“THE STRANGER’S ‘ENIGMA”
In pursuit of a cure for the doldrums of his midlife crisis, Dr. Daniel Brandon sets out to identify the protagonist of his dreams and unveil the enigma of his perpetual youth and joy. His quest takes him through the surreal labyrinth of the world of dreams where he stumbles into true love and discovers mankind’s best-kept secret, which has remained hidden one generation after another.
Every night, the doctor jots down his dreams and interprets them. Little by little, the stranger who lives in his dreams comes alive, his sexuality blossoming amidst the wonders of dreamland. Embedded in the dreams, the doctor envisions what he believes to be cryptic messages that are steering him through a maze of trails and should lead to the resolution of the enigma. Yet a burdensome relationship with his wife and a grueling malpractice suit— announced by a prophetic dream— hinder his study and threaten to derail not only his project but also his life. In one of his dreams, he meets a woman who might hold the answer to his search. He falls madly in love with her. His desire to join her in the world of dreams rescues him from his quagmire and guides him toward his final goal. His finding prompts him to undergo a self-experiment. It transports him to dreamland where the revealed mystery unfolds before him with definite clarity, its magnificence dampened by the cruel reminders of his waking world. Then, something unexpected occurs that will change him forever.
Set in a real waking world under the whimsical rule of the dream world, this novel engages readers in a romantic adventure full of fantasies. The elements of dream interpretation unfold throughout the narrative as if a manual for bridging the gap between these two worlds. The main characters’ funny responses to the situations and the author’s sense of humor help him to pull off this thought-provoking story. Until the very end, the smooth prose camouflages the seriousness of the issues at hand— the search for the person who lives in our own dreams and what we can learn from this character.
“Lola, I love you. You have an angel’s face,” a young man says.
Tall and svelte, Lola has a statuesque figure, long blond hair, and hazel-blue eyes. These qualities inspire every corner of the youth’s heart. He also turns her on. The couple strolls by a plaza full of palm trees and flowers. She stops, places a soft kiss on his mouth, and then presses against his passionate lips. Her friend Rose joins them. Thin and petite, Rose has brown hair, a tiny nose, milky splendorous skin, and a waist thinner than a bee’s. The young man knows that she is the right sexual partner to engage in a threesome with his girlfriend and him.
“Let’s go to the market,” he shouts. “I need to buy some sardines!”
Lola sits on her red motorcycle. I hear her pushing down the pedal, and she beckons her friend to sit between her and her boyfriend. He puts his hands around Rose’s waist and becomes aware of her sensuous scent. Lola drives fast on a narrow road. Rose’s body heat radiates against the young man as his hands drift inside her bra. Her nipples feel to his touch like unripe raspberries. As soon as they arrive at the market, Rose glares at him. He knows that she is putting on a show. Lola smiles. Feeling irresistible, he bursts into laughter, rolls on the ground, and screams out,
“I am not overwhelmed by love anymore!”
The dream is over because my wife Marlene calls my name,
“Daniel! Daniel! Wake up, wake up. You’re having a nightmare.”
She turns the lights on, and I don’t know whether I am in front of a ghost. She wears cream all over her face, and her long blond hair is wrapped in a pink silk head kerchief.
“Oh, Marlene, why do you make such a fuss? Let me sleep. I have a busy day tomorrow.”
In the past few months, I’ve begun to observe this man who hides inside me, comes alive in my dreams, and does whatever he wishes without asking my permission. He seems like some sort of next-door neighbor, someone whom one sees all the time but hardly knows. He has a certain resemblance to me when I was young, but he is more handsome than I was: tall, broad shoulders, a full head of dark hair, deep brown eyes under long eyelashes, and the early dark stubble of a Latin lover. I’ve named him Sonie because he has never mentioned his name. The term has nothing to do with the word “son”, but rather derives from the Spanish word sueño, which means sleep or dream. A distinctive feature about him has caught my attention: he lives in a state of perpetual joy and youth. Why is he always young, handsome, and full of spirit? And what could explain his persistent happiness? Doesn’t he ever get tired of having fun and merriment?I plan to learn from him the secret of his eternal bliss. This revelation should help me recover the happiness I’ve lost.
My midlife crisis has wreaked havoc on my mood. I am a doctor. I own everything I’ve ever wanted. But years of high-level success have taken a toll on me and worn me out. Fifty is a tough age. The number matches the current year, 2005, but it gives me the weird feeling that a solid five zero will rush into a whopping six zero in no time. My life is no longer the same. I used to enjoy my leisure time, making love to my wife or biting my nails while watching the Cubs lose. The Cubs still keep losing, but sexual intercourse occurs only once in a blue moon as we’ve grown tired of the perfunctory act. There aren’t too many variations you can put into the same hanky-panky over and over, or maybe there are some we don’t care to know. Even if I learn them, any trifle can chill my wife’s occasional romantic inclination and send me to the sidelines for an even longer time. If I forget a birthday gift, don’t take the garbage out, or don’t help out with grocery bags, I pay a heavy price. Long conversations with my patients tire me out. I become so quiet at home that my wife resents my laconic manner. Her continuous whining ticks me off: “put the coffee cup away,” “put down the toilet lid,” “wash your dishes.” She sometimes feels guilty and doesn’t let me lift a finger. I am more confused than a Mexican busboy in a Chinese restaurant.
Marlene still boasts long and wavy blond hair and slender legs, but over the past few years, her physical attractiveness has declined. Time has left a few imprints on her face: tiny wrinkles along her cheeks, subtle bags around her eyelids, and incipient crow’s feet. She dresses like sales clerks in the perfume department at upscale stores and speaks with a French accent, which lends her a sexy demeanor. I’ve also undergone some metamorphosis: new hair growth in my ears and nose, small bags under my eyes, saggy muscles. Yet the color of my salt-and-pepper hair contrasts with my thick gray mustache, which along with my tall and thin figure and receding hairline make me look distinguished.
Marlene and I married in 1983 and have three grown children in college: Ana, 21; Emmanuel, 20; and Steve, 19. Ana has my obsessive personality, the pale white skin of an Irish woman without freckles, and the necessary love of bikinis and sandy beaches to become a marine biologist. Emmanuel has blond hair, blue eyes, and a hippy attitude, which seems at odds with her plans to study accounting. Steve takes after his mother, could be a poster hunk on any women’s magazine, and has no idea what he wants to do with his life.
My mother is aware of the difficulties I’ve been undergoing. A few weeks ago, she invited me to lunch, and in the course of our conversation, she called my attention to the cloud of unhappiness that had gradually crept into my life. When I made the comment that some of my idiosyncrasies resembled my father’s, her remark piqued my curiosity.
“You could have been somebody else.”
“What do you mean? Who might I have been? Did you have an affair?”
“What I’ve done with my life is none of your business. But, anyway, I never had an affair.”
“Should I conclude I could have been better off or worse off?”
“Stop it! Daniel. You are a neurologist. You should know what I am talking about.”
“Mother, why do you always talk in riddles?”
“Jesus! Are you blind? You are a mature man. If only you would observe those who live close to you and learn more about them … particularly the closest one.”
“No, not your wife.”
“No. That’s for you to find out.”
So I decided to follow her advice. I looked around and paid attention to my colleagues, friends, and relatives. Nothing came of it. Their lives were different, but not better or worse than mine. It then dawned upon me that my mother was a dilettante psychologist, and she had referred to the main character in my dreams, the stranger who lives inside me, Sonie.
To unveil his secret of eternal bliss, I’ll study each of my dreams in depth, observing Sonie’s behavior and any other possible clue about his gift that it might contain. This project presents a great deal of challenge even for a neurologist like me who is familiar with the workings of the human brain. Dreams are difficult to remember. Their contents sink into oblivion in the blink of an eye and often skip consciousness. For example, a few days ago my wife heard me saying,
“Move your feet … move your feet.”
Yet none of the dream scenes I had captured had anything to do with this instruction. I’ve trained myself to retain details of dream images, which look as vivid as if I had witnessed these scenes while awake. This is accomplished through the deep-seated conviction that I must record the entire dream. I issue this request to my waking brain. Then, I rouse after each dream, make a conscious effort to remember the details of the dream as much as possible, and jot them down. I don’t need to write out the entire dream. I just go to the bathroom, put down a few sentences that will remind me of the scenes, and the next morning, describe the dream in my diary.
Last night as soon as I saw the weird way Sonie was behaving, I realized that I was dreaming. I’ve never ridden a motorcycle in my life let alone felt a woman’s breast while riding one. Nor have I ever thrown myself on the floor laughing my head off. As a single man, I had to make a conscious effort to address attractive women or muster enough pluck to approach them. My mother warned me to stay away from girls until I’d finished medical school because in her own words, “women demand too much time and effort, and worst of all, they get pregnant.” I was so young when she began to proclaim this maxim that the word “pregnant” sounded as ominous as gangrene.
Before I started this project, my dreams seemed few and far between. Now I remember them two to three times a night, sometimes even five or six times. My wife doesn’t have any clue about my study and probably thinks I suffer from some kind of prostate problem. Dreams resemble a movie production: the idea, the plot or screenplay, the location or setting, the casting, the film-like scenes. The idea or trigger of a dream usually takes place the day preceding the dream. But in the dream about Lola and Rose, I must say that I don’t recall any scene, sensation, or feeling that happened the previous day that could have triggered this dream. Lola is a total stranger, and Rose is someone I met before, but I don’t know where, and I must have seen her quite a while ago. She might be one of the nurses at the hospital where I practice or, God forbid, one of my former patients. I didn’t come across her or think of her, feel amorous, see palm trees, or ride a motorcycle. Nor had I touched sardines in a long time because fish stink, and their stench sticks with me like a broke brother-in-law. The dream plot showed Sonie having fun in a location that replicated a Caribbean town, which reminds me of one of the tourist destinations I’ve enjoyed.
As a rule, the main character in my dreams is the young and handsome Sonie. From time to time, the dream features Daniel—me— at my current age with my older look, my mustache, and receding hairline. When it does, I become the central figure in nightmares that put me through the wringer. I suspect Sonie controls my dreamland because he assigns me the worse part and saves the best experiences for himself. There is no end to his deviltries. I never know what kind of ordeal Sonie will subject me to at night. In contrast, the son of a gun sorts out my landfill of mental images and picks for himself whatever he pleases, reveling in mirth and celebrations. I have no say in his selection, so I plead not guilty of anything that goes on in my dreams. Seldom does somebody else, a friend, or one of my late pets act as the protagonist.
Last night’s cheeky behavior under my very nose is an example of Sonie’s total disregard for me. He jumps into my brain and takes over. I don’t know where he comes from. He doesn’t care what I think, or what other people think, and never gets tired of fooling around. Some old authors believe I am responsible for Sonie’s behavior. For example, in 1914 Hildebrandt wrote:
“It is impossible to think of any action in a dream for which the original motive has not in some way or another—whether as a wish, or desire or impulse—passed through the waking mind.”
Does he mean that Sonie has all the libertine fun, but I am the sinner? Have I been working all day long, yet I still bear all the responsibility for his behavior at night? What intrigues me most about the last dream is his bout of laughter associated with the exclamation,
“I am not overwhelmed by love anymore!”
Perhaps, it means that love doesn’t chain Sonie to his lover; that love runs free in the world of dreams. He may be a disguised hippie who sits on top of the world. Of course, he has a tremendous advantage over others because as in the case of Rose, he can listen to other people’s thoughts.
Sigmund Freud states in his book The Interpretation of Dreams that the main goal of a dream lies in the fulfillment of a wish. This might be interpreted that I desired such a feeling of elation. Even if I did, the one who ended up full of happiness was Sonie, not me. The dream didn’t leave a smile on my face. It was he who relished every minute of his erotic adventure, and at the conclusion, wore a grin from ear to ear. I’ve never acted as Sonie did with Lola and Rose. Nor have I ever experienced his feeling of freedom, his cheeky attitude, and his carefree approach to women. I’ve always been so shy that I am absolutely certain I’ve never encountered anything close to those scenes in real life. I am married and don’t check women out, but as a single man, I made a conscious effort to address attractive women. I was such a shy young man that compliments embarrassed me, confrontations unnerved me, and asserting myself made me toss and turn all night long. These flaws seeped into my leisure habits, for games bored me, and fun activities felt like a waste of my time. Years of conscious work have eliminated my shyness and changed me into a stolid person who seldom laughs or enjoys hours of idleness. I avoid immorality, disloyalty, unfaithfulness, dishonesty, hypocrisy, or ill will. My conduct stems from my own principles and is not the result of religious beliefs or fear of God’s commandments. Yet jealousy assaults me whenever others fare better than me. At this very moment, I am jealous of the man in my dream, jealous of the audacious freedom and elation he enjoyed when he laughed in unrestrained guffaws. I’ve never had this kind of pleasure in my life.
I wonder what my mother had in mind when she said I could have become a different person. I guess that she meant someone who can look at life with optimism when confronted with adversity. Maybe, she noticed some drastic change in my mood when I was a child. I pause to collect my thoughts and call her. She is an early riser.
“Mother, do you think I developed healthily during my childhood? Was I a normal little boy who liked to play and have fun?”
“Well, you always were peculiar.”
“What do you mean?”
“You spent the days hitting nails on the head.”
“That isn’t bad. I guess. I was already displaying self-confidence.”
“No. You were such an oddball. You smashed anyone or anything around you with your hammer and then you laughed.”
“I don’t remember the last time I laughed. How did you change me? Did you indoctrinate or brainwash me?”
“What is wrong with you this morning? This is not a good way to start your day. Control your aggression, Daniel. Those are strong words. I did my best. I studied under Professor Proskish.”
“The chimpanzee guy! You went to Lincoln Park Zoo to learn how to raise me?”
“He was an expert in comparative psychology.”
I scratch my head and thank some divine or vital force for the pity bestowed upon me. At least, it has allowed me to grow up into the person I am.
According to Freud, the dream thoughts—all the unconscious repressed wishes behind a dream— are more important than the dream scenes—all the images we remember upon awakening. Sonie made love to two gorgeous women, but this was inconsequential. He didn’t have much fun. Or did he? If he didn’t, why in the heck did he laugh so hard? Freud also contends that our brain engages in a process he calls dream-work, which converts dream thoughts into dream scenes by selecting bits and pieces of recollections from our memory storage. The final result is a sort of script where symbolic and pictorial information about the dreamer gets embedded. The images of the motorcycle, palm trees, and flowers are symbols that behave like the signs of a hieroglyphic. Each is a replacement—substitution—of something else: palm trees, male sexual organs; flowers, female and male sexual organs; riding a motorcycle, sexual intercourse. I never met or saw Lola before, so she is a fusion—condensation—of the images of various women. Since in the Freudian world a fish can represent a sexual organ, Sonie’s shout “I need to buy some sardines” circumvented the rudeness and emotion—displacement—associated with the slang word for female genitalia. The symbolic interpretation of this dream concludes that Sonie had intercourse with Rose and an aberration made up of several women, but this carnal feast didn’t satiate his sexual appetite. Otherwise, why would he need an extra supply of sardines?
“Daniel, what kind of nonsensical argument is that? Are you making fun of me?”
“Sigmund … Sigmund Freud? You are dead!”
“Yes, dead but not deaf. Up here we are well aware of what goes on down there.”
“Jesus! I am not dreaming, am I? I am fully awake. Am I going crazy?”
“You are awake, and you are not insane, Daniel. It is I, Sigismund Freud. You are not imagining anything. Your arguments are so bizarre that I cannot remain indifferent.”
“I didn’t mean to disturb your peace or offend you. I wanted to prove to myself that one could get carried away with symbols. I could have been even more descriptive than I was.”
“I could have added that Sonie walked through an area full of male symbols—probably the locker room of a health club. Then, sick and tired of looking at naked men, he shouted out for help from the women who took showers on the other side of the wall. His scream from the floor was the offer of his body to his female fellow club members.”
“You would not dare state such stupidity. Remember what I wrote: ‘The dream-work makes use of all means accessible to it for the visual representation of the dream-thoughts, whether these appear admissible or inadmissible to waking criticism, and thus exposes itself to the doubt as well as derision of all those who have hearsay knowledge of dream-interpretation, but have never themselves practiced it.”’
“It isn’t my intention to make fun of your concepts. I might question them, but I respect them.”
“No one will ever believe any of your interpretations.”
“Why not? A subtle satire to avoid excessive symbolism doesn’t hurt anyone.”
“Satire? I believe you meant satyr.”
“Are you talking about Sonie’s lascivious desires?”
“Yes. The stranger who lives in my dreams.”
“I am not referring to Sonie. I am referring to you. Dreams reflect the true dreamer’s character.”
“Are you trying to say I am in need of sex?”
He doesn’t answer my question. I know that no one can use symbols better than Freud, and maybe what he implies is true because my sex life hasn’t been that great. Yet I wonder whether examining a dream and scrutinizing artwork are based on similar principles. Some people might admire traditional painting such as Rembrandt’s images or Velasquez’s, while others might prefer the symbolism of Picasso’s paintings or Cézanne’s. Likewise, I could look at a dream literally like a movie, symbolically like a hieroglyph, or both ways. After all, our dreaming mind doesn’t object to contradictory findings; weird, logical, or illogical events become permissible in the sanctuary of dreams.
This is the kind of world that harbors Sonie who—according to Freud— is the other ‘me’, the real me who has evolved with time out of my inner life experiences, someone with my unacknowledged true desires and wishes. During dreams, these suppressed yearnings and passions would escape the censorship of my mind and bubble up to the surface from the depths of my brain. But Sonie doesn’t behave like me or anyone else in my family. And regardless of his true identity, this theory doesn’t help me anyway. It doesn’t explain his state of eternal bliss. I must find the secret that accounts for his inexplicable gift.