Well, I’m awake now.
I tend to have excessively vivid dreams. This is nothing new. They aren’t always pleasant, either, and most of them have a pretty high WTF factor. I can’t remember the last time, though, that I’ve actually had a bona fide nightmare.
I just woke up a few minutes ago. My husband said I was screaming and thrashing around. When I woke up, my heart was racing, and it’s just now starting to get back to normal. I knew right then that there was no way I’d be able to get back to sleep.
The whole dream started out deceptively pleasant. I was, for some reason, about fifteen years old, and living with my parents (dream parents, who bear no resemblance in way to my actual parents) in a small but cozy little house. Our semi-rural community was off the charts in terms of quaint, folksy charm. Strangely enough, everything was so nondescript in terms of time period that I couldn’t even tell you what century it was — you know how dreams are. All I know is that the whole place just oozed peace, quiet, contentment, friendly neighbors, etc.
As you’ve probably gleaned from my description, the town was also very… homogenous. I didn’t actually see much of it in the dream (although I knew I’d lived there all my life), but I can tell you with certainty that everyone in town was lily white, heterosexual, monogamous, Christian (there was one church in town that everyone went to), and I’m sure you get the idea by now. I wasn’t sure whether this was by coincidence or whether anyone not fitting that description was simply unwelcome, but I strongly suspected the latter. One thing I was virtually certain of, though, was that no one was allowed to even ask the question.
Throughout my childhood, I’d found our little community to be a nice place to live. I loved it, and I wanted to improve it even further, to make it even better for those who lived there in the future. I knew it could be done, too. A few old buildings could be fixed up, for example. There were some pervasive sexist attitudes that I was sure were born out of well-meaning ignorance, and (unintentional) ignorance is one of the easiest conditions to cure. We could start working on developing better medical care. I couldn’t do all of these things by myself, of course, but I had some ideas about how to make them happen. We were a close-knit community who looked out for each other, so surely I could find someone who wanted to work on these projects.
This is all backstory. The dream actually began with my parents sitting me down for a talk. They were not pleased. I knew that my ambitions were “not how we do things around here,” but that was exactly the point. They accused me of being unappreciative. I tried to explain that I wanted things to be better for everyone. They said everything was fine now, and nothing needed to change.
Mom started trying to guilt-trip me; apparently the other women in the community had been talking about me. They said it was Mom’s fault I turned out the way I did. I told her it wasn’t; that my ideas were all mine and anyone who had a problem with them was welcome to talk to me. Mom said no, that wasn’t good enough, and I needed to settle down and stop making such a fuss so that people quit talking about her.
I told Mom that I wasn’t trying to make things difficult for her, but some things were more important than her reputation. Right now a young boy who lived near us was sick and likely to die, and no one was taking care of him. “Haven’t you been praying for him?!” they demanded. I knew full well that prayer, and only prayer, was the standard course of medical treatment for all ailments, and everyone was expected to take part. I didn’t answer the question, which they (correctly) took as a tacit admission. “Why not?”
It had never been explicitly stated — the idea of not believing in God or the power of prayer had never even been addressed in this town, to my knowledge — but I was fully aware that, “Because it doesn’t do jack shit,” would not have been an acceptable answer. I said nothing. Mom turned to Dad and suggested that it was his fault for not raising me properly. He fired back blame at her. I tried to quietly sneak out as they bickered, but no luck. They saw me trying to leave and instantly became a united front once again, this time screaming at me.
I screamed back. I don’t remember what was said anymore. Dreams being what they are, I’m not even convinced there were actual words; it may have all just been incoherent rage. In any case, it might as well have been. The screaming reached a crescendo, and I stormed out the back door. Then I ran.
Dad ran outside after me. He was much taller, stronger, and faster than me, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to outrun him. There were woods surrounding our yard on three sides, but the yard itself was flat, closely cropped, and had nowhere to hide. And it was huge.
If I could just reach the woods, I’d be safe. If I was caught… I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew my absolute terror was justified. Fortunately, I’d had a slight head start, and Dad hadn’t seen which direction I went once I got outside. He went around the house the opposite way, bellowing my name and demanding that I come back immediately.
He was running around the house, but not looking toward it. I knew he expected to see me sprinting toward the woods. I crouched in the shadow of the house itself. Once he was on the other side of the house, I’d be hidden from view well enough to make a break for it. By the time he saw me, I’d be almost there. I could lose him in the woods. I could escape.
He made a full lap around the house, never noticing me. He started again. I waited, and then I bolted.
Dad had abruptly changed direction, though, and he spotted me. He was too close. I’d never make it. Sure enough, I felt his hand on my arm. I screamed. With one muscular arm, he began dragging me back toward the house. I kicked as hard as I could, and screamed at the top of my lungs…
And that is what woke me (and my poor husband) up at about a quarter to five this morning. He asked me what was going on and held me for a few minutes, but I knew I wasn’t getting back to sleep, and I needed to process this.
I’ve never been into dream interpretation woo or anything like that, but I do recognize the role dreams play in helping us sort through the random piles of thoughts that accumulate in our heads. My dreams are rarely subtle; often the ones that aren’t purely nonsensical are pretty obviously about some specific thing that’s bothering me, and it takes very little effort to put them together.
This one was different. There are a few things I get, of course. Being fifteen years old meant I feel powerless. I do sometimes. My community activism represented my real life concerns about social justice — it may have even been my brain’s way of trying to tell me I need to get off my ass and do more about it. Message received, and it’s a good idea.
Living in a town where everyone around me is devoutly religious is not terribly far off from reality (I live in a southern state in the U.S., and met most of my current friends back in my churchgoing days), but it was an absolutely absurd caricature. First of all, while I feel a little lonely at times, I doubt I’m in danger of getting tarred and feathered or anything. Secondly, the monolithic nature of the community religion was just weird, creepy, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life. The whole dream was so deranged, it was like living in the atheist version of a Chick tract.
The parents were especially weird, because they were nothing like mine. My mom gets a bit overly concerned with her reputation at times, and she does have a tendency to lose her temper, but not like what happened there. My dad is kind and gentle and never raises his voice. So the whole overbearing authority figure aspect is pretty weird and mysterious.
I had hoped writing about all of this would help me sort it out and see what was going on in my head that caused all that. Looking over it now, I am officially disappointed. I am a lot calmer than I was, though, so that’s something. I’m also inspired to look around my community and see if I can actually contribute something productive. Not because I had a nightmare, but because there’s shit that needs to get done out there. So, for now, good night. Or morning. Whatever.