Editor’s note: the following piece is an ekphrasis, a rhetorical exercise where usually an artist bases a piece of writing off of an image. In this case, Mark Blickley based the following story off of Keith Goldstein’s image above, a picture of his son at Acadia National Park.
I’ve had this recurring Bridge Dream for nearly fifteen years. It first appeared one night after being exhausted by cram studying for my Bar Mitzvah. In this initial fantasy I was a swaddled infant left on the very beginning of a long and twisting walkway through a vibrant yet desolate forest. I was crying and there was blood from my bris seeping through the fabric covering my groin. We don’t need to dig Freud up from his grave to figure out I was about to undergo a ritual of manhood, so I must’ve been thinking about the genital mutilation that first signaled my acceptance into the tribe. What’s quite disturbing about this recurring dream as it appears today is that after fourteen years of experiencing it, I’ve only move forward incrementally from the bloody infant that was first placed on this forest path, into a six year old boy that balks at moving forward. In the real world I’m about to turned twenty-eight.
My name’s Han because my parents are both Star Wars freaks and the worship of this film series is the only real religion practiced in my household. They obviously were not the only disciples. When I was in Pre-K, there was another boy named Han as well as a girl named Leia.
What’s strange about my abandoned boy at the bridge recurring dream is that it’s always just a prologue to whatever else I’ll be dreaming that night. This winding walkway always introduces whatever anxious or peaceful visions my brain has decided to focus on that night—nightmare, erotic ecstasy, exciting adventures, idyllic beauty.
These days in my dream I am a first-grader who is really hesitant about moving forward, but I also see it as my feet turning into the classic ballet 4th position. My mother taught ballet for years so perhaps my foot position on the bridge is a nod to her. Once again I don’t need to disinter Freud to figure out this bridge snakes into a representation of my life’s journey. By the way, did you know that babies double their birth size by age five months? Yet in my recurring dream I remained a crying, bleeding infant for years —no physical growth, no emotional growth.
I’m a bit confused about relationships with women. My testosterone tells me to be more aggressive and not to feel so shy and unworthy. I’m always terrified of saying the wrong thing. In High School I didn’t really have a girlfriend because I always hung out within this circle of friends that were both males and females. Most activities were communal, not individual dates. Recently I joined a dating app called Bumble. On Bumble only women can initiate first contact which I like because it reduces the stress of rejection, yet I’ve been registered on this app for five months and have yet to receive a single hit.
I’m presently undergoing E.M.D.R. (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy, which also includes hand tapping and listening to ambient sounds, like ocean waves, via headphones that seesaw these sounds from ear to ear to promote a kind of aural hypnosis. One of the side effects of this treatment is that it can cause vivid, realistic dreams, but my recurring dream happened years before I entered therapy. My therapist insists I keep a journal between sessions in order to maintain the session’s progress she insists is occurring.
My shrink Martha works for the V.A. but please don’t think I’m some sort of Veteran war hero suffering from PTSD. I never even enlisted in the War Against Christmas, yet I’ve never known a world without suicide bombings, school shootings and acts of terrorism that take place in my backyard, not in some distant land. Martha is also an ordained Lutheran pastor but she never mentions God in any of our sessions.
I tell Martha I’m so sick of reading/hearing reasons why Millennials can’t grow up. My shrink calls it a “First World” problem not unique to young men my age. I am depressed and anxious all the time but don’t know why. I am always smiling and laughing at jokes I don’t think are funny so people won’t discover how unhappy I am. I feel like I’m faking everything. Being an adult to me means not doing things you enjoy doing, yet that’s nuts because my parents still act like kids at Star Wars Conventions.
Why am I so miserable? I had everything I was supposed to need while growing up— emotional and financial security, a good education and now I have a more than decent paying job. I do feel guilty that they are so many less fortunate than me and know it is unmanly to be so constantly sad. Every day there’s somebody crying out what privileged assholes we Millennials are, so I always feel pressured to pretend I’m happy.
My shrink says I should spend less time always surrounding myself with people and more time being alone, even if it means being bored at first. But I can’t relax by myself. I tried all different kinds of things, but I can’t slow down my goddamn anxious thoughts. I’ve tried drugs, porn, video games and even different kinds of meditation—Zen Meditation with mindfulness on breathing and intentionally focusing on the moment. Then I did Metta meditation to focus on a loving kindness towards myself as well as empathy for other people. In my final workshop I studied Sufi mediation to try to achieve mystical union with a Supreme Being.
In every class and workshop I’ve taken, I seem to be the only one who can’t obtain this metaphysical knowledge and peace. I would often comfort myself in class by thinking my fellow students are just bullshitting their enlightenment to try to make me feel like shit—but thoughts like that defeat the entire purpose of meditation, which is to get to know myself and pull away from the outside world to focus on my inner world, instead of blaming everyone else for my failure. Do you understand how fucked up a person I am? Hell, I even get sad deleting old tweets because it feels like I’m flushing away a big part of who I was and who I am.
Last month Martha suggested I try using a weighted blanket that applies deep pressure touch. She says it simulates the feeling of being comforted, like a swaddled baby, and is supposed to help my insomnia and anxiety. So instead of fighting my anxieties like a real man, I retreat into acting like a fucking baby again, all tucked inside my crib beneath a blanket with 30 pounds of pellets sewn into it. So far it hasn’t worked.
When I ask Martha how she arrives at the concept of what exactly my emotional age is, she turns the question back on me and asks what do I believe is my emotional age? I tell her I don’t know anything except first my dick is snipped at birth and then as I advance in life I have my balls constantly broken by social proclamations that I MUST BE SUCCESSFUL!
I worry I’ll never live up to my own expectations. I grew up being told I could be anything I wanted to be, but I’m coming to the realization that I’m not as smart, talented or special as I thought I was and that fuels an obsession with having to succeed. My friends and I seem to be growing up poorer than our parents. My Mom and Dad can afford to go to Star Wars conventions all over the world but my important travel plans are still handcuffed by student loans.
I get incredibly stressed over not being able to find a WiFi spot, forgetting passwords to online accounts, the buffering sign when I’m streaming online—it’s like taunting me that my life is going in circles, like the areola of a maternal tit. I stress when unable to find my T.V. remote just as my favorite Netflix show is starting.
Why am I unable to advance past the age of six in my recurring dream? Is it because I’m a victim of helicopter parenting? During my childhood my Mom and Dad hovered over every experience and problem I had growing up. Cell phones are the longest umbilical cords in the world. I was taught to be afraid of strangers, playing sports, sexual contact. Is that why they claim we Millennials act more like children than adults?
This outburst of self-pity is very tiring, so I’m going to disappear under my state of the art weighted blanket and hope tonight is the night it crushes my recurring dream of being a child stranded on a spooky bridge inside a dying, primeval forest. And if my heavy blankie is unable to extinguish the dream, perhaps when I wake up I will have at least gained a year of emotional age so I will be a seven year old boy on that walkway, just three quarters away from achieving my true age of twenty-eight.
Mark Blickley is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center as well as the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Scholarship Award for Drama. He is the author of Sacred Misfits (Red Hen Press), Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes from the Underground (Moira Books) and the forthcoming text based art book, Dream Streams (Clare Songbirds Publishing). His video, Widow’s Peek: The Kiss of Death, was selected to the 2018 International Experimental Film Festival in Bilbao, Spain. He is a 2018 Audie Award Finalist for his contribution to the original audio book, Nevertheless We Persisted.
Keith Goldstein is a freelance photographer and photo editor in New York City. Keith began exhibiting his photography since the1980’s. His work has appeared in many publications including ABC News Australia, Now Public, Flak Magazine, JPEG Magazine, Time. His work is included various private collections and in the Erie Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and the S.K. Neuman Culture Center, Brno, Czechoslovakia. Website