I used to dream I could shoot lasers from my hands and stop evil-doers in their tracks. I wasn’t a super hero. I was just a kid who could shoot green lasers. I had so much confidence in my dream state. I was a different person. The issue; I was starting to have nightmares. I lost my confidence at some point and although I enjoyed going to bed as much as the next kid (end sarcasm), I was frightened. I slept with a night light until I was 15 years old. I had several recurring nightmares until I was a teenager and even a few recurrences in my twenties.
One of these “dreams” involved Bob Denver who played Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island. I was alone in a field and off in the distance was a freight train. The door was slid open on one of the boxcars and inside, there was Bob Denver sitting on the floor just chilling. He was even wearing his outfit for the show and I believe he had a piece of straw in his mouth. In the dream, I continue to stare at “Gilligan” until I look down and suddenly I am in my bed in the very same field and out from under my bed comes a fiery demon. It was a skinless, blood riddled demon engulfed in flames and when I looked back up, the train was gone, I was no longer in a field but instead in my bedroom. But even though the train, the field and “Gilligan” went away, the demon was still there. For years I wouldn’t look under my bed at night time.
There are two instances of this dream, both recurring and they involve the same woman. In one instance, every time I walk outside of my grandma’s house, there is a woman in a lilac bush. I can only make out the face but she is toothless and hairy. She never says anything, though, she just stares at me and jerks somewhat violently as if she is trying to break free from chains and come at me. The second worst part of this is she started appearing in a lot of my dreams and it was always the same scene, her face in a bush outside of a relative’s house. The absolute worst part of this dream is what I’m about to share with you.
When I was eight years old, we lived in a small house with three bedrooms. Craig and I shared a room because bedroom three was quite small and filled with storage items. Our bedroom was back to back with mom and dad’s. So if you can picture it, I would walk out of our bedroom, hang a left and there was the door to mom and dad’s room. Sometimes when I had one of these “night terrors”, I would walk down to mom and dad’s bedroom whining to some degree and mom would let me in and comfort me. This was until “The Woman” in my recurring dreams decided to appear in a different place, one night, as opposed to a bush.
It was a normal night like any other (insert rest of cliche horror movie dialogue). I went to bed and woke up some time after midnight very scared and walked down to mom and dad’s bedroom. Mom whispered to “come in” so I walked through the door and stood by the foot of their bed. They were both awake, smiling and laughing and I remember wondering what could be so funny, I’d just had a nightmare and I was sad and frightened. Mom looks at me and says, “go back to your room sweetie, everything is going to be okay”. And so I did just that, turned around and went back to my room.
When I walked through my bedroom door, the bunk beds were gone, there was no sight of Craig and as I scanned around I realized I was staring at a mirror image of my parent’s bedroom. There was my mom, still on her side of the bed in spite of the seemingly accurate paranormal reflection it should have been. She pointed to her armoire and the doors fell open. There was the woman from the bush in my other nightmares yet she was dripping wet, hanging from a clothes hanger wearing only a raggedy dress, her hair long and stringy. She was laughing at me and as I looked back at my mother, she was laughing too. I never walked to my parent’s room that night. It was all a dream. This was the last time I did and “didn’t” seek my parents for comfort after a nightmare.
What do I wanna be when I grow up?
Why didn’t my laser shooting power come into play in any of these nightmares? I could have killed Gilligan or The Woman in the Bush and perhaps the nightmares would never return? It never seemed to work that way though, as if these bedtime characters played a role in my life I was unaware of at the time. They weren’t meant to be erased. They were meant to prepare me for life.
At a young age there was a time I wanted to grow up and be a tiger. True story, mom would ask what I want to be and I would say “Tiger!” as if I truly thought it was an option. Did I ever say I was a smart kid? I think Craig wanted to be a fire truck so maybe hold back a smidge on the judgement. Not sure what I would do as a tiger but I can tell you this much, whole milk and steak every night sounds pretty decent. Craig would be wheelin’ around town looking for fires to put out and I would be climbing trees in search of fat rabbits and places to hide because now that I am typing this I realize I would be tranquilized and forced to live in a zoo for the remainder of my life. Damn it! Meanwhile, Craig gets to put out fires and get scrubbed down every day looking shiny and new! Man, I didn’t think this through.
Before I digress, let me just mention, I never wanted to be a tiger that terrorized people. I think I wanted to be a nice tiger in a nice world and live happily ever after with the other animals and humans too. Boy, I was a dreamer. But seriously, I never put much thought into growing up while I was literally growing up. The funny thing is, the aforementioned stands true until about two years ago. Yes, that’s right, I finally figured out what I want to be. I want to create things and sell them. It may sound vague but I will explain. Also, I was 40 years old when I figured this out. Never stop dreaming.
Design and Create
It all started one day when Angie said she wanted a garden. It was the Spring of 2016 and her wish was my command. A few thousand dollars and around 40 hours later, we had 8 raised garden beds filled with compost and soil and we were ready to plant. A year later, I built another one and we now have nine. The best part of the project was how it reminded me of the joys of woodworking. I grew up swinging a hammer and building things with wood and nails. My father only had a few tools but it forced me to learn things the hard way and appreciate more intelligent methods (with power tools) which in turn are often simpler methods all the same (and just as often not). Between the Spring of 2017 and Spring of 2018, I converted my garage into a woodworking shop, fully insulated, ventilated, stocked and secure (with video surveillance). At 42 years old, I finally figured out what I want to do the rest of my life, what I want to be when I grow up.
And Then There Was Cancer
Two years, lots of blood, sweat and tears and I finally had a wood shop. Then on June 22nd, 2018 I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal Cancer and suddenly I was overwhelmed with the feeling it was all for naught. I didn’t even step foot in the shop for four months. My dream of becoming a tiger never came true. I never figured out how to shoot lasers with my hands. Craig never became a fire truck. The woman in the bush was a thing of the past. The fiery demon under my bed had long been extinguished and Gilligan is trapped in rerun land on some network television station right where he belongs. But what about me? What is my identity? What is my purpose and the meaning of my existence?
For a long time I thought I was a web developer. By all rights (especially my career job title “Senior Front End Developer”), it is who I have become in many respects. But it took me years to realize as much as I enjoy creating websites, there is an unequal balance of maintaining them. By unequal I mean it is offset nearly two to one. For every ten hours of my time, I am spending eight of them supporting a site or app I already built and for the other two, I am either creating something new or in a meeting. More often than not, I am in a meeting. And as the years went on and on, this offset seemed to grow in one direction or another and by the time I’d put 16 years into this career, I found myself spending most of my time refactoring or trying to solve a bug in code I wrote. This was actually a good time about ten years ago but over the years it became monotonous. It got to the point where I was rarely creating anything and when and if I had the chance to create, I would be forced to learn a new script library because the industry itself seems to dish one out every three weeks and any true “coder” should stay on top of this trend. But I stopped staying on top of it.
The reason I didn’t stay on top of it is due to spending the majority of my time at work, debugging and refactoring legacy code. After several years, it gets to the point where unless a developer spends their free time studying new methods for development, you become stuck in a rut. By the time you climb out of said rut, the kids around you are working circles and you can’t keep up. It took me 16 years and the age of 42 to realize this. Perhaps because I was in denial the entire time or maybe I knew it and got lazy somewhere along the way. Maybe a little of both?
This is why I converted my garage into a wood shop. Not because I don’t want to keep dreaming or because I no longer want to be a Senior Front End Developer. I built the wood shop so I have a space to create without limitations other than time. I don’t have meetings. I don’t have kids working circles around me. I can learn all the new tricks by watching YouTube and repeat steps over and over without deadlines until I master the method and become a better woodworker. And my plan was to do just that for the next 5-10 years in the evenings and on the weekends. But then there was cancer.
Where Do I Go From Here?
I have to design and create. I can’t spend 40 hours a week redoing work in order to make something perform the way it wasn’t intended. Whether or not I end up back in an office, my “dream” is to spend most of my days creating and I hope the majority of my time is spent in my wood shop. When the neuropathy in my feet isn’t so bad, I can stand for several hours and get stuff done. The fatigue is often worse. Due to cancer treament, I am not the same person I once was. I am low on energy and in pain, constantly. But most of my “able” time is spent in my shop, building and creating and I love it.
I used to dream I could shoot lasers from my hands and stop evil-doers in their tracks. I wasn’t a super hero. I was just a kid who could shoot green lasers. Now I dream about driving screws into oak and applying stain to a finished piece. I am still not a super hero but I am beating cancer and because of it, I know anything is possible. I have more confidence now than I ever have. No more nightmares and no more spending time doing things that don’t make me happy. What should I be when I grow up? Call me “a pursuer of dreams”. I couldn’t ask for anything more.