Friday, June 23, 2006
This Gentle Night
They say you should record your dreams, though I had nightmare this week that I would surely love to forget.
It was a sneaky bastard, coming to me sometime after dawn, like the milkman, instead of the usual dead of night routine, and it shook me right down to my ankles.
I woke up around 4 AM, feeling fully rested, and decided to get a few hours more sleep before getting up for work. Big mistake.
It seems like the second I closed my eyes I was in the middle of this hell dream. I was on the couch watching as my father slowly collapsed to the floor of our dining room.
In the dream I ran by my late mother, who was sitting on a chair in the living room and did not look up when my dad fell. She was alive and healthy in the dream, and appeared to be watching TV, though I don't recall it being on.
It was like I was running through time, racing through the past, represented by my mother, to my dad lying there on the floor.
I ran over to my father, tried to get him to talk to me, and then I called for an ambulance. Only the phone in the living room didn't work.
Nor does the one in the kitchen, or the one in my bedroom. By the time I reached the third phone I was at the breaking point, and I put my head back and wailed, "what the fuckkkkkkk...!!"
I remember kneeling down beside him, trying to reach the outside world as I tended to my father. I felt so incredibly helpless I just to scream my head off.
I woke up then, sweating despite the air conditioner. That had to be the most vivid nightmare I've had in years.
This dream just didn't sprout of nothingness, of course; nightmares never do. I've been having trouble with my phone for the last few days and I've been forced to rely on the cell.
My dad's health is frail and we had that business earlier in the week where we had to truck him out to the hospital for the colonscopy. I must confess, though, I am a little surprised how it all came back so quickly and powerfully.
My shrink tells me that when you dream, you are everyone and everything in the dream. Applying that theory to this nightmare, then not only am I the son, but I am also the dying father, the-briefly-seen mother; I'm even the broken telephones, an image I could do without.
I told my aunt about the dream the next day and she reminded me that I'll be facing this situation in the near future. At some point, my father is going to need an ambulance and I'll have to keep my cool, even if the phones go out.
I remember having this sort of waking nightmare when I was a kid. My father was in bed with me and I was looking at the window, where I was certain I could see the shape of a man, standing on the inside ledge.
He had no features, everything was obscured by shadows. I was certain he was there and I kept saying "Daddy, there's a man on the ledge," and my father, half-asleep, assured me there wasn't.
I even used that dream in a novel I wrote years ago and never sold. I called him the Window Man, and he foreshadowed the villian's arrival. I may bring him back for a return engagement.
I used to dream a lot more when I was younger. I had a cable movie channel in my head, crammed with weird images and bizarre characters. I often woke up yelling, or my siblings would tell me they heard me shouting in my sleep. I rarely remembered any of the details.
I thought I could handle the film version of The Exorcist but the thing had a delayed reaction on my nervous system and wound up costing me a night's sleep.
I had enjoyed the book and so when the picture came out my mother and I went to the old Fortway Theater to see it. My mom loved horror movies, but she was more old school; Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, that crew. She was not prepared for the twisting heads, flying pea soup, and assorted mayhem that went on during this flick.
Sweet Dreams of Made of This
When the movie ended my mother was so drained by what she had seen, I literally had to lift her of the seat and lead up the aisle of the theater. People coming in for the next show stopped dead in their tracks and stared my mother, clearly wondering, what the hell kind of movie am I going to see?
I later joked that I should have struck a deal with the manager, where I walked my mother around the theater a few times to draw in more customers. Of course, that might have driven them away instead.
When I got my mother into the house, she stood in the kitchen and loudly declared, "I am a shadow of my former self!"
Eventually my mother calmed down and we all went to bed. Then I get the brilliant idea of digging up the novel and re-reading parts of it and comparing them with the movie. Oh, that did it. I gradually realized I had a right proper job of scaring the living crap out of myself.
In the horror story pantheon, I find demonic possession particularly frightening. The idea of myself or someone I love being taken by an evil spirit, forced to do horrible things, just terrifies me.
You can't just drive a stake through their hearts, like Dracula, because you wind up killing your loved one while the demon escaped. I worry about the important stuff, don't I?
I lay in the top bunk of the bed I shared with my brother, unable to sleep a wink. I got my radio, put it up against my ear and listened to some soft-spoken late night host spread good thoughts. He said if you were feeling blue, you should call out someone's name and say, "share with me this gentle night." And he said often that person will come to you in the real world.
Yes, it sounds touchy-feely, but I was such a basket case that night I would have done anything to shake the fear that gripped me. So I said the name of this girl who had broken up with me, who had done me wrong, who had only gone out with me because she had a crush on my then-best friend, a no-good lowlife in his own right.
But I thought I was in love and I missed her, so I whispered "Mary, share with me this gentle night." I did it a few times, and I gradually fell asleep. When I woke up the world had gone back to it's usual mundane self and I had to go to school. I never heard from Mary and I can't say I'm sorry, but she, or at least my image of her, got me through those awful dark hours.
The Exorcist came out, oh, sweet Jesus, 33 years ago. I guess Mary is married with kids of her own, long out of my life and that's the way I want it. She was a lot like the Window Man, a figment of my imagination.
I have real concerns in my life and I can't wallow in the past. But the power of nightmares can be scarier than anything Hollywood ever cooked up.