a host of morbid jokes (my favorite kind). Max suggested that they could turn my skin into a book.

“Yeah,” said the Antigeist, “and we could get your skin tanned before we bind the book with it!” Then, she pointed out, I would finally have in death the thing I lost my life trying to get. She paused, and frowned. “But I dunno.” She looked around the restaurant where we were eating. “If we did that, I think they’d have to shut Williamsburg and Greenpoint down. There’d be no more room for fake irony. Game over, everybody go home.”

Image taken from Joh3n.


Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to my free newsletter, Ancestor Trouble.


You might want to subscribe to my free Substack newsletter, Ancestor Trouble, if the name makes intuitive sense to you.