From the album The Nightmare of Being by At the Gates
I had a recurring nightmare, beginning around age eleven. It evoked a landscape of dark red “hills” made of organs inside a diseased body. As I wandered alone, the ground would shrink away in pain, leaving me in constant fear of disappearing beneath a fold of flesh, never to return. My only hope was to lay hold of a tiny two-pronged sort of tuning fork. But I could never get close enough to grasp it.
What did it all mean?
Looking back, I believe it stemmed from a deep-rooted fear of rejection. While I don’t think it started with my father (I was born a bundle of feelings and impressions), his efforts to teach me to “be a man” and face life’s challenges, instilled a deep sense of conditionality in me: If I did what was expected, I would be accepted, praised, even loved. If I didn’t, I would be rejected, unloved and alone forever.
In second grade I underwent a personality transplant, turning first into class clown, and then artist and official storyteller. What changed? I’d woven a magical cloak from the things I could do that impressed people, and discovered I liked wearing it, craved the praise and—here’s the key word— acceptance it brought me.
But that magical cloak wasn’t me. Without it, I was naked, exposed for what I really was inside. Without the cloak, I would be rejected forever.
The recurring nightmare began, I suspect, following a familiar rite of passage. Like all pre-adolescent youths, I’d discovered it felt good to touch a certain part of my budding anatomy, and did so. But one morning, I left my bedroom door open, thinking I was alone in the house. I wasn’t. When my father spotted me, all he said was, “We have to talk.” I assumed he was disgusted, finding my actions shocking and utterly unacceptable. Of course, that assumption would have been put to rest if we’d talked. But he never brought it up again.
Result? I believed he was so disgusted that he no longer wanted anything to do with me. I waited weeks, months, expecting him to announce that he and Mom had decided to make me leave and never come back. That didn’t happen, so the nightmare gradually faded, disappearing altogether by the time I’d turned into a cocky, colorfully-cloaked actor and would-be rock star.
The nightmare made a final reappearance when I ran out of rent money in my early 20s and moved back home with Mom…and Dad.
My father never meant to teach me these things, of course. Just as I never meant to teach my oldest daughter something I’ve learned traumatized her for years. But, alas, what we mean to convey, and how our kids perceive those things, sadly, are often the stuff of nightmares.
And that “tuning fork”? I’d say one side is cloakless self-acceptance. And the other, the unconditional love and adoption of the One who made me…
Naked and cloakless.