Among the many reasons to dislike chronic sleep deprivation is the infrequency of my dreams.
My dreams and I are friends.
I dream in color – color that is sometimes so vivid it seems to glow. Sometimes I am myself in dreams, but often I am not. I may inhabit the body of the dream’s protagonist, without a memory of my waking life, immersed in their ongoing story. I can be female or male or no discernible gender. Sometimes I’ll be looking out at the dream through the eyes of the protagonist and sometimes I’m simply watching the action unfold as if the dream were a cinematic.
My dreams aren’t usually abstract in nature, instead they function as a story with a narrative flow. They may take place in locations I recognize but more often I’m in a location I don’t remember having seen in waking life. Sometimes I’ll see the same unknown location consecutively.
I don’t usually fly in dreams, but I am sometimes able to run until I lift free of the ground. It’s quite a silly visual, running through the air like that, but feels amazing when it happens. Sometimes my movements on the ground have been slowed, as if the air became molasses, making it difficult to flee from danger.
The first time I remember being slowed in such a fashion was around the age of 10 or 11, pre-puberty, and I dreamed that a prince wanted to marry me. I most certainly did NOT want to marry this prince, and so I tried to run away from him and found that my legs were making the motion of running but moving very, very slowly, and I knew if the prince caught up to me that I would have to marry him, and I was panicked over that.
Puberty would alter the landscape of my dreams. Several years later I’d dream I was a young woman with an older sister, and we found our way into fairy land, where I fell in love with a fairy prince that only had eyes for my older sister, who was not even in love with him. I would remember the stinging ache of that feeling of unrequited love for many years after.
There have been several recurring themes in my dreams: threat to loved ones, loss of loved ones, rejection or betrayal by lovers, my betrayal of lovers, being chased or otherwise threatened, failure, embarrassment. I would assume these are common themes for many other people as well.
After my little brother was born when I was aged 12, I often babysat him, having discovered to my surprise that I loved this ugly wrinkled red thing. When he was a toddler I had a dream that my mom, sisters and I had taken him to the beach, where he disappeared. We searched, frantically, until I saw something bobbing in the gentle waves and felt overwhelmed by shattering grief – the intensity of that response was more than my brain was prepared for, and when I approached the thing bobbing in the water it turned out to be a wooden puppet made to resemble my brother.
In another instance, I discovered my little brother had been kidnapped by rednecks, armed with rifles and holding him hostage in the upper floor of a little folly-style wooden tower. In a feeling of rage that swept aside fear I ascended the tower, yanked a rifle away from one of the kidnappers and shot him, point-blank – and missed. Failure.
A more hilarious twist on loss and grief was the dream I had after my oldest son was born, in which I was a woman married to Bruce Wayne aka Batman. We had a child. Then he discovered the criminal past I’d kept secret from him, and threw me out of Wayne Manor, keeping our child. I remember clinging to the bars of the fence surrounding the manor, awash with grief over the loss of both my love and my child.
Dreams involving lovers ranged from simple sex dreams to a narrative in which I was engaged to one man, someone I knew in real life, and cheating on him… with the man I was dating in real life (who would go on to become my husband). Later I had a dream in which I was convinced my husband was cheating on me with one male friend, only to find out he was actually cheating on me with another male friend.
Sometimes in the middle of a sex dream in which I had no memory of a life existing outside the dream world, I’d suddenly remember who I was and that I was married, and realize the person I was having sex with was not my husband. Later, after we were up to 4 children and had discovered the difficulties of sustaining a love life with young children in the house, I’d have dreams that my husband and I were trying to have sex but getting constantly interrupted.
I’ve been dead in dreams. I had one in which I found myself walking along a road cutting through a hill, with sparse tropical foliage, and saw a van that looked like mine askew off the side of the road. As I approached I began to feel a sense of building dread, and discovered, when I looked inside the van, that my body was there. That dream became an instant favorite of mine upon waking.
In another dream I was being chased, and had been unable to shake my pursuers. I pulled one of those long, slim florescent bulbs from the ceiling, broke it, and plunged the jagged end of it into my heart – because I knew I would respawn somewhere safe from my pursuers. (Why yes, I am a gamer.)
There have been, of course, plenty of embarrassing dreams, many of them involving the cliche of missing articles of clothing, or discovering that I’m using the toilet in the presence of other people. These are frustrating while occurring but generally good for a laugh after waking up.
Somewhere along the way I noticed my brain had developed some confidence – I had a dream in which a loved one was threatened, I took violent action to protect them – and succeeded. It was such a surprise to me that all I can really remember is the surprise of success, not the details of how that success was achieved, or even which loved one was in danger.
The crowning achievement of my dreams, though, has been reading. Somewhere in childhood I read that people are unable to read in dreams, and as if to prove them wrong, I had a dream some nights later in which I looked up at a theater-style marquee and saw the word ABORT written in big black letters. I’ve had at least a couple of other dreams since then that involved text, where I recognized the letters and understood the text, and if that’s not reading it certainly seems close enough.
I’ve had many different story ideas have their origin in a dream. I wasn’t good about making notes of these ideas when they occurred, though, so most of them have been lost over the years.
In recent years, though, my dreams occur much more rarely. Most nights I can’t remember dreaming at all. Sometimes I can remember that I was dreaming, but I can’t remember the details of the dream. It’s a depressing change, and one I hope to see corrected eventually, if my efforts to change our bedroom routine and sleep schedule work out.
I miss my dreams.