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Dreamed 1983/10/1 by Chris Wayan

When I died, I had myself buried in a duplex coffin. I saved money, but it was a mistake.

I wasn't dead yet, as they laid me in, but I would be soon. My coffinmate was committed: stiff. They pulled the corpse out, arranged me, then laid it in on top of me, head on my feet, feet in my face. Stinky feet. My last words were "I plan to be in for a shorter time, why can't I be on top?" "Sorry" they said. "Insurance regulations."

Dying has changed. The New Death works like this: almost everyone comes back--eventually. I plan to be dead for several years; that's a short time, as death goes.

Death comes in stages. It's a gradual process. Everyone knows the basic sequence--first you lose your hands, then your legs go numb and useless... then you can't move at all, but you're still awake in the stifling coffin... Then your legs and even sometimes your arms dry up, become just bones. Often they fall off. The last thing you lose is consciousness.

Reviving is just the opposite--breath and thought, then sight and sound, later movement, mobility, hands... Strange that the power to grasp things, to change things, is last.

I wake slowly. A kind, methodical gravedigger--excuse me, "reorientation specialist"--casually monitors the stages of my progress as I come out of death. He watches me in between digging up more ripe coffins of this batch. It's pleasant to come slowly undead and leave all the responsibility to a professional. He sorts my finger bones, sticks them on. You don't want them scrambled. Four dead protestors march with signs saying 'Dead Rights'.

When I can walk out of the graveyard, I find it's really hard to rent an apartment. There's a lot of prejudice against the Dead. Starting with our name: even when we're fully alive again, those who never died keep calling us Dead! We don't call them the Undead, now do we?

I was under for just a few years, and I lack the skullish features of the long-dead fresh out of the box. I can pass as Living. I overhear some pretty shocking things from some of the Living, who think no Dead were there to hear. We Dead feel no emotions, did you know that? Maybe that one started from the difficulty that Dead people have registering their emotions when much of their face is still missing--or paralyzed. The Living find us horrifying, and shun us, partly I think because they don't want to be reminded we're what'll happen to them. To every one of them. We're talking about a people who warehouse their elders, so why be surprised at the hate and denial they project toward their Dead? But I am. To be hated for my appearance, for nothing I've done, hurts; and the hurt can't be reasoned away.

A friend of mine, more obviously Dead than I am, decides to do something about it. He becomes an activist and founds Equal Rights for the Dead.

I join ERD, but I don't much want to put out too much energy on it. It's strenuous for me, taking the kind of abuse you get in street actions. They picket restaurants and theaters and job agencies, walking mutely, with signs saying... DEAD RIGHTS.

They chant it in their awkward speech, cheeks and tongues not fully regenerated. Cold and leathery and calm, at least on the outside, for they can't yet register their passion... they croak our chant.



This dream's not about death, but chronic illness. I'd suffered a serious health-crash and was gradually recovering; I felt drained, half-dead. My recovery followed the pattern in the dream: first I lay around a lot, able to think but too tired to act. Then came a time when I regained perceptiveness about other people (eyes and ears); then the ability to act, to choose my direction or career (my legs and feet), and only last my ability to show my feelings with any vigor, to draw people to me or push them away (my hands and the fine muscles registering emotions in my face).

I think the dream was pointing out the well fear the sick--and resent them. As if we're criticizing the healthy by not going along with their program! Some friends saw me as cold or uncommitted or even dissing their values, just because I wouldn't do much with them. Or saw me as a lazy coward when I wouldn't risk my fragile health to do things that were safe for them--and not for me.

You have to fight not to internalize their judgments. To conserve your strength, pace yourself as you return to life.

Do it their way, put on a life-mask, try to pass for one of them... and you may end up dead again. All the way this time.

LISTS AND LINKS: dying in dreams - revenants (the dead returning) - disfigurement and disability - bias and bigotry - political dreams - dream humor - beauty and ugliness - health advice in dreams - same night, Katherine Metcalf Nelson descends to the underworld to the Pool of Truth

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