How many people have horrific nightmares? Seriously, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Are they in color or black and white? Do you feel, taste and smell as well as see and hear or is it just one or two of those? Is there blood? Have you died in a dream, been paralyzed?

I’ve had them off and on my whole life. Even had a guidance counselor in high school tell me, after I shared with him why I wasn’t sleeping, that it could be a sign of serious mental illness. (Schizophrenia, etc) I suppose early on it would have been classified as night terrors and they would have put me on some sort of sleep aid, I never saw anyone about it as a child and I never talked to another adult about it after the I told the guidance counselor to stick  it up his ass. In my twenties, they subsided to the point where it was only on occasion instead of “only a matter of time after I fell asleep” and I learned to live with it. I’ve been through my fair share of therapy in the last 30 years, talked about the severity of the dreams and to date, my guidance counselor was the only one who suggested any connection to a mental illness. It seems it’s connected to various events in my childhood and perhaps past lives. I suppose serious mental illness is possible… Maybe this personality doesn’t know about the others and I’m currently living in some elaborate delusion.  I guess this me will never know about that.

Back to the nightmares. I started having graphic, horrific dreams when I was barely old enough to verbalize my terror in words. At least that’s when I remember them starting. Could have been earlier and I simply don’t remember.

The first one I distinctly remember, before I was old enough to start preschool, was a car accident. Me in the backseat, my mother and grandmother in the front, it was a big wide car, like an early 70s Cadillac or a Mercury Marquee. We were driving along a skinny dirt narrow dirt roadroad carved into the side of a hill, straight up on the passengers side, straight down on the driver’s. The car was too wide for the road and the driver’s side tires were hanging over the edge. My grandmother was creeping along steering into the embankment on the passenger’s side, telling me and my mom to squeeze as far to the right as we could to help balance the weight. We didn’t make it… The car slipped over the edge and started rolling. Back in the days when seatbelts were usually cut out of cars for being an annoyance, I was flying all over the backseat. We rolled three or four times before mid-roll, I flew half way out the window. The top of the car cut me in half on the next roll, the top half of me laid there on the embankment watching the car, my mother and grandmother, and the bottom half of me roll all the way to the bottom. No one survived the accident. I remember waking up in sheer terror – too afraid to go back to sleep. I wanted to be held and told it was going to be ok and I did NOT want to be in the dark! After my grandmother fell asleep holding me in the rocking chair in the living room, I got up and turned on the TV. I watched snow until Saturday morning cartoons finally came on.

Sleeper, by Judson Huss (1942-2008), United States of America, 20th century

I had that same dream well into my 20s. As I reached puberty, more terrifying sleep hallucinations came to join it; more car accidents – sometimes with me driving, sometimes with me in the car, sometimes with me under it… Gunshot wounds to the head – my head, my hand holding the gun to someone else’s head… falling off a cliff to splatter onto the rocks below, shoving someone off a cliff for the joy of watching them die. Fights, suicides, murders, gang members, monsters, demons. You name it, I’ve faced them – I’ve been them.  In high school, I wrote poetry about my dreams, very dark stuff. (I don’t have any of it to share with you) I was published in the school literary journal. I remember much of my writing being about death and punishment and evil. In those years, I would go as long as I could without sleeping because being tired was way better than being afraid.

In my thirties and now into my forties, the bad dreams are mostly gone. On rare occasion, I have one that rocks me. About a month ago, the first night in my apartment, with a new roommate I had a new one. Let me try to paint a picture:

I am attending a community BBQ by the pool when one of my single, female neighbors mentions she has a stalker who is beginning to scare her. He started showing up at her place and asking to come in to talk and not leaving. She told him she wasn’t interested, he ignores her rejections and keeps showing up. I volunteer to hang out at her place tonight and have a conversation with him when he shows up, she opted to go somewhere else “so he wouldn’t be embarrassed”.  

I hear keys in the front door from upstairs. “Hi Honey, I’m home. Did you miss me?” I freeze in the hallway. Jesus, he’s inside! “You know I’m only teasing you right?” I start toward the stairs and catch his eye from the landing. “You know you can’t keep this up. It’s not funny” I could see flashes of black anger swimming around in his eyes. “She doesn’t want you here. This isn’t fun for her and it’s not ok.” trying to keep my voice gentle and friendly, almost playful.  At the bottom of the stairs now, I can see he’s vibrating with rage. 

I have a split second to wonder why I didn’t consider a weapon before he lunges at me, both hands clawing for my face and hair. I manage to scramble around him and dart for the kitchen. It’s a blur of punches, kicks, hate filled vulgarities and spit, we’re all the way into the kitchen now. I’m clawing and kicking and biting and screaming. My face is numb from being punched and smashed into the floor. One of my nails is torn completely off. I bite his face hard enough to tear skin and draw blood and am able to knock over the knife block as he flings me away,. Now we each have a knife, there’s blood in my eyes, I think it’s probably mine – my hair feels wet, his eyes are wild and black, he’s grinding his teeth. He grabs a beer bottle off the counter top and smashes the bottom off on the edge of the granite, he’s coming at me again – a weapon in each hand. I’m determined not to fucking die! I know I stab him all the way up to my fist many times, there’s so much blood. I kick his front teeth out, he’s coming at me again and again, knife in the left hand, broken beer bottle in the right. Slipping around in the blood, he’s slashing at my face with the bottle and I can feel the knife digging into the wall  -through me, again and again. I feel it tearing me apart inside. There’s so much blood and I can hear my own voice, growling with hate and anger. I can’t see anything but blood.   

I come to lying on the floor, I can sense more than one person above me. I panic and try to shove them away, grunting like a wild animal. I still can’t see anything but blood. I hear a woman, “You’re going to be ok, we’ve got you.” I’m numb but I feel her moving near my arm. “NO! He’s coming!” My voice sounds weird, muffled. I keep trying to scramble away, slippery with blood. Now a man’s voice, calm, “No, he’s not coming. He’s dead honey, you killed him. He can’t get you anymore.”  I can’t hear anything anymore, just black.

I can hear again but I don’t move this time. The man and woman are feeling around in the blood trying to find something. I can’t see but I know what they’re looking for. They’re trying to piece together my face like a puzzle so they can be sure to take all the pieces with me to the hospital.

I wake again in the hospital, I make the police come and tell me he’s dead. Show me pictures of his body. My face and most of my body is bandaged.

Honestly, my heart is pounding reliving the dream in order to tell it. It was so graphic, I could taste the blood and feel him lose his grip on sanity.

I spent years studying in libraries (and later online), logging every detail of my dreams the moment I woke up. Is there meaning? Sure. Is it easily explained away by life trauma haunting me? I guess. They seem to come in times of elevated stress. I haven’t had one since. I truly hope never to have that one again. At least I killed the bastard.

Tell me about your bad dreams so I don’t feel like such a freak. lol

King nightmare quote