Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What Dreams May Come

I’m seated at a table. Someone is behind me, their arm wrapped round my neck holding me tight to the chair. As I struggle, another unseen person grips my left arm forcing it flat against the tabletop. A third person lays the head of a huge snake on my arm. It slithers forward and bites my hand, it’s fangs pierce the soft skin between two fingers. Across the table, my 15 year-old daughter sits crying.

I woke with a start, breathing heavily and my heart pounding. I stared at the ceiling in the darkened bedroom thinking, “Where does this shit come from?” It took a half hour to get back to sleep.

Next morning when I drove my daughter to school, I described the dream to her but left out the part about her being in it. It was just too weird.

I’ve always been baffled by the origins of dreams and never accepted the psychological explanations. Still they’re fascinating.

Years ago the younger of my two sisters described a troubling, reoccurring dream. In it, she can fly, but is trapped in a large house. She’s pursued by crowds of people. She strains to fly out of reach, her flapping arms bumping the ceiling as the fingertips of her pursuers graze her stomach and chest. As the room fills with people reaching for her, she crashes through a set of French doors into another room, and again flutters against the ceiling, just barely out of reach.

I remember my older sister’s ex-husband, a psychologist, listening intently as the dreamed was related, searching his mind for a clinical explanation.

My wife’s dreams are every bit as weird as mine and come in predictable themes. When she tells me, “I had an upsetting dream last night,” I often reply, “ Let me guess, you’re in your hometown back in Michigan and you’re outside a familiar house and someone is either chasing you into the house or watching you menacingly from it.”

When my kids were little I often dreamed that they were in danger and I couldn’t reach them or was too late to help. These often contained a location or circumstance of importance from the days leading up to the dream.

Nineteen years ago as my wife was pregnant with our 2nd child, I did some roof work on our house. I don’t like heights, but I had to crawl across the highest point of our steep roof to do the work. It took me forever to scoot along the ridge on my butt and do the work that an experienced roofer could have done quickly.

A couple nights after that I dream I’m back up on the roof scooting across the ridge, looking down at the street and neighboring rooftops. I hear the scratch of footsteps behind me. I turn to see our oldest son, two and a half years old at the time, walking toward me playfully along the narrow spine of the roof with a half eaten cookie in his hand. The familiar scuff of sleeper suite foot-pads scratches along the shingles.

He’s going to fall. Of course he’s about to fall! And I’m battling my own fear of heights to get at him before he does.

But neither of us fell. I woke in terror before it could happen, then walked to his room in the dark and peered over the crib to see him sleeping safely in the drug-like sleep of children.

In another puzzling dream, recalled from my college days, I’m a defendant in a courtroom accused of something terrible. I mean really terrible. I don’t know what it is, but it’s something so vile and unforgivable people are sneering at me.

I’m innocent. How can I make them understand? I look to the judge and jury, slowly scanning their faces, only to realize that they’re all girls I dated in high school or college. My heart sinks, thinking, “I’m screwed!”

What could that possibly represent? I’m really a pretty nice guy. Sure I’ve made some foolish and selfish mistakes in life, but c’mon.

After knee surgery this past January one would have thought the soothing, narcotic painkillers would have made for restful sleep. Instead, the drug held me sloppily along the shoreline between sleep and waking. I would fall into a dream – a handful of nails, a hammer and pile of lumber – I’m building something, then suddenly awake staring at the ceiling. Close my eyes again and the waves take me down into another vision – tripping down several stairs – I reflexively jerk awake again, look around, close my eyes and sink into yet another vision.

Greta and I exchanged weird dreams stories over dinner recently. Our daughter, Sally eyed us both suspiciously. “My dreams are always good,” she shrugged.

“What? You’re kidding me?” I asked. “Always happy?”

“Yep,” she smiled. “Always good things.”

You lucky dear. I hope it’s always that way.

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