Smoky Window on Land Day
Analysis, dreams, Memories, Observations

The Pillars of Cloud ‘Nightmare’

My unconscious mind decided that I needed a “pandemi-ccupation” dream. Two sieges converged on a neutral setting: Cass County Michigan. Dreams happen in present-tense:

I’m at my childhood home when my mother arrives in the blue Dodge Caravan that was our family vehicle 20 years ago. I get in the passenger side. Momma says *They* are spreading *It* everywhere. *It* and *They* are never named. We leave.

As we pass the fairgrounds, Momma gives me a new face-mask. It’s a legitimate gas-mask, much more substantial PPE than the safety glasses and homemade cloth masks I wear to my factory job. Thick, almost rigid rubber makes up the helmet and chin-piece, there’s laboratory-grade goggles to enclose my eyes, but it’s hard to adjust it to fit my face.

We don’t turn onto Fox street –toward our relatives– and continue on O’Keefe street instead, passing the gravel pit which is looking more and more like a quarry between Bethlehem and Jerusalem as memories bleed onto one another. We’re on our way up a big hill.

We see some of *It* blowing on the wind. Like clouds of fog or low-hanging billows of white smoke, *It* moves in embankments like spectral snow-drifts phasing in and out of reality. So, *It* can be seen. As we crest the hill, Momma just keeps driving. The mists of *It* occlude our windshield, but when they clear we’re going down Decatur Hill — a truncation: my mind is willing the van to be miles further to the North, willing us into the next county, soon into another universe… but first I have some questions.

Are *They* there? Is that a check-point that we’re blowing past? Does *It* sting like tear-gas? Is it stronger, like the Israeli tear-gas that turned the Wi’am Center flowers from white to purple? Momma couldn’t know the answers to those questions and I hope she never does. We know that *It* burns, so *It* can be felt. We keep the windows shut, not wanting to know if we can smell or taste those ominous clouds. *It* is something deadly — but who is *They*? Not the Israeli Military, I think, because that’s not where we are: we’re in Michigan (?)

Gradually, we reach a destination: an evacuation point where we need to show identification. This is a place of pure dreams. I just barely recall details– there are so many people, standing in a long, loose line. I see a stream with a wooden bridge over it and wonder if the stream forms the barrier that will keep us safe. At the head of the line is a large house that looks like it belongs in Fairy Tales. The whole place has the quality of being from fantasy literature and films, like entering a fusion between Middle Earth’s ‘Shire’ but with the bustling vibes of a rebel-base from Star Wars. There’s a sense that we’ve reached a place of belonging and safety, yet it’s on the fringe. *It* is still out there and *They* haven’t been stopped.

Why did my brain make this? Why did I feel (slightly) better after this dream? I can hardly call it a nightmare because there WAS an evacuation point. As for the noxious clouds, they’re a ‘devil that I know’.

I’ll cut to the chase: maybe my dream was supposed to dissipate a stress-response. What *It* borrows from COVID19 is that it’s ubiquitous. The clouds are everywhere, so much that the evacuation point feels like a book or movie rather than reality. I was in ‘Flight’ and we fled.

The noxious clouds I saw in Bethlehem came from particular places. A pile of tires could be on fire in protest, so we walked a different way; the tires burn-down and the smoke thins. Soldiers rained tear-gas canisters onto “flash-points” — places where protests happen. Wi’am Center was next to such a place, a gate that blocks a section of road where there’s an important historical site. Five times in eight days, a co-worker ran from downstairs to tell me [in Arabic: Gas! Shut the windows! Gas! Let’s go! Shut the windows, let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!]. I would run to the second floor to make sure we got all of those, too, and then we all jogged out the door and away–

THWACK. THWACK. SMASH! THWACK! THWACK! Rocks hitting the separation barrier, hitting windows, hitting pavement, –one thing the dream didn’t have was projectiles.

I didn’t get gassed in my office but I did wander into a stray cloud one evening. Me and a volunteer were walking back from I-can’t-remember-where and trying not to get close to a flash-point. The Israeli gas is strong: it stayed potent when the wind caught it and made a river of misery through the city. It was too dark to see but I can picture the clouds– just like *It*. I saw gas clouds during land-day protests but also the young men carried-away on stretchers with tear-gas inhalation.

My brain probably tapped into all of this now because I was thinking about the last time I smoked hookah, yesterday. Tobacco was a good cloud under those circumstances — in conflict zones, nicotine seems medicinal to me. After we fled the office, three of us evacuated together to a quiet court-yard at a co-workers house to share a pipe and talk through what was happening.

The pandemic seems unreal. I never see the people on stretchers. There’s no distant whoosh of a rocket or muted stutter of a machine-gun, both happening somewhere else. Munitions go from one place to another, deadly objects who still obey the rules of our macro-world. The virus might be moving undetected in the body of a seemingly healthy person– it can’t be seen. We didn’t make it and we haven’t made its counter-part. If the virus is in a place, it’s like smokeless fire. There is no evacuation point, nor is there a *They*. We have our incompetent and uncaring Trump government, sure. They don’t send drones to blink at us by night nor roaring bomber jets on their way to massacre people in Gaza, like the eight days of ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’.

The Occupation continued but it was episodic: Pillar of Cloud was over in eight days and we decompressed from it. Another thing *It* has in common with the pandemic was the lack of episodes; the clouds lingered like a threat.

*It* borrowed salience from clouds I saw in Bethlehem. Those days had a the sense of urgency, a felt need to flee, but also the possibility of a fight. There’s no need to bleach every surface or put every piece of clothing through the washing machine: if the soldiers are by the flashpoint then we’re hiding somewhere else. It’s scarier but simpler.

In place of the virus my mind substituted something which had the properties of things I saw during Operation Pillar of Cloud– things that I could run away from or with endings. There was a *They* to direct my anger at, too, rather than living with undirectable angst. Paradoxically, the It I dreamed was more terrifying than COVID19 but less anxiety provoking by virtue of being a familiar ‘devil’.

The virus is nearly in a quantum state: ever present and totally absent at the same time. It’s not The Occupation but it still has us under siege.

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