Early this morning, while still asleep, and as my eyes were rooled back and fluttering in their sockets, I realized I was dreaming.
An old boss, Willis Green, Jr. was part of my dream. He was stuck in purgatory. Willis was still being a tyrant, even in my dreams. When one is no longer dreaming, but somehow awakes in his vision, the dream is no longer a dream, but one finds himself in purgatory– the place where souls that have lost their way roam freely, unaware, it seems, that the place where they roam now is not only in my subconscious, but a collective subconscious of sorts. The place is as much as a reality as the here and now where this text is being read, but to souls such as Willis, they do not know that they are dead and have no business popping into my business out of the blue.
Willis was my boss more than twenty years ago. He died soon after we both started working for a church based social service agency known as the Upper Room AIDS Ministry. When I accepted the job as Willis’s executive secretary, he informed me that he had contracted the HIV virus (some time ago in his best estimation). He warned me that he may die any day. He did. He died four years after we both accepted positions at the non-profit that fed and housed hundreds of homeless people every day.
When Willis passed into that place that can only be described as similar to the place in which we all dream, I was keeping his dog, a white mutt with curly fur. It was so funny to me that Willis, who was black in his life, had a white dog. Willis was in and out of the hospital many times the last year of his life. He fizzled out slowly, like an old Apollo soul singer trying to sell an album in the time when boot-leg compact discs were the rage at street vendor stands on 125th Street. Willis asked me to keep “Foo- Foo” (yes that was his real name) when he went into the hospital for the last time. It was like pulling teeth getting rid of that dog.
As Willis Green, Jr’s executive assistant, I could never forget to put the Jr after his name. It was also my duty to keep his dog while he was in intensive care. It seems fair that I dictate the dream I had of him early this morning. It was amazing that Willis managed to run the Upper Room from his death bed. But he did, because I did much of his writing.
This morning, Willis and I were both in the Upper Room again. He was standing impatiently over my shoulder, screaming about how dissatisfied he was with someone at the Job. Willis was pissed at Joe Turner, a failed black lawyer who turned to charity to fill his wallet. Joe was Willis’s deputy director. Willis needed me to take dictation, and while doing so, write it so that the memo could withstand legal scrutiny and in a sense, tell the story of why Joe Turner deserved a $5,000 advance from the board of the agency.
Like a reporter, I worked hard in purgatory– pushing buttons where they needed to be pushed– extracting from Willis what needed to be expressed within the context of paragraphs I was busy transcribing.
“Pardon me, Willis!” Joe Turner said while peeking into my office. Would the two of you like to join me and Nathan at a table at Sylvia’s? Nathan was the Upper Room’s condom outreach director. He led a small army of transgendered men with still forming boobs into the public parks to hand out free condoms and safe sex literature. They were worse than the Jehovah witnesses that are so common on the streets uptown. “Today they are having southern fried chicken smothered in gravy,” Joe tempted.
I wasn’t finished writing; several important questions remained unanswered before I could finish the memo Willis had asked me to compose. I looked sternly at Willis and asked, “How should we explain the fact that you have been dead all this time to our board of directors? Perhaps it would be best if you told the story of what life is like after death,” I suggested, totally aware at that moment that I was having a dream.
It was at this very instant that I realized I was dreaming, when bug-eyed Joe Turner looked into my office with those greedy eyes of his that I so many times wanted to poke with my fast moving fingers. Willis seemed shocked– as if he did not know he had died. The hell he was living in was the same as it has always been here. He seemed disappointed that I did not join he, Nathan Kerr and Joe Turner at Sylvia’s this morning. They got up and walked toward the door of the church where the Upper Room rented space. They headed in the direction of Sylvia’s. I sat there for as long as possible in my dream—perched at my old desk at the job; laughing until I could no longer hold onto the sensation of being awake in the total stillness of what is not a dream, but the Upper Room.