Describe the last nightmare you remember having. What do you think it meant?
The last nightmare I had was a variation of the same nightmare I always have: I was in a car, arguing with my husband about something, and the car went off the side of the road into water.
My husband isn’t always the driver when I have this nightmare. Growing up, I usually dreamed of Aunt Marian behind the wheel, although Mom was there fairly often as well. For a time in my early thirties, one of my sisters chauffeured me to my watery death in my dreams, but I’ve also seen friends or employers or others, depending on what was taking place in my life at the time. The one constant is that I am never the driver.
Sometimes the car plunges off the South Haven drawbridge, or flood waters rise too quickly to escape. The car might crash through thin ice and settle to the bottom of a lake, or a distracted driver throws it into drive instead of reverse in the marina parking lot.
We won’t even discuss what takes place when I dream about driving across the Mackinac Bridge.
I had the nightmare the first time when I was four years old and I have continued to have the same dream over and over throughout my life. My family assures me that it is not a repressed memory of any kind; I have never been in a car accident that involved water.
For a long time, I thought it was a precognitive dream. I believed that I was destined to die in a car in water, and so I developed a completely irrational fear of bridges and any road that is too close to water. Not an easily manageable fear for someone who lives within fifteen minutes of Lake Michigan — or who goes on frequent vacations to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Yes, I have to be sedated to cross the Mighty Mac.
The odd thing is that I am not afraid of water. I swam before I walked; my family bought the cottage right on the shore when I was three years old and I spent more time submerged than on dry land when I was growing up there. I have always been clumsy and awkward until I hit water, at which point I personify the words of Kurt Vonnegut: In the water, I am beautiful.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come up with my own theory about what my nightmare means, and I don’t believe it has anything to do with water. It’s about control – or lack thereof.
I have this nightmare whenever I feel that I am not in control of my own life. The car is always driven by the person who I feel is trying to run my life, and since I have never been any good at standing up for myself, I think I have the dream when I feel trapped or bullied. The driver of the dream car drives me to my doom in my dreams, while driving me to unhappiness in real life.
The only good part of the dream is waking up from it with the Big Guy close by. I wake up gasping for air – I am drowning, after all – and I am so horrified that I can’t move. Without completely waking up, the Big Guy will pull me close and murmur, “You swam to the top, Honey. You didn’t drown.” Then he promptly drops back off to sleep and pretends not to remember the incident in the morning.
I am always touched that he knows me well enough to tell what bad dream I’ve had without having to be told.