The dreadful dream

A few years ago I awoke in the wee morning hours with a start. Heart racing, I traipsed down the stairs and curled up on the couch. Clutching a pillow, staring into the darkness, I agonized. “What had I done!?”

I felt sure it was heinous. I had hidden it, . . . hadn’t I? Maybe. And if I didn’t? Would I be caught? All the details were foggy. Something I did or didn’t do, but the result was the same: a dead body. Had I hidden the body? Covered my tracks?

Blurred details aside, the sense that —either by commission or omission— I had ended a life was starkly vivid and disturbing. So much so that I sat in the darkness more than two hours, sorting images in my head. Motel stairs, running down passageways, damp night, and a car trunk. Irreversible. Whether I faced retribution or not, this dreadful remorse and self-contempt would be mine forever.

As early morning light began filtering through the blinds, the fingers of dread and regret eased their grip on my mind and heart. I took some convincing, but I finally realized: It was just a dream. A dreadful dream.

This was a new dream, not one that revisited previous dreamlands or dreamscenes. Maybe that’s why the emotions of it squeezed my mind for so many hours.

I kept the dream and my reaction to myself for several days, because the idea of disclosing it produced a sense of dread and guilt. Finally, a week later, I shared it with a friend at a party. She gave me an odd look then glanced at her husband, and moved to the patio without responding.

Uh oh!

I obsessed about her reaction and finally, a few days later, I built up the nerve to ask why she reacted that way.

Oh nothing! I had a disturbing, hard-to-shake dream. My husband and I had just talked about it before we saw you that day.

Whew! So I’m not psycho, right?


A few months later, I had a similar dream that woke me with a start, and the dread and self-doubt began setting in. This time, however, I didn’t have to wait for the sun to rise to snap out of it.

These dreams. They are the most infrequent but the most dreadful. What do they mean?

This week, I had another one. Although the “crime” seemed less severe, I started my day with a foggy head and a sack of sand on my heart.

Like most anyone, I’ve done things I don’t like to confess. I may have actually done a thing or two that I’ve never confessed, but those embarrassing acts never involved loss of life, as do these dreams.

What do my dreadful dreams mean?

I’ve considered three things: Community, politics, and self-achievement.

Summer 2016 has me thinking and frozen. The shootings and the injustices in my city, the deaths of friends, the heartbreak of friends, the floods, and the piles of molding memories stretching along curbs of entire neighborhoods . . . frenzied thinking.

In the struggle to do something significant and helpful, in the effort to make a difference when the need is so large, I question my days, the history of my endeavors, my time spent. Does it help? Does it matter? Can I do better?

Are the dreadful dreams about time not spent in lifting up my community?

When I fold in the 2016 political climate, I question my honesty. As the mis-/dis-information piles higher and higher, like moldy belongings on a curb, I wonder if my polite quiet is appropriate. Maybe my political silence is even harmful and dishonest.

I’ve always been gray, in-the-middle. Gray, grey, gray . . . never extreme. Am I lost in that?

Is it dishonest —a crime!— when sometimes my mind draws dark, bold lines through the mucky muck of political banter, but I politely listen. Doesn’t someone need to listen?

I wonder if the occasional angst and existential dream that jolt me out of bed are driven by my gray pool of politeness.

Maybe my dreadful dreams are about crimes against myself. Not so much about what I have done, but rather about what I did not do, what I didn’t complete. Those three novels, fifty-some short stories, mediocre poems, and a few screenplays.

Could those dreadful dreams indeed be about a death? The death of a writer? A malnourished mind and a neglected “pen”?

Then I circle back. The sunlight pushes through the blinds.

I’m sure my dreadful dreams may have something to do with paths not taken, the house I didn’t help gut, the well-bitten tongue in a swarm of political nonsense, the books I didn’t write, the time I butchered with bites too big to chew, and the broken promises to myself.

But I’m a believer in allowing. And in mirrors for reflection.

Allowing begins with self.

I gave what I could.

It’s in my nature to be gray, to listen.

I write when I can.

Is my dreadful dream a crime?

You might say “the jury is still out.” But not really. It was a dream. I’m the jury. I know I didn’t kill anybody. I decide if I’m guilty or not of a crime against myself. It’s up to me to define the dream, to come to terms with myself. Maybe I’ll decide to help more, to speak more often, to write more. If I don’t, that’s my dreadful dream.

What are your dreadful dreams?

© Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2016