I was at a conference, and the family came on the trip with me this time. I was at some sort of event that involved mingling, perhaps a coffee break, and having some in-depth discussions about some aspect of the phonetics of intonation. John and Phoebe were off somewhere together, but Theo was there with me, and getting bored and impatient. I suggested he go back to the hotel, and continued my conversation.

A bit later, after the discussions had wound down, I realized that I had sent Theo, barely 4 years old, off to wander the streets of some strange big city. Of course he didn’t know how to get back to the hotel by himself. I had no idea which way he’d gone. I started to look for him, and in the flexibility of dream space, I looked on many streets, in many directions. I asked countless strangers if they had seen a little boy, walking by himself. I became convinced that I would never find him again and fell apart. Not only had I lost Theo, but it was my fault. It was through my carelessness and inattention and self-absorption. My worst fears had been realized. I cried and moaned in my panic and grief.

I woke up in the dark, at home in my bed, my heart racing. My throat felt tight as if I had indeed been shrieking. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t actually made the loud noises I remembered making, that I still heard echoing in my head, as John was there asleep next to me. I curled up towards him and let myself go back to sleep.

When I next woke up, there was light coming in under the window shades. This is never a good sign, as the alarm typically goes off at 6:00, while it is still quite dark out. Last night we’d had a power outage, and while I had correctly set the alarm on our ancient radio alarm clock, I had managed to set the time wrong. By 12 hours.

It was 7:30. Happily, there was still time to get Phoebe ready for the bus. I could take Theo to his preschool after the bus instead of before. We should have rushed, since time still tight, but I climbed into Theo’s bed and held him close, curling myself up against him, warming his cold feet. I called Phoebe down from the top bunk to snuggle, too, and we snuggled, the three of us, until the bickering over who was taking up too much space and the jabbing elbows got the better of me. I got up, got the kids up, got dressed, and started the rush to get breakfast, finish packing lunches, and get us out the door.

I should have felt more rested today from having gotten that extra sleep, but I’ve been feeling shaken by my dream all day. I know that I would never really send Theo off by himself like that. Or Phoebe either, for that matter. (Though there was that one time that Theo did wander off outside by himself, while John and I were engaged with Phoebe, arguing over a lollipop. Theo had followed some friends who had visited our house and left. Our friends noticed him following them, and walked him back. And there was a time at the beach a couple of weeks ago when Phoebe wandered off looking for shells and got disoriented in the crowds of people and umbrellas. She couldn’t find us, and we couldn’t find her, for far too many minutes.)

My dream shows me that anxiety about separation is still rooted in my mind, planted there by too many health scares and nourished by so much time spent lately trying to focus on my work and school. With so many things going on in my life and in my head, I clearly sometimes worry that I will lose hold of what is most important to me.

5 thoughts on “nightmare

  1. I know what you mean, sometimes a dream stays with me all day. At least you figured out where it all stemmed from.

  2. For years I’ve had recurring dreams in which I suddenly find myself outside somewhere and all three cats are with me, and obviously in danger, and the dream is about me trying to collect them all up and bring them home again. I wonder if I’ll still have those dreams now that I only have two cats.

    They also “haunt” me for the rest of the day like yours did.

  3. Fascinating how one dream can take hold of you for a whole day. I’ve had that happen– usually resulting in another dream that resolves whatever issue the first dream addressed. Hope that is the case for you. Sweet dreams!

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