I just finished an almost-800 page book, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. It has been described as a literary piece that comes only half a dozen times in a decade. It is said to be "Dickensian," "sweeping," and "a masterpiece." Numerous essays and reviews have been written about this novel that took twelve years to write.
I will not attempt to write about this book because I cannot do it justice, as other readers/reviewers have. But it did inspire me to think about a particular topic. The novel begins with the protagonist, Theo, telling us how he lost his mother in a tragic accident at age 13. This loss, so overpowering, comes through in his way of grieving her: "I miss her so much I wanted to die: a hard, physical longing, like a craving for air underwater." Over the years, he'd dream of her constantly, but
"...only as absence, not presence: a breeze blowing through a just-vacated house, her handwriting on a notepad, the smell of her perfume, streets in strange lost towns where I knew she'd been walking only a moment before but had just vanished, a shadow moving away against a sunstruck wall. Sometimes I spotted her in a crowd, or in a taxicab pulling away, and these glimpses of her I treasured despite the fact that I was never able to catch up with her."First, these images made me ache for Theo's heart. Then, they made me think about my own dreams, many of them recurring: those fleeting sightings of objects or ideas just beyond my grasp; momentary flashes of emotions lasting only seconds; and the unearthing of feelings that have been buried for decades.
I remember, as far back as age 6 or 7, having the Falling dream. Though I've never "fallen" from considerable height ever in my life, these dreams seem so real. All the elements of falling--the gravitational pull yanking me downward, the acceleration of my fall through thin air, and the panic flooding my entire body--are as palpable as being face-to-face with my Demise. Except I never hit the ground; I wake up instead. That Moment never happens, yet over and over, I wake, stunned, gasping, and bewildered at the authenticity of that chilling sensation.
There's also the Chasing dream. There's danger behind me, and I'm running for my life. Except my legs and arms can only move v e r y s l o w l y. Yet the person chasing me is still running in real time. I just can't run any faster (to save my life). It's as if a film editor accidentally superimposed a slow-mo action scene over a real-time scene. It toys with one's perspectives.
Thankfully, the frequency of these two types of dreams have decreased over the years.
What I have been having more in the recent years is the Facial Distortion dream. Hair falling out by the handfuls. Teeth of odd sizes or colors appearing in improbable places in my mouth. Ginormous zits sprouting where they don't belong. Being unable to remove my over-sized contact lenses from my strangely minuscule eyeballs. Yep, the really weird stuff. I'm either really vain or an overachieving hypochondriac.
Every now and then, I still get the Relive-the-Pain dream. Complete reenactments of childhood memories, like scenes from a familiar play, conjuring--with great artistry and precision--feelings of guilt, shame, and blame in me. I can be a child, an adult, or my current age in the dream, but all the raw feelings of my child-self still come flooding back. The mind remembers things in obscure ways: experiences from way back and deep down still pop up when one least expects them.
On a lighter note, I also occasionally have the Rejection-by-DH dream, whereupon I wake up mad at him because in my dream he had turned his back on me and walked away. I'm not sure how this gets into my head since that has never happened in real life. Like, ever. The poor guy wakes up facing an angry wife with a temper tantrum.
I've been told that I have a dramatic flair for defending (what I "think" is) reality.
Finally, there's the Just-Out-of-Grasp dream. Mouth-watering Peking duck on the table and poof! it's gone cuz I'm lying in my bed and there's no duck in it with me. Or the one where I'm about to get some sort of major recognition in front of a large crowd, and that glorious moment pops like a pin-pricked balloon because oh, I just woke up. I find myself in bed with no applause or glory. Only darkness and disappointment.
So close, yet so far away. Always a moment too soon, or a second too late.
No doubt dreams are subconscious expressions of one's fears and anxieties, as well as ultimate desires and yearnings, as in Theo's case. Which makes me wonder: why don't we have more pleasant and happy dreams? I cannot think of one dream where I felt warm and happy, complacent and relaxed. (Okay, well, I did have the Baby-Moving-in-My-Belly dream, where I felt overjoyed re-experiencing the feeling of carrying a baby. But that happy feeling soon turned into an OMG-I-CanNOT-Be-Pregnant anxiety and the happiness is all gone.)
So, do we not have more positive dreams or do we only remember the negative ones? Is it because of our conscious suppression of negative thoughts during the day that land them in our subconscious dreaming in the night?
If Theo could control his dreams, he wouldn't be chasing his mother's absence. If I had my way, I would spend less time being a nervous wreck in my sleep.
And eat lots of Peking duck.