I have bad dreams. Just last night I had one that didn’t make any sense. I dreamt that my favorite ex-boyfriend had found a new girlfriend, and that their families were getting together and everyone was very happy, and when I realized this, I was inconsolable. Sobbing my heart out. Then trying to drive as far away from them and all their (our) friends as possible, thinking of things to do to forget about happiness. It wasn’t surprising to find myself on a bus instead of driving a car, this being a dream, and that the bus was going in the wrong direction, but happily I can’t remember what happened after that.
Here’s the thing. He might be my favorite ex-boyfriend, but I broke up with him and when he found the love of his life, I was very happy for them. Still am. They’re both good friends. When I woke up, it was a relief to find that I wasn’t in the least little bit sad anymore. So what the hell?
All twenty toes and fingers would very likely suffice to count my good dreams over the years, and right now I can’t remember a single one.
My last novel was inspired by house dreams, dreams that were for the most part neither good nor bad. Instead, they tended toward the frustrating. “I know this house, I’ve been here before, I’m so happy to be back, but why isn’t it the same? Why is it so disappointing? Why are the good times all gone?”
Most of the bad dreams, though, are dreams in which I fuck up, a fear that carries over into real life – or is it that the real life fear carries over into the dreams. It’s more than finding yourself naked in a public place (although that happens). It’s more likely that I can’t find something I promised to find, or can’t get somewhere I promised to be, or something that I thought was secure is out of order, out of line, out of bounds. Something for which I am responsible turns out utterly and completely FUBAR.
It’s not quite that bad in real life, although I sometimes have to explain to folks that a modus operandus of mine is Always Go The Wrong Way First, because then I know it’s the wrong way. Same thing with putting things together, taking things apart, which way is righty tighty anyway? Stuff like that. Start off on the wrong foot, but the very next step has to be the right one.
Oddly, I never dream about my two ex-husbands. I do have a lot of dreams about several ex-boyfriends. About missed opportunities. About messing up something good, or something I thought was good not being so good after all.
And yet, I swear I have no regrets. Looking back on my real life, I honestly can’t see it working out any other way. I wrote an entire novel, A Dream of Houses, visiting the possibility of another path, and I think the only lesson I learned from the enterprise was to have a little more respect for the paths I've rejected.
So how should I think about the bad dreams? Are they signposts? Are they telling me that the road ahead is still pretty much same-o, same-o? It’s okay, if it is. I’ve got the Wrong Way syndrome fairly well covered. Is that’s what it’s all about? I’m an old lady. Are the bad dreams a warning that now is not the time to let my guard down? Are bad dreams our friends?
If we’re not paying attention, the Wrong Way could always become the long walk off the short pier. Maybe bad dreams remind us to keep on our toes. To stay alert. We’ll live longer that way. With any luck, we'll stay sharper longer too. More chances to make our other dreams come true.