For a long time in my teens, I had nightmares every single night. It got to the point where I could shake most of them off pretty quickly when I woke up, because I was so used to them. I had one recurring nightmare every night for nearly two months, until I wrote it into a short story, pounding it out line by line on my mother’s old (non-electric) typewriter.
(By the way, if anyone knows anyone who could recondition said old typewriter, find me supplies, and retrofit it to look steampunk, let me know.)
A few nightmares stuck with me pretty strongly, though. One in particular still haunts me sometimes. Because it involves people I know, and people some of my readers know, I won’t give all of the details (I once told one other person, who knew all of the people involved very well; she had nightmares that night). This dream occurred when I was about 14 or 15, and all the people in the dream were the correct ages. Essentially, I was trying to protect two younger people from a man we thought had broken into our house during a late-night storm. I sent the two upstairs to hide while I got the sharpest kitchen knife I could find and walked around the lower level of the house trying to find the intruder. I realized, belatedly, that while I had been looking in the living room, the intruder could have gone upstairs after the younger ones. I ran up the stairs, still trying to move stealthily, and went to the room where the younger ones were huddled in a corner, trying not to cry. In a flash of lightning, I saw the silhouette of a larger figure on the floor, just barely hiding underneath a bed. As I leapt at him, I heard him say, “Wait!” in a strained voice. Full of rage and fear, I ignored him and plunged in the knife, over and over, until the figure stopped fighting back. Just then, another flash of lightning lit the room again — this time, prolonged enough that I could see the figure’s face… another person very, very close to all three of us. I looked at the knife, horrified; half the blade was broken off, still stuck somewhere in his torso. He whispered, choking, “I was trying to tell you…” but the rest of the words never came. I sensed movement over my shoulder. I looked back to the doorway. The intruder’s shadow flickered in another lightning burst, a knife in his hands.
I woke up sitting straight up in bed.
I’ve never fully gotten over that one.
In later years, I’ve had other nightmares that seemed to use that one as a sort of construct on which to place my fears. I’ve dreamed several parts of it slightly differently. Sometimes I’m attacking with a blunt object like a baseball bat (which, incidentally, I don’t own). Sometimes it’s not in a house I recognize. Sometimes, there’s nobody there to protect. Sometimes, the person I attack really is an intruder — but there’s a second one that I didn’t know about. Sometimes, I can’t find a weapon and I have to attack with my bare hands, relying more on sheer willpower than on any kind of skill.
Most of the nightmares I had as a teenager I can directly connect to chemical imbalances, including my hypoglycemia. Since I’ve gotten all of that more or less under control, these days it’s just the vagaries of the human mind, I guess.
But when you’re in the role of husband and father, the sense of obligation to protect is even stronger than when you’re just the oldest kid in the house.
The past week or so has been blessedly dreamless. Prior to that, I had a nasty week in which I didn’t even want to go to bed.
I’ve done occasional dream interpretation in the past (generally as a sort of parlor trick, and typically using Freudian tropes; I’m not a huge fan of Jung or of “spirit-based” interpretations… Freud is much more fun, even if I don’t generally believe most of it).
My understanding of this recurring nightmare is that it could be explained a couple of different ways; one is that I believe that I’m going about something (probably related to family) the wrong way and that I subconsiously think my efforts will ultimately lead to some calamity. The other is that I subconsciously would welcome a calamitous event that would free me from the sense of obligation that I have toward family.
Without trying to get too deep into the psychology of love and resentment (and how the best actors and writers have to acknowledge the two are permanently and inherently intertwined even if you aren’t going to specifically represent that in any way other than subtext), what I personally think the dream means is much more simple.
I’m scared of hurting the people I love (or letting them be hurt).
And, really, why wouldn’t I be?