I had a bad dream last night.
It was such a casual dream at first. We were milling around a sort of hardware store that was on its last legs. Holes in the ground everywhere. One with a slit that was so dark you could almost see stars in it, like it were torn into the fabric of the universe. Basements half-dug and then given up on, full of old, rusty junk. Men were standing around as if they were waiting for the someone or something to die so they could collect what was left of an estate.
Our car, it was parked by a deep red barn. The ground around it was eroding, but it was time to go. So I began the simple, daily act of loading up the children.
But there were deep holes around the car. The ground was falling away. If we could get to the car we’d be fine, and I wasn’t scared yet, but I knew I should be soon, and then Julius got too enthusiastic. Leapt past me into the car.
He didn’t make it. And the starry abyss was right next to us.
Time frozen. He smiled at me, as sad little smile to say, sorry, mom. Guess I messed up.
My heart tore out of my body.
As soon as his face disappeared, I looked around but only for a second before I leapt into the hole, too. Either I would catch him or I’d die with him. Either way.
The first part of the hole was dark brown. I saw him and could almost grasp him. My heart was still screaming. But just as I reached for him, a spring carried him away from me, far deeper into the hole. I followed again.
This time the deeper hole was light. White and green striped marble, roughly textured but wet, a very close tunnel but fully light. I grabbed him again but he went deeper still. I followed him into a deeper tunnel.
There no good way for this to end, my brain said. WAKE UP NOW.
I woke up. So suddenly it hurt, like ripping a scab away without being careful about it.
I lay in bed shaking. Trying to run through the scenarios. The tunnels had been getting narrower. Eventually he wouldn’t be able to go farther. But maybe he’d be able to go farther than I. ARGH.
Or maybe I’d catch him but they wouldn’t be able to help us and we’d die of starvation together. DOUBLE ARGH.
Or maybe, and this one kept coming back, they’d send down a rope, but we’d have gone so far and it was so wet, how would we ever be able to scale back up?
God, it must sound so stupid from outside. I hid under my covers shaking and crying and finally left the room, climb into Julius’s bed and wrapped my arms around him. Kissed his head. Cried, but better, because he was in my arms and we’d be able to eat soon.
Husband came and called me back to bed. Scolded me, reminded me that I am a thirty-three year old woman who knows that nightmares are not real. That didn’t help. I cried some more. And I swore that I’d never, ever write about this. Because I would like to forget that little sad smile he gave me.
But this has been bothering me all day.
Why did my dream have foreshadowing? That gaping hole, visible in the first act?
Why the textures? The deep red barn, the white and green speckled tunnels? The stars in the dark? The cold of the water on the stone?
And why do dreams add layers of emotion? We know they do it independently of the stories, because sometimes dreams feel sad without seeming that they should be.The rush of grief and pain that flooded over me when my precious son fell into that imaginary hole, that was unnecessary.
Human brains are strange.
Or maybe dreams are really there for something. To warn us, or maybe just to remind us that things are sacred and that we are not immortal.