Me at age 11, plus my altered version (I had a thing for scary movies)
I’m guilty, I know, of giving the impression I led an idyllic childhood. It’s true that I was a proto-storyteller with a headful of dreams, in love with books and art and music and movies. And it’s also true that I was, in many ways, a quintessential boy-boy, playing fearlessly, and coming home, carelessly bruised and dirtied, just in time for dinner. I was a self-absorbed only child from a self-existent home with a loving, creative homemaker mom and an ambitious, hard-working dad, busily “building a future” for his tiny nuclear family.
So, yes, I dreamed happily through much of my childhood.
And yet there was this darker dream, nightmare really. It wasn’t joyful like my flying dreams, nor even the momentarily mortifying ones about discovering I’d ridden my bike to school in my skivvies, only to awaken still happily pajamaed in bed. Nor even the terrifying dream of a banshee-like witch, or the one about dying at age five. In fact, the latter was strangely sweet, for in it I knew I was loved and would forever be missed.
No, my recurring nightmare was darker.
It began when I around eleven-years-old. I’d gone to bed before Mommandad, and could hear the murmur of the television through my bedroom wall. And then it happened. I cried out. Mom’s muffled voice called from the den, “What’s wrong, honey?” I answered, even though I was still asleep, “Someone’s throwing rocks at me!” and in doing so awoke amid a knot of twisted, sweat-soaked sheets, wondering why I’d said that. It wasn’t what I was dreaming.
What was I dreaming? On the one hand, it felt like an invasion from another reality, and so there were no words to describe it. On the other, there were unsettling images in my mind of trying desperately to walk on a dark, shifting landscape of human organs, hills made of deep red flesh that were constantly giving away beneath me, threatening to swallow me up. And if I let it happen, I knew–knew–I would never awaken again; I’d be lost forever in that hideous place. My only hope was to lay hold of a tiny yellow object shaped like a wishbone. Sometime later, I saw a tuning fork for the first time and thought, That’s my object!
The “mare” in nightmare comes from an old Germanic word for a kind of demon or incubus that recurringly visits people while they sleep, sucking away their joy and eventually their life. I would always awaken feeling as though that was exactly what was happening to me. Sometimes the nightmare would reoccur for several nights. Sometimes months would pass, or even a year or two; I’d think it was gone forever, but then it would happen again.
The nightmare continued into my teens, and then seemed to fade away, but made one final appearance when I was in my early twenties. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered what I believe caused it…
And what that “tuning fork” might be.