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wave

The finality and sheer volume of the moving water column underlies all of the dreams: a sense of suffocating inevitability smeared with an animal fear. But the circumstances are varied, concocted by an invasive fancy of a fixated mind.

We may be building sand castles. The whoosh-whish of the coastal wind shimmies the pebbles, dry reeds slither down the dunes and the sun bakes at high noon. Our naked backs are turned towards the water and then the seagull soundtrack stops, the shadow of the wall climbs gingerly over our toasted shoulders…we see it mount the ramparts of the castle. Before we have a chance to turn we feel it crushing down on the chaise-longues, plastic neon-green buckets, sunscreen lotions and bathers, and us of course. I gasp for air and jolt up in bed, coarse grains of sand in my mouth, tasting still the saltiness…

Or: I am in Estonia on the Gulf of Finland with my grandparents. Happy feelings as I clamber, hand over foot, carefully up the gnarled pine. Sticky sap leaves black stains on palm and knee, a soft breeze murmurs sweet nothings and bits of hair tickle the nape. Finally up high enough, I turn to look out to the sea and…the sea is standing. I utter a chocked “Ah!” and then the wall collapses over me, my grandparents, the stand-in chaise-lonuges and beach umbrellas. We all a-jumble are rushing with the water down a tremendous slope, and when we hit the bottom…

Or: I am in the city and it’s Independence Day, the movie. I am in the movie and the water comes as seen from a chopping helicopter. Velcroed to the road I tear a leg off and make an awkward, wide step away, then another. Then the water comes and I wake in a cold sweat, wrestling the tangled sheets and half-hanging off the bed, suspended by an unnatural balancing scheme.

These dreams started coming as I was coming of age: 14, 15, 16. I don’t remember that they started, only that it felt like I’ve had them for a long time. Before, I loved the ocean, frolicked fearlessly in the waves but now even the thoughts nauseated me.  Why? It was a mystery.

The pieces begin to fit together after Papa recalled, quite accidentally, an incident we had when I was maybe ten. We were on a beach in Massachusetts, Papa and I holding hands and diving into the waves while the rest of the family basked. An especially strong wave wrenched my hand from Papa and I tumbled dryer-style with the breaking wave, lost to him as he frantically searched the waters. Sure, within a minute I got footing and stood up and the swimming continued, but dad was shaken. For years he had recurring memories of that event, blaming himself for not holding tighter, for putting me in danger. I forgot the incident completely until he brought it up in my twenties.

Memory believe before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Kinship, genetics, unconsciously mumbled words – what is it that passes our fears to our children? The pieces are coming together and falling apart, oscillations of a pendulum, an optical illusion going in and out of focus. Dreams bring up the forgotten, the buried. But even – that buried by our parents.

In conversation with my ten-year old daughter we stumble upon night-time dreams. She shares that her scariest ones have to do with water. She dreams of tsunamis hundreds of feet high, crashing upon civilization. That interminable liquid wall, crushing her and everything around her. An excellent swimmer, always at ease in the pool, the lake, the river, the ocean, where did she learn to fear the wave? How did she know it was scary? Who told  her…?

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Photograph by Liza Evans

When you work at night, sleeping schedules shift, lines between dream and wakefulness blur into one hazy continuum. After, you never quite know what happened, whether it really did or not.

Some time ago I was working with Russian EVA specialists who were visiting at the Mission Control Center to support a space walk. We’d sit for many hours in that gray, windowless building, straining painfully to understand conversations coming through the static of outer space. Mostly this happened at night, though in that building, you could never tell.

It was on one such night that I decided to stretch my limbs and go for a stroll. I made my way out of the logically elusive structure and into the damp, warm night air of a Houston summer. The earth’s guttural breath caressed me out of the harsh, rough sensations of the building, and lured me towards the green space in the middle of the space center complex.

There, a thick mist was lazing out of the lake, expanding in all directions, reaching out to me. I walked slowly towards the green, half-asleep, relishing the living sounds and sensations of the outdoors. Suddenly, a deer appeared out of the mist, head first. I could see his elaborate antlers and the hooves, submerged in grass. He glanced at me briefly, then turned his attention back to the reflective glass windows of the building he was standing next to.

I was awed by his pensive, slow gaze as he contemplated what I thought was his own reflection in the glass. For a while, we stood still. I – breathing in the moist magic of night, he – thinking his own existential thoughts while peering into the window. Eventually I yawned and he slowly backed into the mist, disappearing from view.

Intrigued, I walked towards the building and noticed, to my great surprise, a stuffed deer head, standing on the inside windowsill, clearly visible through the glass. I marveled at the intelligence of my deer, who had been looking not at his own reflection, but at the head of his fellow ungulate, immortalized and graceful, contemplating life and death, and the fate that awaits us all. “Imagine that…” I mumbled to myself, and turned back towards the mission control center and the stifling cold.

A while later we were walking with a couple of friends in that same part of the center. It was a bright, cheerful day, and I recalled to them my strange encounter with the deer. I timed the story just so, hoping to get to the punch line at the exact moment we would pass the window with the stuffed head. It would have been perfect, except the deer head was no longer there.

Several times I walked the entire length of the glass wall, looking for it, but it was not to be found. In fact, I could not even find the windowsill where it might have been placed…

Dream

The last few days I was on a very random sleeping schedule as a result of working many night hours. And so today, when I collapsed into bed at 9:30 in the morning, my over-stimulated, sleep deprived brain birthed the following dream…

I wake up and sleepily roll out of bed. It is about 11am, I am fumbling around in my room, only pj pants and a thread-bare wife-beater on, when in burst Gri. He is excited and proud, and he holds by the shoulders in front of him a man of average height, light-skinned and sandy-stubbled, with a trilby hat covering his pale hazel eyes. “Look at her! Isn’t she lovely!” he exclaims gleefully. The man looks at me calmly, smiling with his eyes. “I don’t even have a bra on!” I murmur embarrassedly to Grisha and shove past them into the bathroom, trying to cover the outlines clearly showing underneath the tank.

When I come out, dressed and slightly irritated at my partner’s lack of tact, he is happily peering into a pot of something gurgling on the stove while his friend wanders aimlessly through the house, picking up objects, touching things, sniffing. I am shocked to notice that Grisha is not wearing any pants. No pants whatsoever. I rush up to him and in a hushed voice hiss, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!?! Why did you take your pants off??!!”

“Oh, it’s a tradition of ours,” he replies, “When he comes over we always walk around without our pants. It’s freer that way!”

“But what about his wife?! She’s gonna come any minute now, and this is totally unacceptable!” I am incredulous. This is so absurd. I literally take and shove him into the bathroom, telling him that I’m not letting him out until he gets decent. As I’m guarding the door, I hear noise in my bedroom. Coming into it, I see the man and a woman, with full, strawberry blond curly hair below her shoulders, standing in the middle. They have moved my bed and rearranged all of my furniture, and at their feet lies a pile of broken picture frames and photographs that were just in them, hanging on my walls. I am speechless and so they explain matter-of-factly, “We thought you should try something different. It’s a better look, don’t you think?”

“These are the guests from hell!!!” I think. I start hyperventilating because I have a special affinity for pictures, a peculiar sort of attachment to them. Mustering my last bit of courtesy, I ask the woman, “Who are you?”

She looks casually at the man, smiles evasively and says, “Oh, I’m a friend…”

Somehow I realize that she just showed herself inside our house, and get the feeling that Grisha, who’s come out of the bathroom, is also quite surprised to see her. She is someone from his past, but not the proper friend’s wife we were expecting, nor the man’s girlfriend. Quite bewildered, we show our guests back to the living room and there, right in the middle of the room, we discover a huge monster truck, standing with mud dripping off its wheels and its hood scratching our ceiling. “I couldn’t find any place to park” the man says unapologetically. Grisha and I telepathically share the understanding that they must have knocked down our whole garage wall to get the thing inside.

I take Gri to the side and, now in full panic mode, tell him that we have to get these people out of here RIGHT NOW, while we still have a roof over our heads. He isn’t willing to do it though, explaining that the man’s an old friend and that it would be rude. “Let’s just let them hang out for a while longer” he suggests as I glance over his shoulder and see that now we have four guests instead of two. The newcomers are both children, of different ages and degrees of haphazard messiness. One takes me by the hand and leads me outside into my little garden. Long hours I spent there nursing my dill, cucumbers, tomatoes and zennias. But now, everything has been dug out and replanted according to height in one long row. The child is delighted with her creation. I feel like this is more than I can take and stumble blindly back into the garage.

And so the day continues. Eventually four more children appear, as if they belong there, and each gets busily to work. One plays in the kitchen, another plants huge globs of oil paint unto my almost-finished painting, suggesting that it looks better this way. Their connections with each other and the two parent figures are not clear. In fact, it’s a pretty even spread from the 30-year old thoughtful, quizzical man, down to a two-year old rambunctious munchkin. Some sit reading (pulling out of the shelves) all of our books, others wash a long-haired mutt who weaves in and out of the picture in our dining room. A couple others want me to play with them, to run around with them and pretend that I am a dragon. And at some point I just give in.

The sinking sun catches glimpses of me chasing two of the smaller kids across puddles in the backyard, hunched over like a monster and growling in exaggeration. Grisha is talking with the man and the woman, bits of dialogue float past me, “So what is it you do, exactly?” “Oh, I sell money.” The woman responds. “I borrow it from Mortar (evidently a special lending company) and sell it for more…” I come up and chime in, “But why are people buying it from you?? Why can’t they just get it from Mortar for cheaper?” She shrugs, “I dunno. Guess they ain’t very smart” she drawls with a southern accent. “Well, it’s probably time we be headin’ back” the man says softly and glances at me from beneath the rim. “Yes. It’s been awful nice…” the woman adds and disappears into the already moving van. Most of the children are sitting there too, and I catch up to it with the last two, who were chasing me in an exciting game of tag. The van pulls away slowly, and I run after it, feeling unusually light.

I realize that something magical happened today, and in my last attempt to make order of things, I yell after them, “Who are you guys? What do you do??” A girl of about ten, with wavy, flowing hair, pulls a little out of the gently moving van and responds softly, “We just visit people, is all….”

Losing speed, I come to a halt and watch as the van turns into a small street I have never noticed. It slows at a house and one of the kids jumps out, waves a goodbye and heads home. Several houses further, it slows again and another kid nimbly crawls out an open window and skips towards his house. The van is too far away now to see clearly, but I somehow intuit that the man and the woman are the last two left. The darkness brings a haze that envelops the van, and it’s gone.

I turn around and start walking home. Unconsciously I pick up speed, and before I know it I am flying across ditches and driveways, running as fast as I can, feeling as if a thousand weights have been lifted. I realize that these mysterious people came to me to rescue me from the multitudes of complexes which oppress me. Overwhelmed by tremendous relief and gratitude, I rushed home to start a new life. I was finally free.

There are a lot of fishes in there!

When my father was a little boy he had an aquarium. It seems that he had one for most of his childhood and adolescence, caring for fish, observing them and studying them, enjoying their dreamy, kaleidoscopic presence in his life. But from the time he got married to Mom to a few years ago, we did not have fish.

Growing up we had hamsters, birds, a guinea pig, and more recently, cats. But for some reason, Dad’s piscine dream was never realized. A couple of years ago Dad turned 50, and I wanted to do something special for his birthday, because dreams get tired if they are not realized for too long. So. First order of business was to get both of my siblings involved to provide technical assistance and financial resources in Operation Ichthy.

Then we did some research on craigslist, called around, found what we needed a mere hour’s drive away, on the other side of San Diego, and headed out. I felt a bit silly driving in our silver minivan, two kids in tow, with my $50, down towards the Mexican border to pick up a fish tank. We probably spent half that sum for the gas alone. Anyway, to make the story short, we brought the goods back home and while Dad was out shopping for party gear (you know, the usual: disco ball, strobe lights, fog machine… I’m not even kidding) attempted to arrange everything behind the Christmas Tree. Surprisingly, the tree was furry enough and the concept of an aquarium hiding behind it so unexpected, that nobody noticed it there.

Then I planned a little treasure hunt for Dad to follow clues and get to the Christmas Tree for his present. He had no idea what was coming, so he followed the clues, guessed the riddles, and finally…peeked behind the tree! It was so exciting to see him genuinely glad and surprised to find that aquarium, filled, lighted, with little red fishes swimming in it! More importantly, it was gladdening to see this little project to the end because it signified the realization of a major dream.

Driving to the San Diego airport at 5 in the morning with Dad and Mr. Fatty Pants, I feel profoundly exhausted, exhilarated for no reason, and seeped in an altered state of consciousness. Memories, thoughts, dreams, dreads all mingle and nausea takes the wheel as I recall not for the last time that vacation is over, and that what I am returning to is a dilapidated, raw, and overbearing marriage situation in Houston. And of course the merciless heat.

There is too much to say, and so Dad and I are silent. Then he tells me about a dream that he had.

“I had a dream last night about altered reality. You know, the kind of dream where you don’t know what is real and what is a dream, and if it IS real, whose reality it is?…In the beginning of the dream we were living our life, I was working, doing research, and then suddenly I was called to service. To serve in the armed forces, that is. Well I went and before I could start there were several tests that I had to pass. There was one particular test that everyone spoke of with an eerie distaste. From the name of it I couldn’t understand why those who had gone through it were so unwilling to talk. But then one of the soldiers explained. What happened is that a rope, like a bungee cord, was tied around your feet, and you were supposed to jump down, head first. Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, I told the soldier. He looked at me strangely and replied, “The catch is that you have to jump down into a dark pipe. You don’t know how long you fall before the rope straightens out. And then they have you hang there for a while…”. “How long?” I asked. “With each person it’s different. However long you last…”

Last thing I remember from that dream – I was peering at all of the soldiers sitting around, playing cards and laughing as if they were having the time of their lives. And I was looking at them, hard, trying to figure out what is it in them that makes them survive – that allows them to withstand that test…”

Dad falls silent. We’ve almost reached the airport and the weepy feeling of nausea has escalated to where I can hardly speak. I gulp down, process the information he just shared, and, feeling a bit confused, ask, “How is that dream related to altered reality?”

“Well simple. It’s as if you’re living your life, thinking you are in control, living out the decisions you yourself once made. And then suddenly you find that you were wrong. You are not in control. And you don’t know who is. Or how long you’ll be falling…”

Yeah, I think, you can say that again.

Then a strange twist of fate, or chance, or mercy…and we miss our flight. We are just a few minutes too late. As if in a trance Dad walks Mr. Fatty Pants and me out of the airport and back to the car. And now we are driving again.

I recall an episode from a few years ago and tell Dad.

“Remember when I worked at the UCSD library? That first fall of college, my boss and her family had flown to Boston on vacation, and when she returned, a few weeks later, I greeted her at work and asked her how her vacation was. She looked quite ill and told me that it was terrible; that the day they were supposed to get on the plane and fly home she got really sick. So sick that they ended up having to cancel their flight and take a different one a few days later…”I’m sorry..”, I told her, “But besides that last day, was everything else good?” She looked at me kind of funny and kind of alarmed. “Well, Anya” she said, “That flight that we were supposed to take from Boston…it crashed in Pennsylvania…”

I can’t go on and there was no need to. There is no place for words. Of course, how could I forget that sunny morning on the 11th of September…

And so we drive home. Me – filled with a sense of discombobulated relief, a haunting premonition, and something akin to joy. The sun-scorched, golden hills are bathed in morning light, and a raspy voice whispers in my soul: with each person it’s different…however long you last…

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