Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Great Escape

The dreams came with relative frequency. At least that's the way my memory tells it. They were the fitful dreams that came in the night and only disappeared when the sun came up over the horizon. You know the ones. The ones that are so real you can feel the blood pumping through your veins and your legs burning from the exhaustion of running all night long. The ones that seem to last as long as the curtain of night is drawn and the ones that keep visiting you no matter how many times you wake up drenched in your own sweat trying desperately to close the door on them. Yes...those dreams.

From the time of my earliest memories and well into my twenties, the dreams maintained a fairly constant theme. I would hear my parents running and as they ran, they would scream for help. Panicked, I would chase after them, only catching glimpses of them now and again. We were always running through dense foliage. Most often, I remember running through what I perceived as a jungle full of thick hanging vines and having to jump over fallen trees while trying to avoid being snagged by the tangled undergrowth. Although I can't tell you what it looked like, there was always some sort of giant beast chasing us. Almost always, at some point during the panic of trying to catch my parents, I would come upon a trap in which they had been ensnared. The traps were not unlike those rigged by the castaways on Gilligan's Island where a hole has been covered with thicket, just waiting for an unsuspecting native. Sometimes the traps were nets that swooped my parents up and suspended them from the trees. Then, of course, there was the quick sand. Again, just like the Gilligan's Island variety.

I would reach my trapped parents and they would be yelling for me to help them. Knowing that The Beast was not far behind, I would stretch out my hand to reach them and to disentangle them, but then, the beast would be upon us and I would run.

There wasn't much variation from dream to dream. Always running, always the unseen beast chasing, always panic and always the overwhelming feeling of impending doom. And, never ever, could I save my parents.

Of course, it doesn't take an immense amount of brilliance to analyze those dreams. That terrible and frightening unseen beast did eventually catch my parents and it ate them alive.

I had dreams into my early thirties about The Beast chasing only me. At some point, after years of extremely hard work on Self, some really great therapy and the shot of confidence that was gained from finally trashing the garbage that was my marriage, I dreamed The Dream one night. Having tired of running, I turned around and faced The Beast. I don't remember what I said exactly, but I remember screaming at that beast until he turned and disappeared into the thicket. I've not had the dream since.

I understand it all now and I've processed it. Occasionally I think about it and feel a little sad. Some of the sadness is for my parents, but most of it is for Little Me. I had no idea what all of those dreams meant, only how they made me feel. And, how they made me feel...was afraid.

Try as I might, I can't quite pin down the exact number of years I lived with a packed suitcase under my bed. I know it was at least two. I now refer to them as the Hobo Years because I'd seen a picture in a storybook of a man who hopped trains, carrying a stick with a red bandanna tied to the end. The purpose of the bandanna was to hold his lunch and he carried it over his shoulder as he walked along the tracks. I thought this was a brilliant idea, so in my suitcase I'd prepared quite a lovely stick and bandanna lunch sack. Also contained in the suitcase were my two favorite stuffed animals, a change of clothes with extra socks and underwear, a notebook and pen so that I could write home and a book. The book would get rotated day to day or week to week depending on what I was currently reading. If I had to flee my home at a moment's notice, I certainly didn't want to miss out on how my book ended.

The suitcase was kept under my bed at arms length. Every night when I got into bed, I ran through the drill of closing my eyes and pretending that I heard an intruder. I would grab my glasses that I kept directly next to my pillow, throw them on and reach my arm under the bed to grasp the handle of the suitcase. I would make slight adjustments to the position of the suitcase and re-run the drill until I was satisfied that should an intruder come into the house, I and all of my most important possessions, could make it out of the door in mere seconds.

My memory doesn't recall if my parents even knew about the existence of my escape case. I vaguely remember a sister or two rolling her eyes at me and referring to me in derogatory terms usually reserved for the mentally handicapped. I didn't care. I was going to be damn well ready for the day that I needed to run. If anyone was left in my house after I'd high-tailed it out of there, they could look forward to a lovely handwritten note from yours truly.

When I was eight years old, my family moved from Illinois to Oklahoma. For some reason, having my suitcase under the bed within arms reach just didn't cut it anymore. I decided that if an intruder came that he would most likely come into the bedrooms first and murder all of us where we slept. The only solution I could think of to avoid being chopped up while I slumbered, was to sleep under the bed with my suitcase. That way, the murderous intruder would make his way through the house sawing up everyone in his path without ever detecting me. Once he was satisfied with his cruel handiwork and moved on to his next unsuspecting victims, I would be free to grab my suitcase and get the hell out of that house of horrors.

The more I ran this scenario through my head, the clearer it became that I was not doing enough to ensure that the vicious killer who was certain to arrive at our house any night didn’t detect me. So, I began to conceal myself even better by packing myself under my bed with every stuffed animal I owned. My nightly drills now consisted of getting nice and comfy under my bed, checking the position of my suitcase and glasses, packing myself in with stuffed animals and adjusting them and re-adjusting them until I was satisfied that if someone looked under my bed, they would just assume that some lunatic was maintaining a gigantic stuffed zoo for dust bunnies.

Specifically when the Hobo Years ended, I do not know. Eventually, I began sleeping on top of my bed again and my suitcase was checked less frequently and then never. My fears remained, but I managed to deal with them and my behaviors altered as I developed new coping skills to deal with the residents of the asylum I called home.

I cannot say that there have been no residual effects from being chased by The Beast, because that would be untrue. I still have little quirks and habits that make me feel safe, like sleeping with the blankets completely up around my neck no matter how warm it is outside, or making sure that I don't fall asleep with my foot hanging over the side of the bed. But, for the most part...I've escaped. And, though I worry too much about things I shouldn't, I know that I am finally free.

14 comments:

Inga K said...

Good grief! It's amazing you ever got any sleep with all that running through your head. I used to dream about Mom & Dad being in prison and I couldn't get them out. Hmmmm... This was very entertaining to read. Thanks for the laugh.

steven said...

amy that's one amazing post! i so get the recurring dream of being chased by the big beast. i also sense that you do truly know what the big beast is and i love that somehow you got rid of it. dreams give us so much information about how to manage our lives. it's hard to accept something so frightening as actually being benificent until you look back and see that it was really you helping you. taking care of you. loving you. have a peaceful day. steven

ellen abbott said...

Wow, Amy. Glad that you have conquered your beast. I used to have a very similar dream. I was also being chased by something but I was in a tunnel that was getting steadily lower and narrower until I was crawling on my stomach. Always I woke up before it got me. I was telling a friend about this recurring dream once and she asked me what was chasing me. I told her I didn't know. She said that next time I had the dream to turn around and look. I have never had the dream again. Apparently, just knowing I could turn around and face it was enough to dispel it so I still don't know what it was.

The Bug said...

Wow - what a powerful story! I'm glad you made it free...

@eloh said...

This is a really good story. So glad you finally got free, I don't think most people ever do.

~JarieLyn~ said...

Wow, that was pretty intense. I used to have a recurring nightmare when I was in my twenties. I was always being chased by a bad guy. Then one time in the dream I had a knife and decided I didn't want to be chased any more. I turned around and plunged the knife into the stomach of the bad guy. To this day, I can still feel what his flesh felt like. It was so real. But ever since then, I have not had another bad dream. Also, I only had these dreams when I was with my ex boyfriend.

Reya Mellicker said...

What a beautiful, sad, extremely human story. Wow. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Here comes one of my bizarre theories - a bunch of us were refugees in past lifetimes. Even now in our comfortable American incarnations, we still feel the need to be ready to flee at a moment's notice. Hence the packed suitcases. You're not the only one, friend!

Aunt Juicebox said...

When I was a child, I did things ritualistically to keep myself safe as well, from what I have no idea. I would have to go down the steps starting with the right foot first, counting as I went down, don't look behind you or it will follow you, grab you before you can get out of the hallway. Touch the wall with one hand, touch it equally with the other. Do it three times. I still do things like this. Line things up, sort them by unknown qualities.

My bad dreams always involve someone trying to stab me.

Bee and Rose said...

Amy, thank you for sharing this powerful post. I'm glad you conquered the beast. I still have dreams that repeat from childhood. Hopefully, I will find the courage as you did to face the beast too...

(Thank you so deeply for your love and support over the last few weeks...It meant the world to me!)

Angela said...

I am always amazed at how you have learned to let all these troubling memories come out into the open, Amy. There of course they lose their threatening power! You see how many can relate to your dreams and fears? I guess we all are born with them (who knows, maybe from past lives, Reya?) and must learn to love ourselves enough to face them. What a good ending for you, Amy! You were brave! And you still are, sharing these things with us. You also see that nobody is shocked or thinks you are crazy.
With me, it was riding in trains and never arriving, but it didn`t harm me. I only wondered why in spite of all effort I never reached my goal. But come to think of it...those dreams have gone since a few years. Have I reached my goal, or don`t I care anymore?

lakeviewer said...

There is so much in our lives that gets buried during our waking days. We bury, we cope. In dreams, we try to make sense of our fears, our troubles. We try to find solutions.

Scientists tell us that we do that on a regular basis, find solutions, make sense.

Dreams are part of our humanity.

Maithri said...

A moving, beautiful post my friend...

We've all got 'em dont we... The beasts that chase us...

And until we do exactly what you did... To turn around and face them....they just keep running after us...

Sometimes the best thing we can do to the things we fear... is to embrace them...

Heres to you my friend,

To freedom,

And to dragons melting into butterflies,

Much love, M

Maithri said...

Thank you for your beautiful kindness to me... It means more than I can say, M

I am... said...

People: This is my seriously lame ass attempt in responding to you. Thank you ALL so kindly for reading the 'ol blog and for taking the time to comment. Obviously, you're better humans than I am this month! I've been in a rut of sorts and have been an outright delinquent in responding to you. A million thanks to you all for your continued support and for never actually referring to me as "crazy" or "looney" in your comments. You're all so sweet that way!

Maithri: Since you posted your comment about dragons turning into butterflies, it's been running through my mind like a small hum of pleasant white noise. Thank you for that! Your words alway wrap around me like a favorite sweatshirt and warm me up all over. Big hugs to you.