Something About Hamburgers

I don’t hate John Mayer or his music. They rarely occur to me at all, unless I’m listening to the radio, and then I’m liable to change the station, lest I fall asleep at the wheel. But he’s got this one song with lyrics that are lodged in my brain for the moment. And like this post, it’s kind of sappy. The song begins with the lyrics, “When you’re dreaming with a broken heart, waking up is the hardest part.”

Those damn lyrics are hounding me today. Here’s why.

We got Joey off to school a few minutes after seven this morning. We wheeled him down the hill to the bus stop and played catch with him for a few minutes. Jane pushed him and he rolled free toward me, smiling sleepily. I pushed him back to Jane. The bus arrived. They loaded him up, strapped him in. The bus went one way and we went the other. Some days, especially after a late night, I’ll lay down for another 45 minutes while the coffee settles into the pot. Jane hit the computer and I hit the sack

A little bit after 8:30 – Jane had left for the office – I woke to the sound of pounding on the front door. It was the neighbor’s kid, but I didn’t know it at the time because I was having the most wonderful conversation with my son about fast food.

In the dream, the pounding (the kid really was pounding, with the side of her fist – she had big news) was like thunder from another dimension, and I tried to ignore it, to wave it off, to stay in the dream for as long as possible, now aware that it was a dream with my consciousness in two places at once – listening to the pounding on the door, and listening to my now-dissolving son.

Before all that, immersed in the dream, we were on a boardwalk, maybe Atlantic City, I don’t know. It was Anywhere. A place with cotton candy and popcorn smells and burgers and off in the distance, carnival rides and the ocean.

It smelled and felt real. The bubblegum stuck to the bottom of the table where we ate our lunch felt real.

For some reason, we were eating Wendy’s food, which is weird because we almost never eat there. It was only burgers and salads, but it was like living in a glorious miracle that you expect every day. Jane and Joey had salads. She handed me a burger. He was his actual age in the dream, nine, but also his actual size, small, and he’d been holding our hands, walking and talking, and now he was complaining about the food.

He sidled up to me, leaned in close so his mother couldn’t hear and said, “you’ve got a hamburger. I want one, too.” Typical parent, I say, “finish what you’ve got and we’ll get you something else.”

That’s when the first spark of dream recognition flashed. He was talking to me. He’d just been walking, skipping. Joey can’t skip, can’t talk. But he was doing it here, and it felt natural, so I ignored the dream recognition. Somewhere out there the kid from next door had probably already started pounding.

Joey whined again about his lousy salad and I said, “c’mon, we’ll go back inside and you can have a hamburger, or anything you want. They’ve got everything in there …” As if we — as if I — could escape deeper into the dream.

That’s when the pounding started in earnest. It did feel like insistent thunder, and except for Jane and Joey and I and our yellow-red fast food bags, everything else turned gray and pastel, as if all the brilliant colors had gone home. The world was dissolving and Jane turned to me and said, “don’t you have to answer that?”

Joey was smiling a regular kid smile, and everything dripped away and the loudest pound yet jerked me awake. The kid at the door had to tell me about her cat, who just had kittens. Then she was gone and I was alone in the coffee-smell morning.

Usually, I’m like the nine out of 10 people who don’t remember their dreams. But this one was fresh. I rushed back to bed, back to the boardwalk. It was no good. That miraculous day on the boardwalk was gone. I felt sad and empty that the walking-talking version of my son was gone, and guilty because it felt sort of like cheating on my really wonderful son.

Such conflict.

Then that stupid John Mayer song poked through like a grass seedling. “When you’re dreaming with a broken heart, waking up is the hardest part.”

Did I have a broken heart? Do I? Sometimes, yeah, definitely. Who doesn’t? I guess there is a part of me, a small subconscious and occasionally brokenhearted part, that believes Joey could or should be someone other than who he is, should be the things we fantasized about before the gleam. What parent doesn’t fantasize about who or what his child will become? Ours were really great fantasies, involving rivers and trails and ballfields. The loss of those fantasies can be devastating and enlightening and heartbreaking and so many other things.

Then the moments of reality add up to a fulfilled life, with all of its good, bad, happy, sad and I think of that small face in the bus window, his eyes tracking the attendant who methodically straps his chair safely into place, a sweet underpaid woman finishing the task carefully, testing the straps, then bending close to the boy to say something to his sleepy smiling face, something we can’t hear, maybe something about hamburgers.

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