(Female, 40′s) I was driving around my hometown, showing a visiting friend where I grew up. I realized that we were just a block away from the house my grandmother lived in when I was a child so I turned to go down her street. The houses were all in terrible shape, however, and I became disoriented. My grandmother’s house was just like the two on either side of it and 2 down from the only two-story house on the street. That was how I figured out which one was her former house because it looked nothing like it was supposed to.
…The house was even worse inside….
Even though the lots were not large, all of the houses has been “remodeled” but had since fallen into a state of disrepair. The walls were grey and crooked, like a western ghost town might look, but people were living there. I stood outside the house and looked, with my mouth agape. I walked up to the door and tried to look inside.
The family who lived in the house saw me and, when I explained my connection to the house, the mother invited me to come in. The house was even worse inside. There were boards leaning up against half finished walls. The house had been made larger; you could see from the rubble on the floor where the original walls had stood. My grandma’s simple 4 room house was gigantic. The new bathroom alone was half as big as the old house. But it was all so ugly and rotten looking.
When I left, my hand got caught on the door. The broken window glass tore a hole in my palm. Pressing my hand over the dripping cut, I ran outside to my car where my friend was waiting for me.
I’m basicially a child of the late 60′s/early 70′s at least that is the period where I came to consciousness. My earliest date-able memories were the riots in Detroit. I remember watching the Viet Nam war on TV while we ate dinner every night. The latest fad seemed to alternate among hijackings, assassinations and bombings.
I was a kid and grown-ups like to keep kids in the dark about a lot of things in the hopes kids won’t worry. But the lack of straight information was maddening. I remember watching “Helter Skelter” when it first aired in 1976. I was 13 and I remember having to change the channel whenever my mom came in the room so she wouldn’t know what I was watching. Needless to say, that didn’t make for a satisfying viewing experience and to this day there are parts of the whole Manson case I don’t know let alone understand.
That’s why it’s been really refreshing for me to see a couple documentaries about real-life terror in recent months, namely “The Weather Underground (2003)” and “Guerrilla: the Taking of Patricia Hearst (2004)” I remember sketchy details about both the Weathermen and the Symbionese Liberation Army from back in the day. In fact, when Patty Hearst was kidnapped I remembered being grateful that I was the son of a schoolteacher and not that of a plutocratic publisher since I would not make a likely kidnap victim. A couple years later, though, a girl who lived a few blocks away was abducted, raped and murdered. So much for my theory of security through lack of notoriety…
The two movies beg for comparison. Both do a good job of describing some of aspects of American society at the time, at least the aspects that spurred the extreme radicalism of certain groups. The Weatherman movie, I think does a better job of tracing how progressive ideals can splinter off piece by piece into more and more extreme forms of radicalism. By contrast, something that seems evident in the opening minutes of the Patty Hearst movie is that the SLA start off seriously crazy. Granted they develop out of a group that visits prisoners which is all things being equal a laudable task but the SLA’s first public act is to murder a black school official. By contrast, the Weathermen interviewed assert that their attacks were always calculated to destroy property and not people… though I don’t know enough about the facts to know if this was actually true. I tried to explain the Weathermen movie to an older friend of mine, one who was a hippy… heck, he probably STILL could be considered a bit of a hippy and his initial response was to cut me off mid-sentence “The Weathermen? Those murderers?” The Weathermen interviews certainly got a little coy when discussing the bank robberies that funded their operations during the group’s later stages. Both groups at least seem relatively effective at spreading terror whether it advanced a discernible political agenda or not.
It should be obvious by now that my interest in the radical terrorists of a by-gone era isn’t very serious. I haven’t read any books on the subject. I haven’t even looked up the key players on wikipedia (except to find the dates for the TV movie “Helter Skelter”) I haven’t looked very hard because I really don’t think I’m going to find the answer to what I really want to know which is why would it ever occur to anyone to try to motivate change, especially progressive change through fear?
(Female, erly 80′s) I am trembling as I write this. I just woke up from a MOST TERRIBLE nightmare.
I was with my son and his family in an ice cream store. It seemed very familiar and was the kind of place where the owners lived in the back. However, the ice cream cones all had very strange names. My son’s family all got their cones and as I was waiting for mine, I started to faint and I tried to call for help and hung on to the counter. But EVERYONE had gone.
…I tried to pound on the counter but my arms were LIMP just hanging out of my sleeve and would make no noise when I hit on the counter….
My voice would not come out, only with a squeak. I tried to pound on the counter but my arms were LIMP just hanging out of my sleeve and would make no noise when I hit on the counter. I seemed to know that the owners were in the back so tried to crawl back there. The woman saw me and ran to call the doctor. The man came and I mumbled that my family was out in the car. He let me lean on his arm and we went outside on this very busy street with cars crowded together. I started to fall on the street in weakness and he said, “Don’t do that , here is your family.”
This FUNNY looking little square shaped black car pulled up. My family was all there, but all dressed up in fancy formal black looking clothes and were all squeezed together in this little car. I recognized my grandson, my son and I think it was either my niece or grand-daughter and some other people. I kept saying “Why did you leave me and where is my ice cream cone?” They all had just a very strange smile and did not know what I was talking about just as though it was now in a different time. I asked “Am I dead?” I kept trying to say that I was weak and needed to eat. I remember, at this point I almost realized that it was a dream and I was trying to jerk myself awake. Finally I jerked and broke myself loose and woke up.
Though this item sounds like the premise to a cheesy horror movie (in fact, the premise of a very enduring horror movie franchise) there is actually a medically recognized condition where normally healthy people fall asleep and never wake up.
Current explanation as to why? Nightmares.
These cases occurred in modern times–the first in 1977– in American cities– Sacramento, Chicago… and claimed more than 100 lives. Named apparently “Nightmare Death Syndrome” or “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome” (SUNDS) there is one other key piece of information about this phenomenon, namely that it effects a very precise demographic: immigrants primarily male from south east Asia.
Read in its full political and historical context, the whole story of these Hmong immigrants is perhaps more a tragedy than horror story.
But what would cause them to die asleep in such numbers? Some have suggested the stress of acculturation compounded with guilt about leaving relatives behind. Another researcher examined the traditional culture of the Hmong and discovered a notion “dab tsog” or a nightmare that is not just a bad dream but an actual visitation. These visitations can be so traumatic, it is hypothesized, that dreamers die of shock.
I will reserve commentary on the very fruitful topic of such “visitation nightmares” to another time but I’ll close with the thought that if our dreams are stalked by malevolent entities who threaten our lives, why are there not entities equally powerful who protect us? How can we populate our dream life with them? That might be the ultimate task in coping with nightmares.
(Female, early 40′s) A powerful secret group was taking over the world in a very Big Brother sort of way. I was rounded up with a group of people who were “recruited” to join, although we didn’t have any choice. We were taken to this huge warehouse structure and held there. There were guards with us all the time and we were marched between the living quarters, and the mess hall, and the exercise yard. We were captives, but they gave each of us a small fluffy pet, this weird little creature like a cross between a tribble (you know those little guinea pig creatures from Star Trek!) and a yarn pompom. We suspected that they were going to try to drug us, so we refused to eat anything. Yet, one by one, people started giving in and joining them. I couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that the cute cuddly “pets” we were being given were part of the brainwashing process. I pushed mine to the ground and all the pets suddenly swarmed me! I knocked at them with my hands, but they were shedding fibers on my clothes and hands and face and lips. I couldn’t get away from them.
(Male, 30′s) I don’t know if this is exactly a nightmare, but it sure is kind of strange.
I dreamt that my wife told me that the baby she’s pregnant with isn’t mine. My wife actually IS pregnant, by the way. For some reason, this revelation made me want to kill myself.
…For some reason, this revelation made me want to kill myself….
I can’t figure out exactly WHY I had to kill myself but it seemed obvious in the context of the dream, like there was just nothing else for me to do in those circumstances. So I went out to this lake that’s by our condo and I walked out into it. And of course I floated. Even in my dream, I realized that I would float in water. And I started getting angry, angry that I couldn’t drown. I dove under the water, hoping I could make myself sink but I kept bobbing back up to the surface. Over and over. I woke up just beside myself with anger that I couldn’t drown.
I thought the dream was so weird – and kind of funny – that I woke my wife up and told it to her.
(Male, early thirties) This recurrent dream has changed somewhat over the years. The first time I must have been just starting high school. A ghostly old woman appeared floating outside my second story bedroom window pushing a ghostly baby carriage. She looked in the window at me and said, “I’ve come for you.”
I ran away from her and she followed, screaming at me. In this dream, it’s this chase that is repeated. She chases me through houses that I’ve never lived in, decrepit old gothic mansions, filled will scattered debris and coated in dust.
Then at some point, I turned the dream around and I fired a silver gun at the ghostly woman. Now, I’m the one who’s chasing her. All the while I’m trying to scream at her but even though I open my mouth wide and push with all my might, no sound comes out.
(Female, 80′s) I was in a small room, maybe in a dormitory or an apartment and this immense dog was there sitting on top of me. It was brown and had a droopy jowly face. It was overwhelming me, smothering me. It held me down and made it impossible for me to breathe. I was suffocating and found that I couldn’t even call for help.
When I woke, I discovered that a pillow had fallen over my face. Maybe that’s what it all was.
In nightmares, we dreamers are afraid, truly afraid. Our hearts race, sometimes our limbs thrash and we wake disturbed as if presented with the same terrifying situations in waking life.
But sometimes the fear we experience is unique to a dream state.
For instance, I have had a recurrent dream image for years, probably decades where I suffer from claustrophobia. Sometimes I’ll be forced to go into a small space or travel through a narrow corridor and I will be struck with panic. What is particularly interesting about these dreams is that in waking life, I don’t noticeably suffer from claustrophobia. Elevators, even tiny elevators pose no particular terror in everyday life but in the context of these dreams, I would be beside myself.
My initial interpretation is that claustrophobia must itself be a dream figure. For some reason, my dreaming self wants to make believe that it is afraid of small confined spaces. To use a computer metaphor, my brain is running another kind of brain in “emulation mode,” the fear that it is exhibiting is truly fearful but it also is “virtual.”
I am still processing what this kind of layered dream life might mean. Ideas?
For that matter, does anyone else experience a similar kind of “make believe” terror either occasionally or recurrently in their dreams?
(Male, early 20′s) You ask about strange fears, well, I can’t eat the ends of things. Like hot dogs, I have to chop the ends off. They just look weird. Or eggrolls. I can eat most of one, but as soon as I get through half of it, it starts to look like it’s something else, like it’s a creature that’s excreting something and I just can’t finish. And I can’t eat egg whites, only the yolks maybe because they stay warm longer.
Sometimes, if I’m eating some and I don’t totally dig it, I’ll make it into an end. By imagining it. Like with a breast of a chicken or something. I feel strange when I eat at people’s houses and they make a wonderful meal and i can’t eat the ends of things.
But I love the crusts on bread. Pizza crusts too.
(Female, 44) I had ordered contact lens in the mail and I was very excited to receive them because I haven’t worn them in years. Opening the box, I was surprised at their design: there was a clear lens with this sort of appendage that went into the corner of your eye. It looked sort of “steampunk,” sort of Jules Verne. I knew I should probably read the directions first and buy some supplies, but I was anxious to try them out. I stood in front of a mirror and just lifted one lens up near my eye, just so I could look through it and sort of imagine what it would be like to wear them.
All of a sudden, something slipped off the lens and sealed over my iris. My vision immediately went blurry in that eye and I could feel my eye drying out like the moisture was getting sucked out of it. I looked at myself in the mirror and I could see something on my eye. There was something stuck to my eye. I figured maybe that the lens had some kind coating on it to protect it during shipping.
I touched the edge of the film but it wouldn’t come off. Then I tried scraping my eyeball gently with my fingernail, but all I did was chip a little bit out of the corner of my eye, out of the white part of my eye. It felt a little bit like a bit of candy-coating coming off a chocolate. I knew that this couldn’t be good.
I stopped tugging at the film on my lens and began to look for some saline solution. I thought maybe I could float it off. All the while I could feel my eye tightening and my vision blurring more. There were lots of old friends at this meeting but I didn’t remember who wore contacts.I tried not to interrupt the meeting too much as I went around asking everyone if they had any saline solution. No one did.
Finally I found a bottle of something on the concession table and I was so desperate I squirted the liquid into my eye. Slowly, the film peeled off and I could see normally again.
(Female, a dream from childhood) I dreamt I was in the basement of my family’s house in the laundry room. There was a big pantry cupboard and a spare kitchen set up there, and I was down there with my mom, my sister who was older, and my younger brother.
…We were trapped and we were scared…
My older brother was there too, but he was being unusually mean and cruel. He knocked my younger brother down and yelled at all of us. We were trapped and we were scared. Suddenly, my older brother walked into the room. We were startled because we thought he was already there with us. Then we realized that the other older brother was a fake.
But now my real brother had to fight this fake brother to save us. He violently attacked the fake brother and wrestled him down to the tile floor right at our feet and they thrashed around in that small space until one of them beat the other one bloody and senseless while the whole family watched.
(Female, 40′s) This isn’t a dream I had but one my daughter had when she was 3 or 4. She woke me up crying in the dead of the night so I went into her dark room. It’s always a little dangerous walking through a kid’s room in the dark because you don’t know for certain that everything got picked up before bedtime. There could be things to trip over. Usually I could get her to go back to sleep by rubbing her back and humming but she was really disturbed this time. I told her that maybe she’d feel better if she told me what the dream was about. She said she had dreamt she had a cat. I said that that sounded nice. But then she described the cat. Somehow it had been turned inside out so all of its bloody muscles and organs were on the outside. The idea creeped me out so much I couldn’t walk across that dark room again. I got in bed with her and slept there ’til morning.
(Male, recurrent dream since childhood) It starts with a Staircase, usually leading downward but at least once the Staircase lead up. Usually but not always the Staircase is hidden behind a secret passage.
The Staircase goes on and on ’til it ends at the Door.
One time, the Staircase was at my Grandmother’s house and I discovered it with my identical cousin (someone who incidentally doesn’t exist in waking reality) We chased each other down the stairs, flight after flight, laughing until we found the Door.
Another time the Staircase lead to a small room, a bombshelter done up like a swanky 50′s-style cocktail lounge – one with cinderblock walls and an extra low ceiling. The Door in this instance was round.
When I open the Door, as I always do, I am confronted with opaque black, a dead silence. There is the sense of space but it is a blank space, an empty void.
Once the Staircase lead upward and the doorway looked like it would lead to an attic. When I opened it with the pull cord, there was that sickening emptiness again. But as I stared at it, a tiny black spider emerged, suspended on a thin black web. That was almost worse because something from the dimensionless void “over there” was coming “over here.”
When I’m confronted with that dimensionless void I can’t go backward or close the door, but I can’t go forward either.
(Male, 30) I’m the guest of this couple, a man and a woman in this huge house. I follow a path down to this luscious garden filled with flowers that I’ve never seen before and fruits I’ve never eaten. Everything is beyond belief gorgeous like that garden in Willy Wonka, that kind of luscious. Everything is just delicious. I eat for awhile and I want to go but my hosts don’t want me to. Not only that, I find that I’m trapped. There’s no way out the garden or the house. I start to panic. I rush around frantic, trying to find an escape and as I do, the couple begins to age. By the time I actually find a door, they’re probably a hundred years older. As I finally exited, I woke up.
(Female, mid-teens) Dad was cleaning up in the kitchen but he wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing. It was like he was thinking hard about something else. He cleared the counter top basically by putting everything from the counter into the dishwasher.
….flames started shooting out…
One of the things he put in the dishwasher was the little blowtorch we have for making creme brulee. When he turned on the dishwasher, somehow the blowtorch turned itself on. It burned a hole in the door of the dishwasher and flames started shooting out. Dad didn’t seem to notice this until I started yelling. He reached in and took out the blowtorch and started to carry it outside. But he wasn’t very careful about how he held the torch and he basically lit the whole kitchen on fire as he walked out the back door. Then he closed the door and left me alone in a burning house.
(Female, I was 4 or 5, this is my oldest nightmare) I had to go downstairs since my family was down there. Our basement was pretty bright for a basement, but the stairs were steep and, on one side, there was only half a wall since the staircase opened into the basement. Being small, I had to move to the other side of the stair to hang on to the rail because the open space was threatening.I had to go downstairs but I was afraid. I was the only one who seemed to know about the monster who lived there. He lived in the space above the acoustical tiles that we’d recently installed. He was obviously very light-weight and he didn’t seem to bother anyone else. When I went into the basement, however, he’d catch me. Then he would poke pieces of scrap metal into my ears and I’d wake up crying with an earache.
(Male, 40′s) The setting is the house where I grew up, in the late twilight when nothing has much color other than dark steel. Familiar belongings from my parent’s house were strewn around the yard, broken. My dad’s reel-to-reel tape deck was in the driveway, its tape heads ripped out. I picked it up and tried to see if I could figure out how to fix it.
….The knob would not turn. The door was locked and what’s more, I realized, that door no longer existed….
Then I began to fear for my parents, afraid of what must have happened inside the house. I went to the screen porch around back and tried the door. The knob would not turn. The door was locked and what’s more, I realized, that door no longer existed. The whole screen porch had blown down in a storm 20 years ago and was replaced by an addition. In that time, my dad had died and my mother moved away from this house. I didn’t know why I was there or when these events were occurring.
I went next door to see if the people who used to live there still did. The light inside that house was pale orange, the only color in the whole dream. I tried to knock on their door but found my hands had no substance. The daughter who lived there when I was in junior high was there, dressed for bed. She looked out the window and when she saw me, she screamed.
(44 year old, Female) I had been called up to do my part for the War. Conscription had been dispersed over the whole population which meant I only had to serve for two days. I was deployed along with my sister. We shared a room in the hotel that was our barracks. The first day, I had to ride a bicycle a long ways down a deserted, pock-marked highway to reach the barricades where the War was. I crouched down behind the bags of sand and overturned cars with the other recruits. None of us really knew what we were supposed to be doing. Occasionally we would stand up and fire a gun off toward the “War.” The War itself was darkness, an opaque, inky blackness. That’s how we could tell we were at the War and not just stopped anywhere along the road. No one could really see what was happening inside the War, whether our bullets were hitting their targets, or whether there were targets in there to hit. It was a long day.
Back at the hotel my sister complained about a neighbor of hers, that the neighbor had been a better shot.
The next day I didn’t want to go back to the War, though I knew I had only one more day to serve before I could go back home to my husband and to my family and everything familiar and nice. When I got outside, I discovered my bike was gone though I couldn’t remember if I had just left it somewhere or whether someone had stolen it. There was no one to report it to anyway. I started to walk, half-heartedly toward the darkness on the horizon, toward the War. I grew hungry and I stopped in a restaurant. The restaurant was very similar to–identical, in fact– to a restaurant back in my home town. I luxuriated over breakfast, sipping a second cup of coffee until I realized in a panic that I was technically AWOL, that if I was caught I could be court-martialed and shot. I got up and rushed out the door. I started running down the pock-marked highway toward the darkness. As I awoke, I had just tripped on a pothole left from an artillery shell and had begun to fall slowly toward the ground.