Here’s the sickest part: I knew he would appear in my dream last night.
Listen, I can’t say that the knowledge of his upcoming presence appeared in any way like a linear thought in my mind. It’s not as though I went to sleep with perfectly muted lip-gloss on so I would eventually look all sorts of dewy and pretty for him in my dream state. But when I woke up several hours later and the last few spliced images of my slumbertime fantasy realigned into something resembling a cohesive order in my mind, I almost immediately remembered him standing there, the starring role he’d just played. I might have smiled softly. I most definitely whispered the words “of course” out loud into the emptiness of the night.
Just like with my regular life, there’s far more about my dreams that I forget than I remember. It’s the most heightened of my dreamy incidents that manage to stay with me in some form. At first, those foggy fragments feel like static; only later do they begin to feel like a fraction of a memory. What I recall from last night is this: he was wearing a grey tee I stole from him a few years ago, the one that still smells like him no matter how many times I wash it. I recall his hair looking shorter. I recall still being able to wind my fingers through it as I sat curled up in his lap. I remember there being a plate stacked with oatmeal raisin cookies on my old rectangular coffee table and that he said he’d made them and Dream Me ate one very quickly and then announced that oatmeal raisin cookies are my favorite type of cookie in the whole wide world. I thought about that announcement when I opened my eyes afterwards and Awake Me felt seriously puzzled. While oatmeal raisin cookies are just fine, they are not and they will never be my favorite kind of cookie. There’s no chocolate in a traditional oatmeal raisin cookie and I enjoy a treat that comes with some form of chocolate chunk. My dream declaration, therefore, felt a bit like fraudulence and I chose to concentrate on that part at first – on the fact that apparently I turn into a liar once I reach a REM cycle – and not on the fact that I’d just spent a few nocturnal hours with a man I haven’t seen in a very long time.
I slept really well during the time he and I were together. That’s something unusual for me. Usually I can fall asleep okay but then I can’t stay asleep or I can’t fall asleep at all and I’m awake all night long with the same channel stuck on the TV because I’m afraid that if I move to find the remote, I’ll wake whomever is next to me and there’s a bit of a latent 1950s housewife lodged somewhere deep inside of my psyche and the words she screams over her ever-present vacuum are versions of how badly a man needs his rest. But I did sleep well with him and I slept late with him and he usually woke up smiling. At some point during the morning, I’d crawl back onto his lap because he was just big, at least 6’3”, and sitting on his lap seemed like a very normal thing for me to do because I enjoy cuddling even more than I enjoy double chocolate chip cookies made without oatmeal or raisins.
As for why he was in my dream, well, that part is a bit complicated and it can’t really be empirically proven anyway. Still, I’ve got a hypothesis brewing and my best guess is that a combination of sights and words and sounds occurred in the last two days that resulted in me being shockingly not shocked to see him. There was the moment I flipped my radio over to the Pearl Jam channel and caught the tail end of Porch and I blasted it while shouting the lyrics, the ones I’ve been singing since my last year of high school, the ones I still don’t completely know. (Don’t act like you don’t understand what I mean here. All of us who listen to Pearl Jam sometimes just mumble along as Eddie Vedder growls, like during Yellow Ledbetter when we all spew verbal gibberish and try to remain on key until the line, “And I know and I know…” because that’s the only line that actually sounds clear.) Anyway, the Pearl Jam thing reminded me of the guy and so did the second that occurred this weekend when I was trying to organize my pantry so I could hide the candy I still have that’s leftover from making my students Halloween candy bags – I figure out of sight, out of my thighs! –and I saw the bottle of hot sauce he brought me because he could not fathom how I managed to live in a house without one. There were those four minutes during Pilates last night when I finally mastered how to execute the long spine move and I stayed in that position with my legs straight above my head and suddenly I thought about him, but it was a fleeting thought and it wasn’t one colored by longing. Even in my dream I didn’t feel longing, but I did feel safe.
But right here is the sickest part: I also had two other dreams I remember quite well from the last few days and he wasn’t in either of those. Scurrying grey mice were in one. A possible fetus was is another, but let’s be honest. I’m nothing if not reflective and analytical and I know having a pregnancy dream is way more about recent choices I’ve made to start over and experience a little rebirth of my own than it is about longing for something I’ve never actually longed for. So with that dream’s meaning easily solved, let’s move on to the Mouse Dream. In what I can now only describe as a hellish inferno of a dreamscape, those fuckers darted underneath comforters and out of kitchen and bathroom cabinets and they shimmied underneath doors I tried to lock for purposes of escape. It wasn’t just one mouse and the dream did not end quickly. I recall feeling a sense of disgust and a real sense of urgency in that far-too-vivid dream and I knew there was no way out and I tried in vain to alert everyone that there was an infestation, that we all needed to hide, but the beds I stood on top of to make my declarations were close to the ground and they would slant and lower even further as I shouted that we all needed to prepare for the pain of what was coming. Eventually the mice scurried away and I couldn’t see them, but I knew – I just knew – that if they were once there, they’d surely show up again.
It took a few hours for my heart rate to settle after both dreams. (You don’t stand on sinking beds and scream directives to a crowd of unresponsive people while mice stand up on their hind legs and giggle at your palpable panic without requiring just a bit of a comedown afterwards, you know?) Once I physiologically and mentally returned to normal, however, I was able to really reflect and I decided the dream about the long lost man was probably about nesting while the terrorizing mouse dream involved the act of fleeing. And it is that particular conundrum – that complicated choice of staying or going – that defines me far more than it should. My feelings about that guy and those mice were both intense. Both dreams involved a call to action I wasn’t expecting, kind of like John McClane experienced, but in my case the call hinged on suddenly-visiting old sweethearts and darting mice, not a swarthy terrorist named Hans. Both dreams were almost hallucinatory in their level of detail, perhaps illustrating that I’m way more fecund in a dream state.
But I think what these dreams really have in common is that each incited the kind of emotion I often try to keep cloaked. Most people probably keep their greatest fears hidden in the depths of their mind, an emotional storage facility that strikes me as very normal. Me? I keep the stuff I really don’t want to acknowledge in the way back of my throat. Back there is where I’m pretty sure my fear lives. Maybe that explains why I’m not much of a screamer or why I so often get strep when winter descends.
Listen, I could surely use a patented level of logic here to acknowledge and then conveniently dismiss my recent nightly visions: It’s a brand new year. It was just my birthday. Much as time itself is cycling, so too are my memories and my fears. I could do that. But because it’s a brand new year, I’m making a different choice and it’s to live differently. I think “living differently” means different things to different people at different stages of their life and for me – right now – it maybe means that I should not dismiss the consecutive bits of image and sound my psyche edited together in the way I normally would. I will not simply engage in a moment of self-analysis and then finish the moment with a mere shrug. This time I think I should explore the two opposing factors my dreams reflected, to fully consider what it is about nesting or fleeing that frightens me. (I also think I should make a just-in-case new friend who is an exterminator who specializes in ridding homes of rodents. Just because I’m heading out on some new mind-expanding journey to discover myself for real without being afraid doesn’t mean I want to literally confront my greatest fears in my own kitchen. I’ll never evolve that much, people.) But as I wait for the moment to arrive where I can truly qualify and quantify the epiphany-like mental nightly bombshells I experience in my heady dreams, I think I’ll just turn on some Pearl Jam and pretend I actually know what Eddie Vedder is saying.
Nell Kalter teaches Film and Media at a school in New York. She is the author of the books THAT YEAR and STUDENT, both available on amazon.com in paperback and for your Kindle. Her Twitter is @nell_kalter