Last night, I rolled over in bed and gave my wife a playful squeeze. "Take control," she said.
"Oooo!" I whispered. "Take control of what?"
"Take control of proposals and awards."
Yes, my wife talks in her sleep. She's always done it. I've often rolled over thinking she was trying to have a meaningful conversation with me, only to find out that she's talking to the phantoms of the office.
"It's not fair," she said once. When I asked what was not fair, she said: "No incomplete forms." Another time she whispered, "Research takes a long time. It's the program."
Now, I see the lascivious light coming on in your head, dear reader, like a candle in a pumpkin: that these late night mumbles might allow me to prey on my wife's deepest secrets. That her somniloquies could take me deep into her psyche where no husband should go. That I'm playing a dangerous game by delving into her parasomnic world.
What if I found out something that drove me mad with jealousy? What if I were to poke and prod in a desperate search to find out what she really thinks of my love handles? What if I find out that she thinks some other guy is hot? Not just Jon Hamm, but some actor she's worked with in an off-off-Broadway version of Chekhov's "The Bear," an actor who might still be on our subway line.
Isn't it right and proper that everybody, even my wife, have the right to a private internal life where she can imagine scenarios, ponder, reflect and work out the troubles of the world by herself in peace without my second-guessing their meaning?
After all, if I did find out something suspicious, wouldn't my perception of it be completely disproportionate to the actual reality, which is usually pretty silly?
Indeed, wouldn't a guy's obsession with his wife's internal life lead him to jealous ruin? Didn't Orpheus lose Eurydice forever when he looked back at her and she was still in the land of dreams? I ask you, weren't the Ancient Greeks and the rock band the Romantics onto something?
And yet the truth is much stranger than any anticipated by these questions. Because, in fact, my wife Stephanie only ever seems to talk about her work day. That's it. That's all she's got. I've seen the deep internal workings of the soul, and it looks a lot like a memo from human resources.
Now I know my wife's not a dull person. She has a great sense of humor and great observational skills and likes to tell stories and laugh. I'm really dumbfounded as to why, when she's sleep-talking, she never recites lines from Shakespeare or even Neil LaBute for that matter. God knows she reads their monologues enough when she's awake. And yet the things that make her fear, the things that stir her soul, the things that tickle her dreams are all straight out of the Staples catalogue.
I had a psychology professor in college who you might call the anti-Freud. He not only dismissed the idea that dreams held important symbols but stressed to us all the time that dreams were usually just the prosaic trifles of everyday life--washing dishes, talking on the phone--organized only haphazardly into scenes so that the brain could make sense of them. I'd never heard the mystical world of psychology put in such crass, unmagical, horrifically boring terms. But I liked the contrary approach and after a while espoused it myself for the sake of perverse iconoclasm. Now, when people are asking me what their dreams mean, I really love to kill the wave and say, "I doubt seriously your dreams are important."
Still, when Stephanie talks in her sleep now, I have started playing a really strange game. I actually try to engage her in the terms of the discussion. Not because of what I think I'll find out, but because I want to be with her where she is. I want to understand. I want to be privy to the secrets of her night world.
"It's the program," she says sleepily out of nowhere.
"What program?" I reply.
"The program." She starts to look confused at this point, as if I don't understand, yet I keep mercilessly asking because I feel like maybe I'll learn something about the subconscious--or at least how to remain compliant with NIH grant application rules.
She starts to mumble. She can't get her point across.
And that's it. She's gone.
What have I learned? Was Dr. Buss, my psychology professor, right? Is there nothing to learn here? Will I one day unlock a sort of Jungian-Enigma dream code within my wife? A Rosetta stone for getting to the bottom of her ineffable world? Or am I doomed to talk about bureaucratic protocol like they do in Office Space?
Perhaps it will always be just a little bit lonely--wherever it is my wife is going off to. Maybe I'll just have to let her navigate Ultima Thule by herself for a while, knowing that it's her journey alone, but happily anticipating that she'll eventually come back to me.
On the other hand, maybe she'll wake up and we'll have sex. You never know.