Nightmares

Mark was a hedge fund manager who worked on Wall Street and lived in the Upper East side. Now in his 40’s, he didn’t think of himself as the typical New York investment tycoon; he had other interest such as theatre and art and enjoyed playing rugby and soccer. One of his passions was Japanese culture. He submerged himself in martial arts training when he was 11 and minored in Japanese art in college. He even took a Japanese wife and his obssession with all things Japanese helped him rise to a prominent position in theinvestment world.

Mark made over half a million dollars a year, had a lovely wife and two beautiful children, had a variety of interests, and the kind of job that gave him ample time to pursue those interests. Anyone, including Mark, would say he had led a charmed life up to this point.

Shortly after his 44th birthday he started experiencing problems sleeping. At first, he’d wake up in the middle of the night in a feverish sweat, hyperventilating and full of adrenalin, not really sure what had just happened. His wife would often make him tea to try to calm him and help him back to sleep, but it did very little good. He’d lay awake for the rest of the night, tossing and turning. Initially, it was brief flashes of images without any coherence or correlation: a child on the street whose skin had just melted off; a large explosion that lit up the sky; the charred remains of hundreds of bodies littering the street; and many other similar images. Then the images became scenes put together, those bodies that had melted or charred were people who had been in harms way of the explosion — the images were connecting as his dream cycles progressed and he was able to remember more and more each night. With each passing day the nightly terror ritual escalated; with vivid nightmares making stronger impressions and leaving concrete memories behind.

One day, on his way back from a business trip to Japan, he fell asleep on the airplane. A few hours later he woke up in a panic frenzy, startling the two elder women sitting beside him.

“Now child, calm down. Here, have some water. Did you have a bad dream?” One of the women handed him a glass with water and he gulped it down.

“Yeah, I’ve been having nightmares lately. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”

“I knew it. Nightmares! yes. Doris, you owe me $20.” The lady yelled at her companion.

“The hell I do Mildred, you little liar. The woman grabbed the glass from Mark’s hand and then leaned over to whisper, “She’s always pulling this stunt with me. Don’t pay her no mind — I think she’s finally lost it.”

“I heard that you old bat!” Doris replied.

“Shush now! Let me speak to my new friend here. Maybe I can help him a bit. You know, those dreams can get ya. It’s all in your psyche my friend.”

“Ha! What do you know from psyche you old fool.” Doris interjected.

“I know a lot more than you do. Stop interrupting! Anyway, as I was saying dear fellow… oh, wait, I never did get your name.”

“My name is Mark. I assume you’re Mildred and this is your friend Doris, correct?”

“Friend, that’s just rich. There’s nothing friendly about this old hag. She’s my sister, although I’ve tried to disown her several times now.”

Mark chuckled. “Pleased to meet you both. Like I said, I’m sorry to have disturbed you. It won’t happen again. We’re almost at JFK now anyway. I’ll just sit here and do some work till we land.”

“Mildred, tell him… tell him about William, maybe he can help.”

Doris turned to Mark, “It’s her son, he’s some famous whoop dee too head shrinker in Manhattan. Figures the one time her bragging could actually help someone and she fails to mention it.”

“If you don’t shut your trap I’m going to throw you right out this widow you sea hag! Anyway, yes Mr. Mark, my son is a psychiatrist who specializes in nightmares and the such. It’s all very technical of course. I call him the dream doctor, hehe. You know he graduated from Harvard Medical School and has written several books on the subject. Anyway, here’s his card. Give him a call. Tell Anna, that’s his secretary, that you know me. He’s always booked but he’ll make time for you if you mention my name. He’s not cheap though, I have to warn you. How do you think we got these first class airplane seats.”

“Oh boy,” Doris chimed in, “here she goes with her bragging again. We’ve opened up the floodgates, get ready for the storm now. Do you have an arc handy?”

Mark laughed. “I thank you for the referral. I’ll look him up.”

***

A few weeks went by and the nightmares failed to dissipate. In a moment of inspired desperation, he remembered the weird old ladies from the airplane and reached in his wallet for the business card. He did a quick Google search on the name and discovered that this man was, in fact, the preeminent psychiatrist in the field of dream therapy. He made an appointment with Anna, dropping Mildred’s name in the process and securing a spot for a 10:00am session the next day.

The following morning he took the subway downtown, to a brownstone on 9th street in between 5th and 6th avenue. He rang the buzzer and a young attractive twenty-something woman greeted him at the door.

“You must be Mark. Hello, I’m Anna, we spoke on the phone. Please come in.”

She ushered him into a large waiting area that had plush leather couches, a coffee table, some sterile art hanging on the wall, and a large reception desk with Anna’s lipstick-stained coffee cup and a copy of the post sitting on top of the dark mahogany surface.

“He’ll only be a few minutes. Would you like something to drink — coffee, tea, water?”

“No thank you.”

Al little the intercom buzzed and Anna led Mark to the adjacent office. It was a typical psychiatrist layout — a big couch in the center of the room with smaller chairs next to it, a big chair where the doctor sat, and a small table. The doctor stood when Mark entered; Anna smiled and closed the door behind them.

“Please have a seat anywhere. You don’t have to lie on the couch if you don’t want to; however, you’d be surprised, it helps tremendously. So, where do you want to start?”

Mark went through what was troubling him, how his dreams were keeping him up at night and how they had gotten progressively worse with each passing week. The doctor gave him a very clinical explanation for everything that was happening, half of which Mark didn’t follow, not necessarily because he couldn’t understand, but more so because he was actively listening for how the doctor was going to stop this from continuing.

After a while Mark’s impatience got the better of him and he interrupted the doctor, “Look Doc, I don’t mean any disrespect but I’m not really here for a psychology lesson. It’s getting hard to function with the lack of sleep and my work is really starting to suffer. Not to mention the fact that I keep having these fucking dreams that are about as real to me as my memory of what I had for breakfast this morning. Is there anything we can do quickly? I can’t afford to sit here for three years talking about my childhood.”

The doctor told him about dream inducement through hypnosis. He could put Mark under and get to the root of the dream, walking him through the process so that he would remember every detail completely, instead of just fragments.

Mark agreed to do this and they set up an appointment for the following week. The doctor ask that he come in the evening and that he bring a significant other, preferably his wife, as he may need someone familiar to lean on if the dream revealed some repressed memory.

***

Mark had been under for some time. He recounted how he was trapped in an awkward child’s body with a skinny frame, wire-rimmed glasses, buck teeth, and plain features. He talked about being picked on in school and how he was a disappointment to his father because he hadn’t amounted to anything until after dad passed away. Mark was able to comment throughout this process, telling the doctor that even though none of these events were actually experienced by him, he felt closely connected to them.

The doctor used his skill to lead him through what seemed very mundane and uneventful events, all the while Mark continuing his running editorial about how he didn’t remember these things yet wondered how they could have possibly be causing the night time convulsions he was experiencing. The doctor reminded him to be patient and to continue. Mark did so and a few minutes later, he finally reached the point where things started to materialize.

“I’m in an office somewhere, talking to advisers. I think I’m someone important, no wait… I’m sure of it. They’re telling me it’s a bad idea; that it’s not necessary, that the war will be over in a few weeks — the Japanese will surrender, all they need is an assurance from us that they can keep their emperor. I refuse to listen. I will not be bullied. I was bullied when I was younger. The buck stops here. Set it on fire — let it all burn.”

“What happens next?”

“It’s all moving so fast now. I tell them to do it again. I’m shown video footage of the carnage. I tell them we did the right thing but deep down I’m mortified. Hiroshima is nonexistent; Nagasaki is next.

More videos of death and destruction. Thousands screaming in the street, naked, running scared. It took a couple of bombs to wipe two cities off the face of the planet — killing so many without so much as a shot fired back. This was ungodly.”

Mark stopped. He opened his eyes. The psychiatrist was up from his chair, his back was to Mark and he was staring out the window. “What have you learned?”

“It was me… I don’t know how but it was me. I did that. It’s not a dream is it doc? I did those things, I was Harry Truman. I gave the orders- both of them. It was unnecessary, but I did it.

That can’t be? I don’t even believe in past lives. But it feels so true. Please tell me otherwise doc — am I loosing my mind?”

The doctor’s voice began to crack and his shape began to dwindle, his 6 foot frame reduced down to a hunch-backed feeble 5’3” frame, the hair on top of his head had grown long and sinewy and faded from black to grey.

“No Mark, you are perfectly fine. Your memory is starting to kick in that’s all.” Her voice was that of an old lady’s, strained and raspy, her inflections more pronounced and deliberate. She turned around and pressed the intercom button by the chair, “See Doris, I told you it was him. You owe me $50.”

Anna opened the door and responded, “I believe I do Mildred, I believe I do.”

Mark stood from his couch and faced the figure standing by the window. She slowly turned around and his jaw dropped, “Mildred? From the plane?”

“That’s right deary. You remember my sister Doris, don’t you?”

Mark turned around and faced the door — the woman that was Anna had morphed into the other lady from the plane.

“What’s this about?”

“It’s about the useless and senseless destruction of all those innocent lives, simply to overcome some kind of childhood insecurity. In time, history will remember it that way, but you’re still fresh, the events still a recent memory in the mind of the world, and no one has judged you the way you should be judged.” Mildred said.

“But that’s where we come in my child,” Doris said, “and you will pay for every life you took with a life of your own, from now until 100,000 lives from now.”

“But that’s not me? I’m different now. I’ve changed. Hell, I’m obsessed with Japanese culture. My wife is Japanese for Christ-sake. Her grandfather died in Nagasaki!”

“Funny you should bring that up. I almost forgot. Aiko is waiting outside. Why don’t you let her in Doris — I’m sure she’ll want to see her beloved husband.”

Doris opened the door to reveal Aiko standing at the threshold with a kitchen knife and a big smile on her face, ready to exact revenge against him for the senseless deaths suffered at his hands.