Behind The Books: The Nightmares

Me with the dog I wrote about in a dream in Terminal Wake. That is my blue hooded coat that I have mentioned in Dweller On The Boundary and Terminal Wake. Those were my bad luck shoes that I have written about too. This photo was taken on the fireplace in my childhood home on Aviary Hill.

The other night I had a terrible nightmare. I woke up yelling and pushing away this being that was attacking me outside my front door. I was a child at my current residence in Atlanta. I stepped outside, there was a loud bang like a heavy car door and something ran toward me. I crouched down next to the brick entryway to my residence to hide. The being found me, towered over me and jabbed its finger into my forehead. That was when I awoke.

It was the first severe nightmare for me in quite a long time. Nightmares are something I have sporadically as most people do, but normally I wake up without a sound or any physical reaction. This nightmare was that bad and seemingly real. I am a vivid dreamer, I always have been, and when a dream morphs into a nightmare it feels all too real.

I wrote about some of my nightmares as a child in Dweller On The Boundary and Terminal Wake. The nightmares in both books were like most subjects in them, very real. I remember certain nightmares going back to when I was six years old and I wrote about them in the chapter A Brown Christmas in Terminal Wake. The nightmares about the dog and my mother were as I remembered them. I was never able to forget those nightmares just like the rest of them.

I no longer have those childhood nightmares and I never did come to understand some of them.

There is no way to be certain what caused my recent nightmare. It may have been the result of eating too late before bed, stress or any number of causes. I am no expert in nightmares, if such a thing exists. Last week someone that I knew as a child for six years sent me a disturbing message that set off a flashback to a traumatic event from 1984. It was an unexpected message and it upset me for a few days.

Twenty-something years ago I picked up a dream interpretation book at Barnes and Noble. I cannot remember the name of it and I lost the book and many others in a flooded basement I used for storage a few years later. What I remember from it was the standard flimsy interpretations that were likely meaningless. I do not know if dream analysis has any validity, but I tend to doubt it. The causes behind our dreams and nightmares are far more interesting to me than what the actual dreams might mean. What is the mind doing? Sorting through the unnecessary experiences that make up most of our daily existence and determining what to write to our long term memory perhaps? When we remember a dream or nightmare then the mind would be writing to long term memory the sorting function of what to save and discard. It would be a meta memory then?

Some believe that dreams can be predictive. I am not of that camp as I do not believe humans are capable of seeing the future and many are not able to see beyond the end of their own noses. My theory of dreams is that they are malformed collages depicting our present and our past - an experience here that is cut and pasted next to an experience there and that they mean little. The interpretation of that collage is no different than visiting a museum and interpreting the artwork of someone like the artist Ray Johnson (if you have never seen the documentary about him, How To Draw A Bunny, I recommend it). The catalysts behind our dreams and nightmares are more interesting. The spark and what or who lit the match alight that created the forest fire are what interests me.

The dog in the photo above is the one in the dream in Terminal Wake. She was an old dog when we received her from a relative and she lived out her final years on Aviary Hill in peace. She died in her sleep of old age a couple of years after my dream.