Normally, this is the time of year where I start sleeping like a champ. The gradual darkening between high summer (when the sun doesn’t set until around 10pm here) and low winter (when it gets dark at 3:30pm and fuck you if you think the sun is an option) allows my body to understand nighttime at a relaxed pace, so when 11pm rolls around, I’m pretty much ready to cuddle up in bed and I know I’ll get at least 7 hours of sleep before I have to go to work in the morning.
It’s upsetting, then, when this period of regular sleep is interrupted by dreams so graphic and intense that I wake up exhausted every morning. Sometimes even from afternoon naps. And these dreams aren’t like my normal adult nightmares, which are mostly about bankruptcy, missing flights, and my car being stolen or impounded (always the most emotionally devastating of the three). Lately, it’s like my brain is regressing to the nightmares of Younger Me. I’m talking like vampires, zombies, and, increasingly, the apocalypse.
When I was a kid, I had a recurring dream that was so unsettling, I’d wake up screaming and unable to fully wake up for whole minutes (instead I’d keep yelling “THERE’S WATER EVERYWHERE, WE HAVE TO GET OUT”). In the dream, I’m at an older couple’s house – friends of my grandparents, or my friends’ grandparents, something like that – and the house iss mostly decorated in wood paneling, which, if you think about it, wasn’t really that far off from most of the homes I would have been in as a child in the early ‘80s. Someone in the dream is playing a piano in the next room, and at the same time they hit this one major chord, I touch something on the paneling. Not anything, really, just a spot, and it’s a weak spot, apparently, because the piano keeps crashing on and then all of this water rushes in, just breaks down the walls, and me and everyone else are drowning and the house is coming apart and even though I am 31 years old now, I still have that piano chord in my head and it still makes me want to wet my pants when I hear it in real life.
(And no, this dream did not ever make me wet my bed.)
I couldn’t tell you when was the last time I had that dream, but I think it belongs in the apocalyptic category because it’s a violently big end to something. Now that I’m an adult with a slightly more acute understanding of the apocalypse, my dreams aren’t limited to fucking up some old couple’s house. They’re about zombies (of course), famine, terrorists, dirty bombs, and secret police. Last night I was helping to hide a group of my friends inside of a mall when an outside group of people came in, spraying gunfire and throwing explosives. Now, of course this could be some part of my brain trying to deal with the Nairobi Mall attack, but let’s not forget that one episode of Buffy where Angel went bad and she blew up the Judge in a mall. It could be anything. And yes, I know that even the dreams that feel like they take hours are actually just blips, 3-5 minutes at most, but the apocalypse dreams I’m having just drag on and on and when I do wake up from them, I’m right back in the last scene when I fall asleep again.
Everything in these dreams is so detailed and complex, and I can smell the cordite from the guns and the ammonia in the gas. I can feel my ears pop when the bombs go off. And what’s really weird is all the curveball things that appear, things I haven’t thought about since I was a kid, like the dresses my sister used to get for her Barbies that some church lady made and sold at the neighborhood carnival every year. The other night, I opened a whole closet full of person-sized versions of them and remembered that I knew these dresses, and even then, I knew that my brain wasn’t just telling me that I did. But then I had to continue running through this manor house I’ve been dreaming about since I was probably 5 because the weird mutant zombie child was still coming after me no matter how many rooms I picked or doors I locked behind me.
Like I said, it’s exhausting. I wake up so sweaty and thirsty after every one of these dreams. While my brain knows I’ve been dreaming, my body is too scared to go back to sleep right away. It needs a few minutes to calm down. A few minutes when I could be sleeping if I could get my unconscious mind to quit screwing around.
I know the trick about writing down what’s bothering you before you go to sleep, because that way you’re able to get the information out of your head and onto something tangible where it won’t creep into your sleep cycle. And I know that half of what I’m dreaming is not-even-remembered things that happened during the day that make no sense, while another quarter of it is actual memories that I have no choice but to keep re-living because my dreaming mind is super uncreative. What I wish I knew is why I keep dreaming so hard about the fucking apocalypse, because if the world ends one more time when I’m asleep, I don’t know if I can take it.