Along with disclosure of details about my sex life and half-baked wheezings about American politics* I refrain from blabbing on about my dreams. This is not an objection based on form so much as content. Most of my dreams are short on action and long on layers of unconscious information, which may be the result of reading too much of the high modernists as a teenager. My dreams only really get going when I have one of my alien apocalypse epics, which drop into my brain once a year or so. They’re extremely disturbing, but the stories are excellent. I should option out my freakier dreams to a movie studio.
The other night, though, I had a weird Coles Notes nightmare, a quick synopsis of almost every ugly element that disturbs my sleep. It’s as if the my terrors, heaped up in some packed closet of my brain, were all dislodged by some random bump in the waking world. The only bit missing were the invading aliens (for which I blame the EC comics I read as a kid) and the abandoned attic (for which I blame creepy, dusty abandoned attics).
I dreamt that I was awake alone in my bed. This is the start of a fever dream, in which my mind repeatedly surfaces to grab a hunk of reality and then drag it back below. The bedsheet and my body were covered in little black insects, which I tried to brush off the side of the bed, only to find that dozens of the insects had burrowed underneath my skin. There was no pain, but I could see them clearly, like little ribbed pellets of brown rice. I ran my hand over my face in the dark, terrified that they had infiltrated my face.
I lurched up out of bed and headed to the bathroom, but at this point my dream had pulled me deeper into that drowned space where all the rooms of my life bump up against each other. My bedroom door opened up into the house where I grew up, and I suddenly needed to walk quietly so as not to disturb my parents, who were asleep in the room on the other side of the landing. I knew that I couldn’t make it into work with bugs all over my body, but I had no idea where I worked or whether I had any job at all. I knew that I had just finished my Education degree the day before (another bit of nightmare: I’d sooner stab myself in the kidney than be a teacher) and a half-formed notion told me that today was my first day on the job at some school. I tried to call my new workplace – a cell phone had conveniently materialized in my hand – but a voice told me that I didn’t work there, or anywhere.
In the bathroom I switched on the light, but the illumination from the tiny night-light fixture was so pathetic that I had to put my face within inches of the mirror. For some reason I was wearing a navy-blue T-shirt that I hadn’t seen since 1989. I tilted my face from side-to-side, trying to check my skin for insects – only I couldn’t. The bathroom light picked out the line of my jaw, the plane of my temple and the gleam of my scalp, but the centre of my face was completely in shadow. No matter how I twisted and craned my neck, I could not see myself in the mirror.
That was an entirely new part of the repertoire. It’s creepier to recount than to experience – in the dream, the threat of the insects had somehow passed by the time I got into the bathroom, and my inability to see my face felt more irritating than terrifying – but I’m disturbed by the notion of a shadow clinging to my face. I don’t know if I’ve tried to look my reflection in a dream before, but in future I’m going to avoid mirrors in my sleep.
*Which reminds me: I saw Obama bumper stickers and posters recently when I was visiting friends in Saskatoon. Saskatoon is a city that sits 250 miles north of the U.S. border, in a strange land we call Canada, where the presidential race is pretty much entertainment. Where supporting Obama, Clinton or McCain from your armchair or rear bumper is a sophisticated version of taking your D&D character too seriously.