I dreamt about my friend X last night. I don’t think I normally dream about him, and don’t recall having done so before.
We were having one of our lengthy, inconsequential conversations, the purpose of which is to circle ever so gently back to him, his recent travels and achievements. Not having any of my own to talk about, this took less time than usual.
X was complaining of an ear ache, which became one of his eyes. He put his hands up to them, rubbing them comically. ‘Can’t you hear that?’ he said. ‘That sound. It’s the sound of me losing my eyes!’
‘Fuck off, X!’ I shouted. ‘Why does everything always have to be about you?’ And with that my dream ended, or my memory of it anyway.
It has puzzled and disturbed me for a good while, on and off, for the rest of the day. My usual practice is to forget my dreams five minutes after waking, but this was somehow different. For one thing, I swore at a fellow human. I sometimes swear at objects, yes. But people, no. Now, I don’t mean to give the impression that I live like a nun, but I do pride myself on going about my business so that no one can tell if I am in conflict with them or not. Central to this stance is a belief in my ability to coerce out of myself the necessary politeness and self-restraint to make a situation pass sweetly, however much I my feel in a given moment the lack of those qualities from my interlocutor. But here I was, swearing, at full volume, the very point of which was not just to silence my friend, but to do so with such venom that it would attract the attention, and I assume, admiration of those standing nearby. For, though they made no appearance in the dream, those other invisible friends created a social context into which I deployed my expletive. To be clear: I have no quarrel with X. We are, in the jargon, ‘good’. Yet here I was swearing at him, and enjoying it, both the act of it and the horror on others’ faces as they watched me.
Later in the afternoon (I had an errand which required walking to the other side of the city) I found myself encountering the answer to the riddle of my dream. I was shouting and swearing not at X, but at the others.
A bit of context: my father in law died recently. He had been ill for a year or so. Nevertheless, when it came, his death was both peaceful and quick, occurring, as death does, in the middle of life’s other trials, both personal and professional. It was more than two weeks before we could hold the funeral. Into that space poured much activity: the visiting of relatives, the construction of a funeral mass, conversations with the undertakers. Some of this happened remotely, via text and email. The rest required travel. Even with the help of newly-downloaded traffic-avoiding apps on our phones, it was exhausting. The time we had at home we spent watching detective shows, or sleeping.
A week after he died it struck us that we were now able to divide our friends all too easily into two groups. Those who left flowers and wrote cards, and those who did not. The vast majority of the former were from our older set of friends, closer in age to our parents than our own. I can count on one hand those of our peers who wrote. For a reason I will never be able to prove or understand, I believe it was at the friends who had not written that I swore in my dream: all with their trials, no doubt, all with good excuses, their busyness, their children, their jobs, but barely any of them reaching out beyond the force field of their vortices to empathise or even spend a moment contemplating our unasked-for negotiation with the question of mortality. And I am no better. I can count the number of such letters I have written on one hand. ‘Can’t you hear that noise?’ we say. ‘It’s the sound of us losing our eyes.’