Her Dreams and Nightmares
“My girlfriend, she has dreams.”
“Weird,” I say, “Sometimes I have those, too. You think it’s contagious?”
“No, idiot. I mean like, she has nightmares.”
“Yeah, and she’s like, really sensitive to them.”
What an odd choice of word, I think. Sensitive. Like dreams are a pollen you can be allergic to.
“Like, bad enough they haunt her for days. She researches them online, visits bookstores for answers. She sees fortune-tellers sometimes.”
“I gather she tells you about them. These dreams.”
“Of course. I’m her boyfriend.”
“And what do you do?”
“What can I do, man? They’re dreams.”
When I worked at a toy store over Christmas, I spent eight hours a day glued to a register — scanning toys, bagging them, and sending customers off with a smile. The lines were never ending, the pace was relentless. At home, sleep was no respite — in dreams I was stuck at the register all over again, scanning, bagging, working, slaving. Except now it was at a party and my uncles were all shooting me with water guns, and I wished they’d cut it out so I could make it to my ex-ex-girlfriend’s slumber party on time.
It seemed silly to talk about. It was too hard to express the stress I felt through the layers of subconscious ridiculousness.
“I mean, it all just sounds so silly,” he says. “I had a dream my teeth came out, or I had a dream dolphins were hunting me in the Arctic, or I had a dream I was alone in a dark forest surrounded by black wolves. I tell her they’re just dreams, but she’s convinced they’re more. She says they haunt her.”
This girl, I think, I would like to pick her brain for story ideas. My own dreams are hazy documentaries, shot through bad cameras and shown in dark, cramped theaters. I feel as though I’m forever squinting for a clearer view of a movie in a language I don’t understand.
I tend to leave the cinema with only the hint of the essence of what the dream might have meant.
“So you’re just telling her not to worry, then?” I ask.
“I mean, I try to, but she’s not hearing it. She sees something in her sleep I can’t even imagine.”
“I had a girlfriend who had a thing for clouds,” I say.
“Like what? They were out to get her or something?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. She just liked them. A lot.”
She really did. She said the sky wasn’t real without a few clouds in it. It was charming, back then — I’d never thought of it like that. She was always a little distracted on days of clear, blue skies. When I traveled, I took photos of clouds instead of tourist sites and landmarks. I called her my cloud princess.
“And this has uh… what to do with my girlfriend, exactly?”
“Oh, right.” I shrug. “I mean, I guess everyone has their own individual hang-ups and obsessions, right?”
“Yeah, but these are so intangible. I can’t exactly jump in her head and have her dreams for her, you know? How am I supposed to help? And they’re so random it’s hard to get to the bottom of them. Have you looked at a dream dictionary recently?”
“Generally speaking, I think they’re a money-grab,” I say.
“They all say something different. All of them. There are enough definitions now that you can tailor-read your dreams if you want to. It’s incredibly frustrating. People always skew negative, you know? My girlfriend’s no different.”
“I can imagine.”
“I just don’t have a clue, man. I can see them wearing on her and it wrecks me. What can I do? What would you do?”
“What would I do?”
“Yeah. That’s what I’m asking.”
I think for a moment.
“Do you like her,” I ask, “this girl? Like, really like her?”
“I think so, yeah.”
“Well, maybe you should ask her if there’s anything you can do to make things easier for her. Have you done that yet?”
“It’s just… it all just sounds like stress to me. If I were you, I’d tell her that if she has a bad dream I’d listen. I might not be able to say anything helpful, but I’d be an ear if she needed it. I’d tell her she could call me whenever she has one — even if it’s 3 a.m. — and I’d do my best to wake up enough to hear her out. I’d tell her I’d read her dream journals — no matter how ridiculous they were — if she felt like sharing them. I’d promise not to laugh, but I’d warn her that I’d likely steal some ideas for my writing. And I’d hope she would laugh at that.”
I pause for a moment. Think.
“Or, if all that’s too much to remember, just tell her you’re there for her when she needs you — rain or shine — and give her a long hug.”
He blinks a few times.
“I don’t know, man. That sounds like an awful lot of work.”
I sigh. Shrug.
“I guess that’s why you have the girlfriend, and I’m still single.”
He laughs. Shakes his head.
“You wouldn’t… You wouldn’t really say all that stuff, would you?”
For a time, I woke up drunk with melancholy, and the fading image of an old man in a recliner, wheezing as he slept. He was gone already, but in my dreams he was alive, and sometimes he was young. I tried to talk to him, but by then it was too late. I sometimes woke with an ache in my chest I didn’t know what to do with. I wrote thoughts in a notebook I couldn’t bring myself to show anyone. I watched classic boxing matches while I thought about what I should have said before he left. I thought about the last few months, and how I ran away instead of facing the truth.
In my dreams, it hurt that he was alive. That he was right there, but he shunned me as I had him when he wanted warmth and I wasn’t there.
I wanted someone to listen. To read what I wrote, and tell me it was okay to be afraid of death when you didn’t know what it was, or how to deal with it.
But the best I can do, perhaps, is be that person for someone else.
“If I really liked the girl?” I say, “I think I would.”
I really do.
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