There are many things I did not learn in my youth, but one thing I did learn: if I fell asleep with my head on my arm and my circulation got cut off, I would have nightmares of disproportion. I remember one in particular. I was somehow involved in a game in a field where crystal flowers balanced on stalks like dandelion stalks wavered in a breeze. The flowers were too heavy for the stalks, and if the stalks broke they would bleed, and somehow I had to pay attention to the game and mind the flowers being fully responsible for both.
What I never figured out till somebody told me a few years ago is that fever also traps you in your dreams. It was during training for the call-center job and the initial weeks thereof that I got a fever and dreamed all night that I was receiving calls from people who wanted to argue about all the petty and unreasonable things people will argue about, but with theological import. As if they were saying, “No, if I click on that button then it will amount to a denial of the hypostatic union, which you understand cannot be done without also denying a whole lot of important doctrines, since . . .” And of course in the dream I was stuck with trying to explain to them that I was not on the wrong side of the theological problem while at the same time trying to help them figure out something unbelievably simple that was obscured by the approach taken. When I told my co-worker, she said it was the fever, that fever does that to you.
But here’s the one that beats all of them. I got a fever on Sunday night, and in the restlessness leading up to it—which I did not understand, I am the opposite of a hypochondriac—I tried some Chaucer to no avail. I have the first Library of America volume of Philip K. Dick’s works. I dip into it every once in a while to remind myself how compelling he can be without knowing how to write well, and to study the trick, and because I love the paranoid messed-upness of it. I opened it to a point where the main guy is trying to ‘retire’ an android but has to administer the test. The android calls in the help of other androids who lead the main guy into a kind of parallel universe, but a real one. They have set up their own police station, peopled it themselves, and use it to hide from the real police. The main guy gets so confused by it all that he ends up wondering if he is an android with false memories. It is convoluted, strange, and has the memorable question where a fellow bounty hunter who is stuck wondering if he also is an android wonders how he can care so much about a squirrel, his pet. I went to sleep and spent two hours dreaming about going around trying to understand whether I was or was not an android in the most surreal circumstances. It was 100% weird and I began to believe it would have terminally affected me until I remembered that a fever can do that
And it was worth it, in retrospect, but after two hours and having had the sensation that I was trapped in a place in which I would always live without knowing if I were what I hoped I was or just a deluded object programmed for sentient confusion I ended it with a bracing shot of Nyquil.