Have you ever felt haunted by your dreams? I know they serve a purpose, and I suppose they can be looked on as a good thing...but when in such a helpless, transient state as sleep, why would my brain choose to lock itself inside a terrifying prison? Is my subconscious a horror junkie?
I just had a long weekend of home-based food adventures. C and I enjoyed a quiet evening of pasta on Friday, and spent the better part of Saturday walking close to 8 miles, back and forth from our apartment to various stores in preparation for the evening’s festivities. Two different grocery stores; a local wine shop; a large, five-level department store called Manor; the post office; and lastly to Levi’s, to determine my European pant size for Christmas presents. At Manor, we finally pulled the trigger on a six-person Swiss fondue set, the largest addition to our kitchen containing mostly two-person attachments and settings. The box included a black, metal stand that C deemed sufficiently sturdy, a gel burner, plates, skewers, and a bright red ceramic pot decorated with a mix of happy cartoon cows, mountains, and Swiss flags.
At the wine store, I gave my best attempt at asking the clerk what wines would go the best with fondue, a question that made me feel very Swiss. We were directed towards a bottle produced literally five miles down the road. We bought two.
At Globus, our shopping list was: three different kinds of charcuterie (again, all from the next town over), sweet pickled gherkins, merengues, Swiss double cream, fresh raspberries, and a giant loaf of sourdough bread. Finally, we purchased the best fondue mix this side of the Alps, made with both gruyere and vacherin cheeses. We prepared for an epic evening.
What followed was a night of merriment, cheeses, meats, and a variety of high-proof spirits. Eventually, we migrated to my studio, where C and his college friend played 80’s tunes on guitars; and then, sensing the evening drawing to a close, I slap-dashedly improvised a bluesy song on the piano about how it had all been fun, but I was literally about to pass out on the hard, cold floor. They left soon after, inviting us to Lyon sometime soon to return the favor.
I must’ve been about 12 the last time I can remember waking up in a different part of the house from where I’d fallen asleep. I slowly opened my eyes to find the peppered curly shag carpet of my dad’s office on the first floor of our home in Flower Mound, Texas, just level with my eye-line. I then registered the thick partitions between the makeshift mattress I was sleeping on, which turned out to be the three pulled-off cushions of the office couch. My bed upstairs had been stripped, and somehow, in my sleep, I had carried my bedding down to the office and slept there for the rest of the night. By this time, my mom had found me, and from there, I can’t fully recall what happened next. I think she was just relieved it hadn’t been like the other episodes. This one was much tamer.
From when I was a small child to just before my teens, I had “night-terrors”. Essentially, they were intense nightmares with a little sleepwalking mixed in, with an added dollop of hallucination. I remember some of them. The best I can describe them as is the most terrifying version of “Pokémon Go” imaginable. You are fully immersed inside an otherworldly environment, without your phone to buffer you from the twisted new reality. In my night terrors, the cartoons were real, like in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (a movie that probably inspired a terror or two). I don’t know where my parents first heard the term, or if I was ever checked out by anyone. I knew from one hilarious sleepwalking story about my father in his teens that my tendencies probably come from him.
Somewhere, somehow my parents learned that when I bounded into their bedroom at 3 in the morning, hysterical and screaming, they were to instruct me to “go to the bathroom”. It was a command which had the effect of bringing me back to the real world, like reverse hypnosis. Kudos to the strength of their potty training, because rather than go in my bed or right there on the floor, I would immediately walk, zombified, over to their master toilet and sit down. I still remember the cold plastic zinging my bare bottom, piercing the bubble of fear surrounding me. I would stare out into the darkness, realizing that it all wasn’t real. How did I get here? It must’ve happened again.
As the years tick by and my desire to eat baby shoes is growing into a problem for me (why do I want to eat them? It’s so weird), I’ve been thinking more about my parents’ take on things. I wonder how terrified they must have been, all the time, as they raised me. I was their first child. From health scares; to my confusing, artistic decisions; to a sleep disorder with the word ‘terror’ in its name, my mom and dad must have been freaked. out.
I would imagine shadowy figures at my door in the dead of night, or presences coming out of the closet next to my side of the bed. I remember sitting up in a dead sleep, my small body swinging down off of the bed to wander the house, for 15 minutes? 3 hours? One could never be sure. This was in the late 90’s, before affordable cameras could be mounted unseen in bookshelves, the footage replayed at family gatherings. And honestly, I don’t think my parents cared so much about their child wandering the house at night, as terrifying as it is to see a shape at your door (I suppose I was the shadowy figure of my dreams). As far as they were concerned, as long as there was a chime on every door, window, and air vent, they could sleep easy knowing that the situation was contained.
A terror once came from playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for 12 hours straight around the holidays with family visiting. My sister was sleeping in my room. She awoke to me calling out, “I need to bomb the walls. I need to eat the bombs!” Over and over.
The worst one was inspired by a cartoon I had seen at some point; someday I’ll see it again and remember what troubled me. I was very, very deep in sleep when my body began to stir, my heart pounding. I stumbled around the perimeter of my square bedroom. My sheets, like thick vines, twisted more with each time I scrambled across my bed on another lap around the room, moving quicker and quicker. I was running from something. Not realizing I was traveling in circles, I believed I was being chased down an assembly line by a huge spiked press with angry eyes and a rusty, clanging, garbage-disposal mouth. Each pound and crunch of the press slamming itself onto the track rang in my ears, and I called out in a panic. I believed, without a doubt, I was running for my life; I was probably around 10.
My mom burst into the room, shaken out of her own REM cycle, eyes adjusting to the bizarre scene before her. She caught me and calmed me down. When I stopped running, the face on the press, its sharp teeth and grinding mouth passed through me, disappearing instantly. The feeling of dread stayed with me for a long time after.
I am still afraid of the dark, despite nearing the age of 30 and possibly becoming a parent myself someday. I still have awful dreams, those that seep into my marrow and haunt me for days, and I don’t know why. I’m generally pretty happy. I had one last night, in fact, after a Thanksgiving Day dinner I made from scratch and a viewing of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving”. I could’ve done research before writing this to determine why I need them (they’re a cognitive byproduct of the regenerative nature of REM sleep…I think?), but that’s not really what this blog is about. I’m listing reasons why I’m perhaps not the vision of fame that most would think, but how I want to be among the successful in spite of that. Nightmares make me feel helpless; in them I’m forced to face hardship, struggle, even death. But the hardest part of it all for me is the feeling I had so much I wanted to do, but I’ve reached the end of the assembly line and I’m out of time. But then the morning comes, and it all disappears. There is no greater relief than realizing, once again, that you’re not out of time.