Dreams are a big topic of conversation around here these days. Matthew, who is four, seems to be having quite a lot of them, mostly of the nightmare variety. We’ve had lots of talks about how dreams are Not Real, and once in the car I found myself launching into a spontaneous and hopefully accurate explanation of how dreams are what happen when your brain, which is full of all sorts of pictures and words and memories, puts all those things together in funny new ways while you sleep. Dreams don’t mean anything, I told Matthew, and he seemed to accept that, more or less.
But it got me thinking about some of the dreams that I’ve had over the course of my life. I’ve never kept a dream journal, though there are still some that are remarkably vivid, even years later. They fall into a few rough categories:
1. Really freaky nightmares. I still recall a dream from my childhood about a pair of cursed red shoes that had belonged to all kinds of famous people, including (inexplicably) Cleopatra. In my dream, the house that the shoes were in burned down to the ground, but as the flames engulfed the building the shoes were still standing, intact, on the front porch. It a was terrifying scene, and sent me immediately into my parents’ room for comfort. (Now that I’m a writer, though, I think: That has the makings of one dynamite gothic story.)
2. Dreams involving famous people. In recent years, my dreams have included such luminaries as Ben Affleck, Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court, the blonde singer from ABBA, and the son of Tony Bennett. Actually, I am not even sure that Tony Bennett has a son, but in a recent dream he did, and I was supposed to sing a duet with him. Unfortunately, even in my dreams I have the kind of singing voice that makes my younger son cry, so I managed to politely pull myself out of the gig. (Incidentally, I attribute this dream entirely to the fact that I’ve recently discovered this album — which is, by the way, terrific).
3. Teaching dreams. If you have ever been a teacher, you know exactly what I’m talking about. These are the dreams where you are running late and arrive at school after the bell, or you get to school and start teaching, only to find out you have no lesson plans. Believe me, either scenario makes the red shoes nightmare seem like child’s play. Do people in other professions have dreams about their jobs, too? Do surgeons dream about making the wrong cut, or actors dream about forgetting their lines? I’m really curious.
4. The miraculous dream. Okay, this one didn’t happen to me, but it did happen to my sister years ago. My grandma died when I was sixteen, and my grandpa died three years later. Shortly after his death, my sister had a dream where my grandpa called her on the phone, from heaven. She asked to speak to Grandma too, and Grandma’s voice came across the line, clear as a bell. They talked, and all the while Amy was marveling at the fact that she was able to talk to them again, even in death.
“Can I call you again sometime?” Amy asked them.
“No,” they told her. “This is the only time we can talk to you like this. We just wanted you to know that we’re here, and we’re together, and we’re okay.”
You know what? I have to qualify what I told Matthew. Sometimes, I think dreams really do mean something.