Stormy dreams in the making
Bad locker combinations. Tornadoes. Classes down hallways that abruptly dead-end.
My anxiety dreams have made a comeback.
At least once a week, I dream about my failure to arrive at the right place at the right time. As a devoted calendar-keeper, the idea of being off-schedule makes me itchy. The setting of these dreams often rotates between schools, offices, old farmhouses . . . but the results are the same: I’m behind. In danger. Confused.
On Wednesday morning, I woke to my son whimpering in his sleep. It was 4:30 a.m., a time I’d be happy to never see again, and I was disoriented. After covering Oliver with the blanket he inevitably kicks off 47 times a night, I couldn’t shake the lucid dream I’d been sucked into just moments before. It often starts with a locker. If you’re anything like me, you spent the summer leading up to sixth grade trying — and failing — to master a combination lock. Like the idea of having to change clothes for gym class, the horror stories of kids failing to open their lockers before the hiss of the late bell made me sweat. My dad gave me a lock to practice with early in the summer, and I studied its black-and-white face like it held the secret to getting Matt, my epic and aloof crush, to fall in love with me.
Or, you know, to glance in my direction. I wasn’t in a position to be picky.
Maybe students today open lockers by texting or Snapchatting or zapping them with brainwaves or something, but back then? We used good old-fashioned dials. And if you forgot those crucial numbers, there was no one to save you. No bailing you out.
I’m sure I’ve written before about the anxiety those monsters caused, but it cannot be overstated. More than a decade later, my palms still get clammy thinking about having minutes — seconds? — to enter a combination, pull out my stuff and get to class on time. In my nervousness, I would inevitably fumble and have to start over. And over. And over.
It didn’t end after school. At my bookstore job, we had personal lockers to use during shifts for phones, purses and the like. I had a combination lock assigned to me on day one, its code scrawled on a scrap of paper by a manager.
In my dreams, I’m often back at Borders fighting to retrieve my keys with the wrong combination in hand. I can’t decipher Colleen’s handwriting and I’m stuck there, locked in the store overnight. Or I’m struggling to part a sea of students, hoping to reach my locker before I’m behind for math class. Or I arrive at work only to find the office has moved, and I’m lost.
I don’t necessarily know what these dreams are trying to tell me, but I always wake with that uncomfortable feeling of having missed an important appointment: a sense of having slipped behind.
Having a baby doesn’t help this. Since Oliver came home last May, I’ve slept the shattered, shallow sleep of new parents everywhere. And because I’m frequently yanked away mid-dream by a child’s crying, those memories linger well into the day. They’re hard to shake.
Dreams are interesting, aren’t they? There’s a reason thick books and websites are devoted to interpreting them, and I often find myself Googling the recurring symbols for hints.
Of course, I don’t need a “dream dictionary” to tell me I’m stressed. The tornado nightmares do that.
Oh — did I not mention the tornadoes? I’d prefer rainbows, trust me. But after one too many childhood viewings of “Twister,” the storm dreams became a mainstay in my nocturnal life. These are easier to trace: the tornadoes appear when I’m feeling unsettled. I’m usually stuck in place, left only to watch from an upstairs window as a funnel barrels toward me. The windows are open with gauzy curtains billowing. I’m always alone.
Wrong numbers, churning thunderstorms, hallways leading nowhere: I’m getting it, brain. With Oliver’s birthday and all the memories of last spring flooding back to me, I guess I’m feeling more “unsettled” than I thought.
I’ll fight through that. I always do.
But in the meantime? I’ll try to channel rainbows.
When your eyes are open, I hear they often appear.