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.