Whenever I sleep I have vivid dreams. I’ve had them all my life. Sometimes the dreams are nightmares. The first one I distinctly remember occurred when I was about five years old. I can still recall it – a scene straight out of one of my storybooks. I was walking in a forest of old gnarled trees with heavy limbs and dark leaves and there before me was the very same old man from that very page in my book that often gave me the chills – his craggy, weathered face and exceptionally long beard which reached nearly to the ground. The air was gray, misty and sinister. The old man was hungry but I had nothing to offer and so he opened his mouth – dark and gaping – wide and wider until it became the size of a small cave underneath his bulbous nose. His mouth was so wide open that his chin sat on the ground and his beard spread out before him like a carpet. Somehow his whiskers pulled me onto his beard and I flowed toward his cavernous mouth as if I were on a conveyor belt. I was paralyzed with fear. I entered what had become his utterly enormous mouth, his huge teeth surrounding me like a prison, the roof of his mouth pink and wet over my head, his tongue like a giant red slug undulating below my feet. I continued to be transported to the back of his throat and then I tumbled down, down, down his gullet and into his stomach. I tried to stand but couldn’t find solid ground. The horrid old man was still hungry and as he moved through the forest he came upon a basket of apples that he picked up and poured into his hungry mouth. The large red apples tumbled over each other and along his tongue and down his gullet. I could see them coming toward me and then they began to pelt me – landing on me and all around me. Suddenly my paralysis broke and I was able to scream. I awoke to the soothing voices of my parents.
Dreams seemed to happen every night in my childhood. Sometimes they were fun and sometimes they were wild and chaotic and made no sense whatsoever. Sometimes they made perfect sense while I was in them but trying to relate them to my mother at breakfast they fizzled away like burnt paper and it was impossible to verbalize them. Their former sensibility seemed to vanish in the morning light. Off and on I would experience another frightening dream but they were not usually clear on wakening and quickly vanished from my mind.
When I was in middle school I had the most frightening dream of my life. It was so realistic that I was afraid to be alone for days. In the dream a young girl from out of the Victorian era had come to visit our family. She had black hair done in ringlets and adorned with a sky blue silk ribbon. Her skin was the color of ivory and her eyes matched the sky blue ribbon. She wore a sky blue dress with an eyelet pinafore and pantaloons with layers of ruffles, white stockings and black velvet slippers. My parents told her she could stay in my room for the night. They bid her good night and closed the door. She looked around my room and there on my dresser, leaning against one of my lamps, was an impish figure that looked very much like the puppet character Howdy Doody of television fame – except that he had pointed ears, a wicked smile, and there were no strings operating his movements. One arm was propped lazily against the lamp on my dresser, the other was twirling my favorite gold locket. The little girl tried to open the door to my room but it was locked. She banged on the door and cried. My parents came immediately, opened the door, and she ran into their arms. She pointed to the dresser but the menacing gremlin had disappeared. My parents were going to find another place for our guest to sleep and they moved me back into my room. As soon as the door closed it locked and there on the dresser was the little demon – leaning casually, smiling wickedly, and swinging my locket. There was a sense of impending doom. I ran to the door but it was locked and I couldn’t get out. I banged on the door to no avail. Each time I looked back the room seemed smaller and the impish ghoul a little closer. I sensed that if he touched me something terrible would happen. I was gripped with fear and awoke screaming in terror and would not be comforted. Finally Mama let me crawl into bed beside her. The next day I followed her everywhere and would not be alone in any room. I had found my locket lying next to the lamp on my dresser and was absolutely convinced that I had put it in my jewelry box the night before. So, of course, I was sure the menacing Howdy Doody was hiding somewhere in my room. It was days before I could let it go. I’m sure I drove my poor mother crazy. In later years she would chuckle about it but she was kind enough not to laugh about it during the Howdy Doody reign of terror. A one-time fan of Howdy Doody I no longer felt the same about him. In fact, I could never bring myself to like the once favored character after that terrible encounter – and that feeling extended to any of his other carved face kin. So you can bet that I’ve never watched a single “Chuckie” film! No, siree Bob!
Sometime during high school I experienced another horrific dream that has stayed with me. In the dream it was my birthday and I was having a party in my basement with lots of balloons, streamers, noisemakers, and people. One of the girls in attendance had a headache and I suggested she lie down in my bedroom upstairs while she waited for her parents to come pick her up. As she lay in my room I stood in the hallway bouncing a small rubber ball off the bathroom door. One such bounce went astray and I walked toward my bedroom door to retrieve it when I heard the sound that my mama’s knife makes when it cut into a chicken while preparing it for the fry pan – except I knew this sound was the girl on my bed stabbing herself. Although dreading what I would see I pushed the door slowly open and there on my bed lay the girl – dead eyes staring at me, blood spreading slowly over my bed and soaking the cover and sheets. I screamed for help. Everyone that was downstairs at the party poured upstairs and all around me. They were shocked – some gasping, others crying. And then they were all gone and I was left to sit with the dead girl with the staring eyes until her parents arrived. I didn’t want to be in the room with her but I couldn’t leave. I woke sobbing and I can see that face to this day.
Thank Heaven none of the aforementioned dreams were recurring. Once was certainly enough. However, I have had a dream with a recurring theme. In each dream things happen differently but there are pieces of it that recur. It centers around an old style huge white wood frame house. I can’t gauge the exact style because inside there are rooms connected to rooms connected to rooms with hallways and short corridors everywhere. There are usually several sets of stairs. And always a main room with a fireplace and large mantle. It is not a house familiar to me in real world time. In the dream I seem to roam from room to room. People appear here and there. Sometimes the rooms are empty. The recurring theme is the room with the fireplace and mantle where I always find a paper document that I assume is the deed to the house. At first the document is fine but then I notice a small charred corner as if someone has tried to burn it. Each time I go into the room and see the paper the charred section is larger and after some time the paper is beginning to curl as if it were in a fireplace burning. There is a sense of impending doom. I try to get various people to notice the document. Or I try to get the occupants to leave the house but it’s like herding cats and if I get one person out two more wander in. As the dream progresses the feeling of doom intensifies and the document edges become brown and black and have tiny flames licking out from the underside. I grow increasingly panicked although it is not clear why. It is always a relief to wake up.
I find dreams utterly fascinating and over the years have done a lot of reading about them. The famous psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that dreams are a window into our subconscious and they reveal a person’s unconscious desires, thoughts, and motivations. Dream Psychologist Ian Wallace said, “Dreams are often about identity, because we’re figuring out who we are and what we need, and the beliefs and perspectives we hold. If you feel unfulfilled, undervalued or not the person you want to be in waking life, your dreams will often reflect that.” William Dement, who helped found the field of sleep medicine, suggested that dreams can convey meaningful messages.
Despite the multitude of theories about them I think the truth is folks really don’t know what they are exactly. Is it true that I am really all of the characters in my dreams? Or am I trying to work out some deep psychological something? At times I can see how something from reality has seeped into my dream and my brain is ruminating on it like a cow chewing her cud. Over the years my husband has been a wonderful Dream Interpreter. I will tell him some chaotic dream. He will ponder it for a bit and then offer a suggestion as to what he thinks it’s about. His offerings have always been right on the money and it’s like having someone wipe the fog off a mirror. On other occasions he just shakes his head and says, “you can have the craziest dreams” and I have to laugh and agree with him.
For several years I kept a Dream Journal. It’s hard to do because the trick is to write the dream down the moment you wake up. If you wait any longer they evaporate like fog in sunshine. Some days it just wasn’t possible to capture them but I could usually manage to grasp a theme or image or idea. Mostly they made no sense – just bizarre and ridiculous as usual. But sometimes reading back through the journal I could see something very clearly that I had not been able to make heads or tails of initially.
I have wondered if dreams are us living in a parallel Universe via our spirit rather than our physical bodies. Some folks believe that dreams are messages from our subconscious or from a Higher Plane or the Beyond. I have no idea if this is true but I sure would like to know – especially in regards to the dream I had in which everything happened under water and I was with Lenny Briscoe from the TV series “Law & Order”. We were floating and swimming about totally submerged in very deep water lit from the sunshine high above. Lenny was wearing a trench coat and I was talking easily with him despite the water that swirled about. I have no idea what we were talking about but we swam (or more accurately, we floated) over to an underwater picnic table were we stopped to enjoy a cup of coffee – nothing weird about that at all, right?
I have read that when we sleep we are more connected to the collective unconscious than at any other point during the day. So seeing a stranger in your dreams could be the manifestation of someone’s energy reaching towards you while you sleep – their thoughts are engaging with your energy while you’re asleep. If that is the case, do you think that it was Lenny Briscoe (the character) or Jerry Orbach (the actor) reaching out to me? Then again, I don’t suppose Lenny is really a stranger. I rather think of him as an old friend.
My daddy used to have dreams about flying which he found delightful. When he would report such a dream at the breakfast table his eyes would be dancing with happiness. I must admit that I was always envious of his experience but try as I might I have never had such a thrilling dream. I understand that this is a common type of dream so I am holding out hope that such enchantment will one day happen for me.
Many experts believe that lucid dreams are the rarest type of dreams. Lucid dreaming is when you are conscious that you are dreaming but you continue to dream. Researchers claim that 55% of people experience this type of dream at least one time in their life. Personally, I have had many lucid dreams and find them particularly weird – sort of like Alice falling down the infamous rabbit hole.
The best dream I ever had was a visit from my mama even though she had departed from the physical plane many years before. I was in bed and she stood to the side of my bed and placed her hand gently on my shoulder. Then she crawled into bed with me just as she had done many times when I was a child. She snuggled up next to me and put her arms around me. I could not only feel her love, I could also feel her warm breath on my neck and smell the sweet perfume of her. It was all so real that on waking I was never really sure it was a dream. If it was indeed a dream it is certain I absolutely know its meaning – I miss my mama. Then again perhaps it wasn’t a dream after all.