. . . Behold It Was A Dream*

I remember my dreams. They are graphic, detailed, and often disruptive. I take them seriously; not in any predictive way, but rather as expressions of past experiences.

My husband, Ed, on the other hand, never remembers dreaming. Now and then, he twitches and yelps in his sleep, and I wake him because he seems frightened. But his recall is locked away in an emotional warehouse and the key is nowhere to be found.

Theories about dreams and dreaming abound, but no general accord exists, at least among the professionals (Hmmm – read this:  www.psych.ucsc.edu/dreams/Library/purpose.html ). A lack of consensus, though, about the meaning of dreams or their meaninglessness, doesn’t stop Ed and me from discussing them. Both of us believe that my dreams are pieces of days gone by, especially those that take the form of nightmares.  Strange as it may seem, I like them around. I can’t speak for my husband but they give me back, for a brief moment, some of what I’ve lost, and what I’m afraid of losing again.

And so, without intent, I shaped my nightmares into autobiographical stories that I can live with. And with intent, I began to categorize them, not as pure science but merely as observations.

My nightmares vary in substance as well as classification, and I’ve identified, to date, three types: A) the cinematic, scream-inducing nightmare, B) the reality-based, rational-appearing nightmare, and C) the senseless, hallucinogenic nightmare.

I classified my first memory-sticking nightmare as type A). One Saturday as a nine-year-old in Bridgeport, CT, my grandmother and I walked one block down Charles Street to the Rialto Theater to see – for the admission price of eleven cents – serials, cartoons, previews, and a full-length movie, the Cat People. Oh, what an afternoon that was!

Cat People centered on humans whose looks and movements resembled large, fierce cats. They leaped in the air gracefully but ominously, and jumped from rooftop to rooftop prowling the night when all was quiet. After that, I dreamt for weeks about huge, deadly cats bounding across our flat apartment house roof. Those dreams terrorized me and I would hide in the bedroom closet if left alone for even a few moments. I now believe that the death of my mother, and her shocking disappearance from my life a month or so before that movie, was responsible for my extreme reaction.

By 1982, my active inventory of nightmares no longer included the Cat People. As a result, when a film loosely based on the original came to town, I told my husband, with much bravura, that I wanted to see it. “It would be an academic experiment in the comparison of nightmare-inducing events,” I said. He said, “NO.” His reasoning? He slept with me nightly and had felt the effects of my scary dreams. End of the scholarly analysis and most thoughts about  Cat People.

Type B) is described in a post on my blog www.suzannbgoldstein.com/blog  titled Nightmares, Anyone? That dream, a desperate and often fruitless search for a small child, recurs once every few months but I have no desire to repeat all the details – they remain clear in my head – so please, take a look at the post.

Type C) highlighted an hallucinogenic blimp that hovered over my head silently in the dark night air and looked something like the Hindenburg, the blimp destroyed by an explosion in 1937. My blimp, though, was rounder in shape and had vividly-colored, flashing lights dotting its sides. Innocuous and at the same time sinister, the horror generated by this illusion was very real. But that’s the point of nightmares, isn’t it?

The dream – terrifying in its simplicity and focus – drove me, scrambling and moaning, to the other side of the bed and onto the floor, forgetting that my sleeping husband was in my path. The suddenness of my body thumping on top of his in the middle of the night created a short-lived but tangible panic. He too vaulted out of bed, hollering “WHAT? WHAT?” while I fumbled for the light switch. As soon as bright light flooded the room, the blimp disappeared.

It took several months before someone suggested that these Type C) nightmares might be related to a pain medication I was taking. I stopped the pills immediately – I don’t advise anyone to do that – even though I was told to reduce the amount slowly.

The blimp receded gradually, and vanished, I imagine, into outer space, allowing both Ed and me to fall asleep with only minor trepidation. My darling husband soon decided he needn’t bother his head about dreams. Mine were vivid enough for the two of us, and thus, in nutty fashion, functional for one as well as the other.

I continue to dream often. On occasion, my nights are filled with Type A) film-generated nightmares that grab at my efforts to sleep. Type C) dreams are hopefully gone. I will be very careful about all future medications.

Mostly though, my sleep is scattered with Type B) nightmares that follow me through my daylight hours. I know who I’m searching for. I have always known. But now, instead of one child, I search those long, narrow hallways for two, as traces of my past slip soundlessly into my nights.

That’s okay with me. These are my stories.  And they’re my way.

*Bunyon, John. 1628-1688. “So I awoke, and behold it was a
dream.” (The Pilgrim’s Progress 1678)

If my essay, . . . BEHOLD IT WAS A DREAM*, has touched you in some way, please check the comment box below and let me know your thoughts.

Editor: Edwin C. Goldstein