(Thanks to Chris H for causing me to ponder this subject.)
I don’t dream very often. Or, since every dream expert out there insists that we’re always dreaming while in deep sleep states, I suppose I should say that upon waking, I usually don’t recall my dreams. I don’t care, really—the dreams that I do remember are often unhappy ones. It’s sort of like my early childhood memories—the very earliest all center around injuries (that’s a subject for another blog post); similarly, the dreams that stick the most are the ones that frighten and occasionally disturb me.
You could look at a dream diary, if I kept one, and by many of the scary dream entries you’d be able to gauge pretty closely what was going on in my life. Not all—some of the dreams are just bizarre repeats—but some of them offer clues to my concerns at the time.
In childhood, I usually dreamed nonsensical stuff, probably trying to sort through all the strange, new thoughts and experiences one has a kid—except when I was sick. Then, I always dreamed the same odd thing: I was standing in a huge room, like a monstrous gymnasium, and it was completely empty except for me. And then, I’d become aware—not through any typical means like hearing footsteps or a door open or close, just through some innate sense—that there was someone else in the room. And then I’d see her; a tall woman, nondescript because she was so far away, standing all the way across the room on the opposite side. And she was just standing there, looking over at me. She wasn’t approaching me, or speaking, or gesticulating, or anything…just standing there. And I was always terrified. Why? What could be so frightening about that? But it was. I haven’t dreamed about that woman for many years now, and I don’t miss her.
No particular school-age dreams come to mind; I figure they were predictable and forgettable, the sorts of dreams you’d expect to spring from an immature, self-absorbed mind such as mine. My college dreams weren’t very memorable either, although that was the first time I lived alone, and I recall one repeat nightmare from that time span: I dreamt that I heard someone fumbling with the doorknob on my apartment, and when I went to see who it was, a rough-looking character I didn’t recognize was trying to force the lock. He asked if he could come in, and when I said no, he smiled evilly at me through the door’s window—and then punched through the glass, reached in, and admitted himself. That’s usually where I would wake up, heart thumping, gasping for breath, kicking myself once alert because the me in my dream had behaved like such a born victim, helpless, frozen, utterly astounded at his audacity. That dream came back again and again, on and off, depending on how safe I felt in my rented dwelling.
Once I began teaching school, that became the bad dream of the day—and the dream did not go away as years of teaching experience mounted under my belt. In every episode, my classroom was absolutely out of control, kids were running everywhere, screaming, talking, and not a soul was paying one whit of attention to me. That was mostly an annoying dream, not a nightmare, and thank God my real classroom never looked so chaotic (not quite…!) But it did leave me with a heavy, defeated feeling—especially when waking necessitated preparations for a day of school.
Working in an office caused the dreams to shift to “I didn’t get my project done and the client is coming!” scenarios. They had the same kind of theme as the teaching nightmares, but with a slightly different flavor of panic. I’m sure you can imagine them, my rushing to complete work, the resulting stammering conversations with my boss, the livid client, all in my own head, of course. But they certainly felt real.
A few times while pregnant, I dreamed I had the baby. I never knew the baby's sex, though, never even took a stab at guessing in my unconscious state. And I don’t consider those dreams to be nightmares, really—especially not in comparison to the reality of giving birth. (Don’t worry; that’s a post you’ll never see.)
And now, early yesterday morning, the dream that woke me with a start, heart pounding? What was it, you ask? I couldn’t find my little boy. In the dream, Todd was driving and made the decision to stop by at a picnic or party or something that we knew was going on. It was night, there were lots of people, I didn’t know most of them, and we all got separated. And I was running from group to group, first saying, “Marcus?” And then, when I didn’t find him, shouting frantically, “Marcus! Marcus, where are you?” When I did finally find him, a stranger called back to me, “He’s fine, he’s over here.” And I was so flooded with absolute relief. And frustration with myself that I’d allowed him out of my sight for even a second. Then, I was suddenly in the present, still feeling the physical effects of the absolute terror the dream had caused. And it was all better, for that moment at least; I listened carefully and I could hear my son breathing his nasally little breaths in the next room. He was safe.
I've dreamed of losing my child several times already; I’m sad to tell you that I suspect I’ll be having this nightmare for a long, long time. And it is, by far, the most frightening of all.