Coming up from the twilight of dreamstate, I remembered most of it. Mostly the faces of the men who died, trapped in the small porthole bubbles of their submersible. When I saw them, floating in the ocean, I was sick to my stomach. I imagined their fear as the waters went up over their faces and drowned them. The faces were stuck in the rictus of a horribly slow and unavoidable death.
It was the kind of dream where every element is so bizarre and foreign to myself that I wonder how my brain put all this together.
I was the press secretary at the White House. Who was president didn't matter - it wasn't Obama, it wasn't anybody. Dreams don't demand irrelevant details like that. I had a daily press conference to give for White House cleared correspondents, and I was ready to discuss a few of the daily questions I knew they were going to ask: domestic issues, the economy, the wars. I'd been briefed on State and Pentagon positions, asked for news, there was none. Then that moment of walking down the hallway and into the far-too-small room with podium. It looks way better on camera than it is in reality. I'd been doing this long enough that I was already sick of the heat and brightness of the lights. The cameramen and lighting guys were poorly dressed slobs. The correspondents were the same set of people I'd worked with. I knew where everyone did lunch, and with whom, and lines of friendship and collaboration, who the new kids were and what their rotation schedules were. The fast rotators from the far East were hard to keep track of. I knew everybody, and everybody knew me. It was the news treadmill, and I longed for the day when I could walk away from this job.
The daily White House briefing was formulaic: I would talk for twenty minutes, giving the President's and the Vice President's schedules. These were handed out on paper, but I spoke them for the cameras. Then major goings on and cabinet meetings within the government. Then 20 minute Q&A. It was almost always before lunch, so that the news crews could massage the briefing in time for early afternoon and dinner news hours. Also, if it went too long, their stomachs would start complaining. White House beat TV news reporters did not miss their lunches. So they were incentivized to get out on time.
I started speaking, but then the entire news floor went berzerk. Their eyes were on the television screens above me. I turned, and heard the television voice - CNN, usually - saying that this was new footage just released by the Pentagon.
Army Special Forces units had undertaken a deep water rescue of a small sunken vessel that may have still had life aboard. They had failed. Something had gone wrong. The SF guys had all died. The footage of a later submersible robot showed this large iron box with three portholes, behind which were three men's faces, the box filled with water, the men floating.
One of the men's faces was going to be impossible to forget. The whites of his eyes showed he was looking heavenward, his face contorted with that agony of death when the will to live was still strong. They were trapped in the box as water seeped in. They were too deep to swim to the surface; there was no escape from their coffin. They were trapped in position, and all they could do was die.
The crawl at the bottom of the television screen explained where the footage came from - deep undersea, close to the vessel Unnamed. In dreams, there are few specifics. All I could remember was the surprise that I was seeing news that I didn't first know about. I WAS the voice of the news at the White House. Nothing happened without my first knowing about it.
Then I remembered the explosion of questions from the correspondents and my waves of emotions. First, revulsion as I imagined drowning in that small box alongside the other men. Second, anger at the men who planned the mission and sent these men to their deaths due to poor logistics, no backup, etc. Anger. White hot anger. This was Mogadishu all over again, and I was especially angry at the senior Army staffers, who were generally yes men, who would sign up for any foolhardy mission with some combination of bravado and stupidity that seemed to be bred into them. I kept thinking why the FUCK wasn't this a Navy job?
And that last emotion was another anger, the anger that someone at the Pentagon had released this to the press without going through the White House first. I was blindsided. When the press secretary looks like he doesn't know what's going on, it looks like the entire government isn't coordinated. This just makes everybody look bad. It was a kind of looking bad that deflected from the white hot anger at the guys in the Pentagon who planned this without coordination through the Secretary of Defense, the other services, the other civilian agencies that could have helped. Somehow the President was going to catch shit for this, when it really should be the actions of a few rogue senior military officers who wanted to buck up their service's dismal reputation with a long-shot rescue mission.
I was angry, angry, angry, and I was terribly sorry for the families of the men who died. They would never be able to erase these memories of their husbands or sons or fathers for as long as they lived. It wasn't decent.
I left the room and promised another briefing in a few hours, with answers. I was livid with rage.
When I come up from a dream like that, I don't feel normal. My heartbeat is elevated and my fists are clenched. Slowly, very slowly, I realize that this was all a dream. But I close my eyes and can still see the faces of the men, floating in their cold blue silent box of death.