Sep 21, 2008

Waking Up Is Hard To Do

Lucid dreaming. There's huge numbers of scientists pouring millions of dollars of their hard-earned grant money into sleep studies, scientists who devote themselves and their energies into putting us in charge of our dreams.

Eff 'em, I say.

I don't want to be in charge of my dreams. My mind all by itself does plenty enough damage without me mucking about in the natural order of things. A few nights ago I decided that I'd try to direct one of my dreams before going to bed. I told myself several times just before I drifted off, in a Firm, Authoritative Voice that were I to dream of trains that night (which I seem to do a lot of, strangely enough) that this time I'd go on board. By hook or by crook I was going to be a dream hobo.

Well, it worked. Sort of. In my dream I managed to climb on board a grain hopper, the sort of car that people who hobo say is The One to ride on. It just got weirder from there, and I won't get into it here, but suffice to say that my train ride only lasted a few minutes in dream time, and ended up with me at an air show that consisted of nothing but B-52 bombers and David Miller, Skybird's pilot, who mustered out of the Air Force as a major and a...wait for it...B-52 pilot.

So much for lucid dreaming.

I don't trust myself to do well in a dream, you see. My imagination is so freaking powerful all by it's lonesome that I shudder to think of the damage I would wreak on my already fragile psyche were I to start pushing buttons and pulling levers at random. I already have troubles enough with very imaginative, extra-vivid dreams that follow me into wakefulness. Those always make me behave in an erratic (and I'm told, comic) fashion for a few minutes, until Reality finally steps in and tosses a bucket of water in my face.

The most memorable one (before last night) found me jumping out of bed with the dead certainty that there was a rattlesnake somehow tangled in the sheets. I stood at the foot of the bed and demanded in a voice just short of a scream and peppered with profanity that Mrs. I get out of bed before she got bit. I was certain that she was about to be bitten and have to be taken to the ER because somehow a ten pound rattlesnake had forced the door lock, sneaked into bed with us and was now angrily trying to disentangle itself from the sheets by her feet, fangs filled with venom.

Last night, however, topped my All Time Biggest Lucid Dream Freakout List. It was, you see, The Perfect Dream Storm.

I know you've all had nights where an arm or hand gets in an odd position and falls asleep, gets so asleep from the blood flow being shunted off that it becomes numb. I'm sure a lot of you have even gotten a numb extremity to the point that it's no longer pins-and-needles, no longer just asleep but more in the "phantom limb" stage--you simply have nothing past the 'asleep' point of that limb. Well, my hand did that last night. Somehow I'd managed to get my wrist crimped into such a tight bend that it cut off the blood flow to my entire right hand, so that my all together very useful extremity was entirely absent. Zero feeling, zero muscle control.

My dream wasn't a dream, it was a single horrific image. There was a soccer ball-sized lump of flesh that contained a terrifying amount of razor-sharp claws and teeth in my bedroom. It couldn't see (lacking any external organs) but it could fly (with dream logic anything is possible) and if it touched you it could sort of home back in on you again and again, battering at you like an insect will go after a bare light bulb.

Well, it did so. It found me and started battering at my head, trying to latch on so it could rip my skin off my bones. I leaped up out of bed and ran into the middle of the bedroom batting at it, hoping to slap it far enough away that it couldn't find me anymore (again, dream logic.)

Now, remember what I said earlier about my right hand being completely phantom-limb asleep? I kept batting at my head (and connecting occasionally) so what my arms felt was two arms flailing around and one hand brushing the side of my head. The other arm didn't feel anything, and had no muscle control over my hand anyway, so it was flopping around. My head, however, kept feeling something hit it and my brain couldn't connect: no sensation came down my right arm from my sleeping hand to match up to the impact on my head so I immediately (again, dream logic reigning supreme) thought The Thing was battering at my head, trying to sink it's claws in.

I think I screamed twice. The family seems to think it was only once. Weerelephant in the bedroom across the hall and behind a closed door thought it was Belle screaming. Missus I was playing Pogo in the office at the end of the hall with her iPod earbuds in and thought the same thing. My own ears heard a scream born of pure terror. No filters in the way, no "what if I wake the neighbors?" concerns, just a pure animal howl (or two) of absolute and petrifying terror.

It took me another two minutes or so to make my brain work, another eternity of two minutes to stop looking at the top of the four-poster bed trying to find where The Thing had gotten off to, my eyes trying to winkle it out of it's hiding place. Between Mrs. I telling me to calm down and me repeatedly screaming "What the fuck?" and being unable to make any other coherent sentences my heart rate finally ran down to something approaching OEM limits and I started to think again. I finally realised what had happened. I went and got my big red robe and went to my daughter's bedroom and sat on the edge of her bed to hug and reassure her that her father had not, in fact, lost his tiny mind. I finally wound down enough to get back in bed and fall asleep, but I never got far enough asleep to start dreaming again. I think some part of my mind was still afraid The Thing would still be there, would return to mindlessly battering at my head.

By the cool light of morning I was able to laugh a (very) little at myself, and now that darkness has fallen again on a full and rewarding day I can smile a little bit at my foolishness. This sort of thing has only happened five or six times in the last 41 years so I know it won't be a recurring thing, and I know it won't be as perfect as this one the next time it happens, thank goodness. No perfect alignment of missing sensations so my mind can further ramp up the insane terror. I don't know that I could handle another shock like that.

My daughter, ever the healer, picked a bouquet of spider lilies out of the yard, both yellows and reds, and put them in my favourite vase--an old glass milk bottle. She put it on the window ledge closest to my side of the bed while I was out cutting the yard with the hopes that they kept the dreams away.

With a daughter like that how could they stand a chance?


Joan of Argghh! said...

Aw, the flowers almost make it worth it, don't they?

It's a very unsettling thing for kids to see physical vulnerability or mental pain. That they so often step up to the challenge, and seek to soothe, is a testimony to their small steps of courage. Good on the Weerelephant!

Blessings, indeed...

Gordo said...

I almost never remember my dreams anymore. If I do, it's only vague snippets or images that just serve to confuse me. Having read this, I don't regret it so much anymore. ;-)

Kids are amazing creatures: so unfettered with the baggage that we carry as adults that they can cut right to the heart of the problem and figure out how to fix it. The simplicity of the solution makes it all the more touching. That's a good kid you have there.

Rudi said...

With a daughter like that how could they stand a chance?

Kid's got a sixth sense (and a good nose). Check out this story titled "Sweet smells foster sweet dreams".

Shao said...

Yeah man, some people call this sort of thing PTSD. Gimme a call some time.

Clowncar said...

I know I should be all sypmathetic and soothing, but my gut reaction on hearing of a soccer ball-sized lump of flesh with razor-sharp claws and teeth is "cool."

Your daughter assembling the vase of flowers for you melted my heart. Or would have, if I had a heart.

Jean said...

I giggled my way through this whole post, until I got to the bit about your daughter and the flowers... then, all I could do was say 'awwwwwwww'. How sweet.

Irrelephant said...

Joan, I remember seeing my mother cry for the first time when I was maybe twenty, and even then it rocked me. Me, I'm glad my little one took it so well. *s*

Gordo, I envy you that, tho truth be told very few of my dreams are that disturbing. I've had the difficult time as a parent watching my innocent babe grow into a gangling teenager, but I couldn't be more proud of her.

Rudi, that's cool! Who knew she'd be on the cutting edge of science?

Shao, only if it involves alcohol and maybe a big fire. *lol*

CC, I think you've got quite a heart, you're just keeping it hidden away. In a jar in the bottom drawer of your desk.

Giggled, Jean? I'm crushed! *lol*

Nancy Dancehall said...

Holy Langoliers, Batman! So they got your hand. *s*

Sweet Weerelephant!