Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"The Expansive Dreams of Constricted Lives"

A great line from Auden's great poem "The Two".

Who among us does not daydream?

When I remember Auden's line I think of some of the sad dreamers I have known, and the fantasies that took over their lives.

The forty-ish single mother, a nursing tech, her son in and out of jail, her mien bitter. She is angry. She is hard to placate. The nursing supervisor, no stranger to lies herself, flatters this woman, calls her "Beyonce" hoping to improve her attitude. "Beyonce" orders red platform shoes on the Internet on company time. She uses her rent money. And when rent comes due she gets another paycheck loan, which her coworkers find out about when the Fast Cash calls them, since "Beyonce" has used their names as contacts.

She wears a "Titans" tee-shirt. She wears it to the bar where she meets the third men through the door behind the Titans players, where she hopes to be noticed and have her drinks payed for.

When the supervisor who shielded her is fired, the one who follows is no friend."Beyonce" leaves one night to go to the jail, where her son has landed again. She is fired, and how she fares now is not a fantasy.

A second woman, thin and tearful. Another nursing tech. Comes to work feeling sick. Leaves an hour into the shift, sick. Does not show up at all, and does not call to say why. I work with her twice before she fades back to the unemployed.

She has a son who is her dream. Out of her purse she pulls the letters. Her son is a high school football prodigy, and the scouts have seen him.

They made their reports.

Letters from Clemson, from UT-Knoxville, from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Not fantasies, but real. I read them.
The schools beg for consideration. Whether the son gave it, I never found out. Perhaps some ambitious high school coach helped, and perhaps this young man is out there now trying to navigate a life in New Haven.

His mother disappeared. She did not call, she did not show. This story just stops.

And years ago another woman, a registered nurse. Plain and fat and unkempt, she weaves illusion around herself at work. When the young nurse Belles around her become engaged, she conjures a boyfriend, a new life, a private plane she uses to fly to Saratoga to the horse races. The compassionate, the romantic among us want to believe her stories. To believe there is hope and love for everybody. We see her, groomed for once and wearing perfume, singing to herself, and telling everyone that she is going to see Frank when she finishes her shift, and they are going away for the weekend. A non-believer asks to see a photo of Frank. Later the dreamer brings a picture of a man in a park, feeding a squirrel and seen from a distance.

There are incidents. One night she does not come in. She calls to say she was mugged. Another night she runs her car into someone's front room window and cannot possibly come in. She says.

Then Frank proposes. There is no ring, only vague details of the wedding, which she tells everyone will be on the airstrip at Maryland Farms in Brentwood. Sceptics multiply, and people start to whisper. There is no airstip at Maryland Farms.

I still believed. I was going to buy her a wedding present. But on the Sunday before her wedding,my head nurse called to pass on some terrible news.

Frank had been in a plane crash in Chattanooga. He has been airlifted to Houston. No longer a believer, I started laughing. "She is crazy," I told my boss.

"Well we wondered about all this, but she seemed so convincing" she said.

The hospital called this nurse's mother, who confirmed a small life of no friends, no airplane, no boyfriends. Nothing.

The hospital called the nurse, to see if they could "help".

We did not see her again.

A decade after this there is a young man working at a hospital. He pushes a cart delivering supplies, an invisible job if there ever was one. He does not want to be invisible, and from time to time he stops, puts his delivery on hold, and talks and talks to any nurse who will listen.

For he is not just anyone. He is heir to a great Nashville family's fortune, made in the entertainment business. He is not really a cart pusher! His grandfather is making him work till he is thirty, so he will appreciate what he is inheriting. He is also flying to Boston in a few weeks to interview at an Ivy League medical School. He tells us about his stocks, bonds, and current yields. About his 10,000 square foot greenhouse for orchids.

Some listen. Most laugh behind his back. They know he lives in a working class suburb in a working class little brick house. There is a concrete Madonna in the front yard. His mother put it there. She owns the house.

"Days are where we live', wrote the poet Phillip Larkin.

And so are dreams.


Out on the prairie said...

Love the flow of life in this

Kay G. said...

I feel a great deal of pity for people struggling through life and trying their very best to make the most of it. My heart goes out to the people whose stories you have shared here.
Happy 4th of July to you.

Clementine Moonflower said...

Wonderful post!