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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

I want to talk about dreams.

But not dreams, nightmares. And not the more mild version, “bad dreams,” but straight-up monster-under-the-bed type of stuff.

Bad dreams mean something stressful is happening, which can be anything. Nightmares means something bad is happening, which is usually nothing. Just like, a door. If there is an open door, it is terrifying.

I’m not going to talk about my dreams because listening to someone talk about their dreams is the most boring thing in the world. I mean, they seem utterly fascinating to me, but nobody wants to hear about the castle, with the stone, and my parents were there, and the window.

Not even if it made sense.

But I do want to talk about nightmares. I had one last night, or I must have, because I woke up trying to yell in that way where your voice comes out more like a moo.

I wonder, are some people actually able to scream in their sleep? I never can. I want to, but always the moo.

I mooed Ralph awake last night, and he shook me out of it. He usually asks what were you dreaming and I usually say I have no idea. I’m just “randomly scared of something.”

The thing about nightmares is that they are usually not of anything that is actually frightening.

For example, I once dreamed I was trying to escape being shot and killed. You’d think that would be terrifying, but it was not. It was just a dream.

But doors?

Don’t put a door into my head while I’m sleeping, because it will terrify me every time.

Somehow the door is always unlocked, or slightly ajar, and I just know that that’s a bad thing. Unless I can close or lock the door, it will be very, very awful. In what way? No idea.

I know from years of telling people my boring dreams and listening to them tell me theirs that I am not alone. Which makes you wonder, how did our brains evolve to be afraid of the terrifying nothingness in our heads?

I do remember my very first nightmare. I don’t remember how old I was, but it had to be younger that 9, because we were living in our Bronx apartment. Our landlords owned a farm somewhere “upstate”, or so I’d been told. I had never seen this farm or any evidence of this farm, unless a scarecrow on a hay bale outside the front door in the fall counts.

But I did have a nightmare about it. In the nightmare, a cow was coming toward me, very slowly at cow-speed, and I was cornered in our apartment. The end.

I’ll tell you, that real-cow mooing, not just the kind of moo you make when you’re trying to yell, was absolutely blood-curdling. At any rate, it made enough of an impression that I still remember it nearly 5 decades later.

I had a recurring nightmare as a kid that my cousin and I were trapped in a tunnel under the cash registers at Grand Union. Forget the ridiculousness of that for a second, and wonder more about the “recurring” part. What did a grocery store cash register ever do to me? Why did my brain land on that and decide, this is the thing I will roll over and over each night after dark?

In some of variations, we had to rescue kittens.

I had never owned a cat. Nor had my cousin.

This wasn’t just a dream, this was a recurring reason to never want to sleep again.

Sometimes I dream of tsunamis. These are also recurring dreams, though I tend to think they are just mental manifestations of the way my brain is constantly crashing over itself. They’re not pleasant dreams, but they’re not scary, either. Not like a nightmare.

But doors.

Don’t even with doors.

As an adult, I suddenly developed this skill for manifesting nightmares in the real world. In college, I dream-saw something in my room and woke up in such a state of terror that I sprinted/leapt/fell down three flights of stairs in my nightgown into the security guard’s room where I stood staring at him like a wild maniac, unable to form a sentence about the thing in my room.

There were buzzers in his room so that when we had visitors, we could be buzzed down to collect them. I decided that I would buzz the thing out of my room and began frantically pressing it.

I don’t know what the security guard thought but he literally just stared at me and said nothing. I was not even drunk but he could be forgiven for thinking I was. My brain was, anyway, on adrenaline and fear.

I realized eventually that none of it was real and went back upstairs. But it didn’t stop me from carefully peeking into the room to check that it was empty before returning inside.

And it didn’t stop me from having more of those types of nightmares.

Once, it was a set of stairs. You know the metal kind that are on wheels that they use in a warehouse to get stuff on high shelves? That kind of stairs. They appeared in my room and they were hair-raisingly menacing.

I jumped out of bed and skirted around them then tore downstairs to where Kevin was watching TV and told him about the stairs. He came up and pushed them out for me.

My hands were shaking too much to help.

The last time I had a nightmare like that, we were in Paris. I was sleeping peacefully when the ceiling fan got evil and started descending toward the bed to try to cut me up into little pieces. I threw my pillow at it, which seemed to help.

At least you can kind of imagine the threat of being chopped into little pieces by a ceiling fan. You’ve seen stuff like that in movies, usually in the form of an airplane propeller or a giant whirring thing in a spaceship that you have to jump through for reasons of plot.

But stairs and doors?

Nobody ever opens the door. It doesn’t swing open suddenly or bang shut. I’ve never tried to go through it or wondered what was on the other side of it. It just exists, threatening.

I’ve never had a good dream about a door.

For the sake of science, I Googled doors in nightmares. It’s all silliness. An open door, they tell me, symbolizes opportunity and transition.

Bzzzt! The door just wants to eat me.

If a door is open and you can’t close or lock it, they tell me, it represents feeling vulnerable.

Yeah, to being eaten by a door.

I’m probably setting my subconscious up for some bad juju tonight, but I couldn’t help it. Dreams and their evil counterparts always fascinate me, because it just goes to show what your brain can do when you’re not looking. That’s scary enough all by itself.

Fortunately for Ralph, I have never had a dream manifest in the real world while we’ve been together. And I don’t want to start now so I’m going to think about fluffy bunnies and buttered biscuits for a while. But not kittens, because then I might end up trapped under a cash register again and it will probably be right next to a door.

Photo: Ash, doing his best impression of me hiding from a door.