When I was seven, the scariest place in the world was under my bed.
It was a double, so there was plenty of space under there for demon-possessed Muppets with evil grins to hide amongst the dust bunnies. I kept my back turned to the edge of the bed, so as to protect myself from any fuzzy claw that might reach up and graze my cheek.
When my self-induced reign of terror eventually relented, allowing me to drift off to sleep, I had the typical dreams of a chubby little elementary school girl. All my childhood wishes, fears, impulses and insecurities found a place on the playground of my sleeping id.
On happy nights, I dreamt of puppies and kittens that were all mine, getting locked in the toy store all night, and flying just above the trees without wings. When I felt insecure, I dreamt of being at school wearing only saddle shoes and a belt. When I was afraid, I dreamt of Muppets who were nice at first, and then turned mad and tried to get me.
As the years went by, my dreams stayed pretty much the same, with a few minor adjustments, like a grocery store instead of a toy store – my mother never bought sugared cereals or Twinkies — and the cast of Happy Days instead of the Muppets. Nothing out of the ordinary.
But as a young adult, I began to form a deeper sense of myself and how I fit into the world around me. I became hyper aware of my social status, struggled to chose between right and wrong, and developed fresh fears of my burgeoning independence.
And my dreams started getting bizarre. Really bizarre.
Suddenly, I was trying to run from vicious wolves, but my legs were stuck in molasses. I was in huge sprawling houses that seemed cool at first, but then I got lost amongst the endless doors and rooms. I found myself taking exams for which I had forgotten to purchase the textbook.
And I made out with people. Weird people. Like Marshall Westover, a kid who smelled funny and was in Mrs. Rowley’s kindergarten class with me at East Pike Elementary School; and Sean Monroe, a frat boy who I saw throwing up one night in the campus dive bar.
What’s up with that?
In my late 20s, I met and married my Navy husband. We had babies, bought a couch, wrote Christmas update letters, raised a puppy, cut grass, and moved around a lot – just like other military families.
During the past two decades, my dreams have been what you might expect for this meaty stage of life. I dreamt of disappointing my old boss, losing my kids in a crowd, falling off cliffs, moving into new houses, and realizing that I had a funky new mole on my body.
And now, I’m firmly entrenched in that stage of life commonly known as “middle-age.” With three teenagers and my husband in his 25th year in the Navy, we are experiencing that intense fear-excitement mix that comes with having no idea what the future holds and whether or not we can afford it.
Suddenly, every dream I ever had is competing for airtime, along with some new money-related scenarios. The wolves are chasing, Twinkies are being devoured, I’m making out with Ralph Malph, I’m finding winning lottery tickets, and I’m showing up to a new job wearing only a half-slip and mittens.
Freud might say that my middle-aged dreams indicate latent personality disorder and disguised sexual deviance, and order immediate inpatient psychotherapy. But after 17,245 nights of sleep, I’ve learned that life is filled with hope, sorrow, fear and joy. It’s not important that our brains get it all a little muddled when we snooze.
The important thing is to just keep on dreaming.