Lifetimes Ago

Ever since I’d woken up from that dream, I’d felt like years and years had passed.  I dropped by to see people I knew, and it seemed like they were in completely different places in their lives.  My brother’s ex-wife even greeted me warmly at her door, old grudges all forgotten.  She cooked breakfast for a houseful of guests.  They all sat around the kitchen laughing over eggs.  Who were these people?  It was the same with everyone else.  Old friends were all doing new things, working new jobs, telling unfamiliar jokes, stressed over different problems.  I felt adrift, disconnected, alienated from the people around me.  I blinked my sleepy eyes.  All of this overnight?

I chalked it all up to the epic span of the dream itself.  It was that sense that a whole lifetime had passed in my sleep.  I’d only dreamt that years had gone by, and that feeling had resonated upon waking.  I tried to explain all this to my family as they sat around on sunken couches in my grandmother’s living room on Christmas afternoon, the garland wound around the bannister, the lights strung along the wood paneling.  My brother sat at a table and nodded over a glass of eggnog, but I could see that none of them really understood what I was saying or how strange it all felt.  It was just a dream.  How could a mere dream throw someone so out of sync?

I figured that if they could see it, maybe they’d understand.  I had sold the movie rights to the dream and I wheeled in the old silver TV with the rabbit ears and everyone gathered around on my grandmother’s floor to watch.  The dream had told the story of a dog.  It had been a little puppy when we were all kids crouching there in the grass to pet it.  It was white with patches of black, and it grew as we all grew.  It was a frisky little critter.  There was a scene where it squeezed through a wooden fence and started paddling around in an alligator tank, and we stood outside the fence reaching our hands and yelling out the dog’s name and hoping and praying that one of the alligators wouldn’t bite it.  On the floor in front of the TV everyone laughed at that part and thought it was cute.  Then the dog got older, even as we all got older and we moved out of the house and went our separate ways, and there it was in the winter twilight all mangy and laying at the end of the driveway in the snow, whining, wondering where we’d all gone.  The credits rolled on this somber note.

After the movie, I went home with my wife.  But things were off there as well.  The place was a cramped basement apartment with high windows.  It wasn’t the cozy country house out in Perry that I remembered.  I tried to tell my wife, but she wouldn’t listen.  She just dragged me from room to room being playful.  “None of this is right,” I told her as she pulled me along by my arm.  There were throw pillows and broken coffee makers and dirty dishes and junk everywhere.  I picked up a discarded towel with my free hand.  “I know that we used to keep the house a lot cleaner than this,” I shouted over her laughter, showing her the towel.

She led me into the kitchen, which was just as cluttered as the rest of the place.  The cabinets were all crammed full of open cereal boxes.  The walls were bright yellow and there was an old icebox style refrigerator, the kind with the latch you pop out to open the door.  None of this looked right.  And then I noticed a small room off the kitchen.  “What’s this?” I asked my wife.  She shook her head.  She didn’t seem to know.  She suddenly grew serious.  I thought I had seen all the other bedrooms and rooms of the apartment on my dizzy guided tour.

I crept into the room.  It was actually more of a hallway, as it led to the laundry room down at the other end.  The light shined down from another basement window high on the wall above and my desk was beneath this window, piled with loose papers and folded laundry, leaving no space to work.  Even the chair was piled with laundry.  But as I got closer, I saw that it wasn’t laundry.  There was a bundle of people in the chair, or maybe just their heads.  I brushed back the dark hair from one of the faces and the eyes stared back at me, and then I jumped and jolted and screamed and finally found myself back in my own bed.

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8 thoughts on “Lifetimes Ago

  1. Bravo! Your dream-within-a-dream structure opens more and more possibilities. You should take this dream-inspired suggestion of movie rights seriously.

    Perhaps inspired by yours, snatches of my dreams have escaped oblivion lately. A typical scenario is one where I'm shocked by what happens and wake up. Now I have to give you an example, from last night.

    I was in the playground at the back of our house, where you often see a mother with several children, each of a different skin-shade. In this instance I was closely related to the mother, and thus an interested party, feeling empowered to address them thus:

    “I have an idea. Everyone's looking at you, wondering how many fathers took part in producing this brood, That's an invasion of your privacy (not to mention the way it reflects on me).

    “So I've been doing some DIY to while away the time and I’ve produced this dye, which you can all bathe in; and it will make your skins a more consistent ‘olive complexion’. Which isn’t quite up to the standard of white, but then, we have no better choice.”

    At which point they all, down to the smallest toddler, rounded upon me, united in hate-filled vituperation. What kind of a disgusting racist had they got for a father/grandfather, etc.

    Which frightened me so much that I woke up.

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  2. Wow. Seems like one of those dreams where you deliberately concoct a scenario where you see what would happen if you just went ahead and said or did the worst thing you could think of. Which is not to say that you secretly think such things or that you're dying to say them. I just think that we all have this perverse destructive streak sometimes and we wonder what would happen if tapped at just the right spot and brought the whole house of cards tumbling down.

    I had a similar (but much milder) dream of that type that I wrote about: “The People Whisperer” where I tried to scare a woman was having anxiety issues. I have my own reasons for finding that sort of thing awful. And, like your dream, I shocked myself awake with my own appalling behavior.

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  3. It's funny too how some dreams, like the one you mentioned and the one in the post up there, end on such a dramatically punctuated note. You're just jolted awake like that. Those seems to be the dreams that make the most immediate forceful impression, and they're generally the most easily and most commonly remembered.

    Other times, you just wake up calm and natural, yawn and stretch. And the dreams you had then are completely lost unless you take a moment to reflect. These quieter dreams are murkier and harder to resurrect — some people may never even be aware of them — but sometimes they have their own peculiar charms as well.

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  4. While none of mine have ever been that grand, dreams like these always confuse the hell out of me when I wake up. Especially when they end like yours did and really throw everything on its head (pun intended?).

    “Hey, I don't remember ordering all of these severed heads! Honey, did you buy these?”

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