Poor Colin seems to have inherited my tendency to nightmares. He was up twice last night, sobbing in his bed. Like myself, there is no screaming, no jumping up from bed; just a quiet but deep sob leaving the pillow soaked with tears.
I can still remember my first nightmare. I was about 4 years old, and the villain was Cruella DeVille from Disney's "101 Dalmations." My family was arriving by car at my Nana's house; it stood at the end of a road at the top of a hill, surrounded on three sides by forested hillsides sloping down sharply. I was the last to climb out of the car, and just as my foot hit the ground I caught sight of Cruella DeVille, and had only enough to to scuttle back into the car and slam the door. My parents and sisters had managed to escape to the house, leaving me to my own defenses. I crawled around the car in a frenzy, slamming my hand down on the locks. I cowered in the back seat as this frightening woman loomed above, pounding on the windows and cursing at me to open the doors. I hoped fervently the car could withstand her, and after a terrifying length of time, she relented. Hoping on a bicycle, she tore off down the road, her fists shaking in the air and her shrill screams of "I'll get you next time!" echoing in my ears. The last sight I saw was a huge truck careening down the road behind her, her two henchmen from the movie in the cab.
It was a recurring nightmare, one that haunted me for at least two weeks. And it was the beginning of a long line of terrifying nightmares for me. I don't recall any others based so specifically on a film; but I do know that often news events intruded my dreams. I witnessed or was victim to many horrifying things: wars and bloodshed, rapes and murders, acts of terrorism and genocide. A handful over the years have been a little more exciting; I vividly remember being recruited once to an elite gun squad, responsible for bringing down worldwide crime organizations dealing in illegal weapons. But mostly I dreamed vividly of terrible things.
Last night, while Colin wrestled with his nightmares, I slept restlessly with my own.
I am sitting with a large group of people; it's a community band of which I am part. I recognize a few friends and strike up a conversation with someone I haven't seen for years. She tells me of her brother, serving in the army on the other side of the world, caught daily in dangerous battles with the enemy. My heart breaks for him, but my friend gives me a sad smile. He is where he wants to be, she assures me. Suddenly I know his story, as if I was fighting at his side. Before he found the army, he had wandered aimlessly in life, feeling like he had no place. Now he has found himself, found meaning in his daily existence. It's dangerous, but he feels he is making a difference for the countrymen who are caught in the middle. It's those people he fights for, not his own country thousands of miles away, and people who have no idea what life in a war-torn country is really like. He fights to erase the fear he sees in their eyes.
I, and the band, are suddenly transported, and we find ourselves in a poor nation I am unfamiliar with. There is a sense of a tourist industry; we are not the only foreigners here. But there is a thick haze of danger lying heavy in the air, and I sense that all is not right. We are here to perform, to give our music as a gift to those who have had so little happiness in their lives. We are here to let them know they are not alone, that there are others in the world willing to stand with them.
The day has been long and I make my way back to my hotel, a once beautiful structure that time has ravaged. I am not to go alone, it is too dangerous, and so I find two men to escort me up the elevator. At the last moment they are called away. I, not to be cowed by fear, assure them I can make my way the short distance to my room. Alone in the small elevator, I taste my first true sense of fear and uneasiness. It is hard to bear, because the fear is not strong enough to imprison me in my room, but more than enough to make me shift my eyes nervously about. I count the steps down the hallway to the door - 21. I close the door quickly and engage the flimsy lock that surely would hold no one out, but more likely would hinder me if I needed a quick escape. Nevertheless, I leave it locked.
My three roommates are already here. I find their joyful sounds jarring. They are sharing the local crafts they purchased, gifts for themselves and friends back home. They have picked up a few pieces of local clothing also, colourful wraps and scarves, which they entwine around their bodies. I shut myself up in the bathroom for a breath of silence to myself.
It is time for another quick rehearsal before another show. There are at least 50, maybe more, band members, all tuning instruments and laughing and creating a cacophony of sound. No one is paying much attention to anything, and I am the only one whose eye is caught by something in the large glass window in the ceiling above me. I stare up, hardly understanding what I see. People, many people, hundreds of people, flying not 20 feet above the roof. There are men and women, couples holding hands, a mother holding an infant. I focus my eyes, and finally understand - they are wearing parachutes, and are landing in the city streets around us.
My first warning yell has no sound. It takes another moment or two for my voice to rise above the mess of sounds around me. I point, I yell, I try to explain what I inexplicably understand: we are under attack. En masse we move out into the streets, dodging the falling bodies and following the flow of people. In such a large town I expect to be crushed by the herds; instead we are eerily spaced out, vulnerable to the indiscernible enemy. They are natives from another part of the country, and yet they look much like those who live in this city.
The attackers are chanting something in unison, a word. I strain to hear, and seem to make out a single word they are repeating: Malaicron. I know this word, it means triumph, victory, celebration. I wonder if the battle has already been lost.
Then I find the conductor of my band pacing quickly by my side. "They are not saying malaicron. Listen closer. It is ubanda."
I strain again, and hear it more clearly now. She is right, but I am unfamiliar with this word. She hastens to explain. It is a derogatory word about women, one that insinuates immorality and worthlessness. But the repetitive chant carries an even deeper meaning. They are looking to make a count of the number of ubandas they can find, numbering them off with the intention of doing much worse. I will be saved the worst fate, because I am a foreigner.
The conductor's pace picks up a little and now she is 10 feet ahead of me. I see the knife-wielding woman too late. With a curling sneer on her lips, she rips out a small dagger and digs it into my friend's heel. She drags it down savagely, leaving a deep bloody line. "One!" she counts off in her native tongue. Everything in my body tightens as I force my legs to move at the quick walking pace I am keeping, and resist the urge to break out in a run and draw attention to myself. I am now 6 feet from the knife, 4 feet, 2 feet. I feel myself easing by her, but then it is too late for me as well. I feel the dagger set into my left hand, tearing a long length down from above my wrist to the knuckles of my fingers. "Two!" I hear her spit at me in triumph. I let my hand float beside me. I can feel the intense pain, yet at the same time I feel nothing. then a dull throb sets in, and there is only one thought in my head:
I will never play the piano again.
I feel a deep gulf of shame immediately. This gouge, this branding, is the worst I will experience. The other native women running around me will have to endure worse, much worse. In fact, I know that most are praying for death, instead of the torture, pain and suffering most will go through.
It is at this point I wake from my sleep. I am wrapped in my sheets and the shame I still feel. My hand is still throbbing from the imaginary injury. I turn my pillow over, a habit long ago acquired to deal with the soaking from tears. I know I will lay awake for a good hour, the scenes replaying over and over in my mind. The morning will not erase the memory, but as the day goes on the details will fade. But the emotions and the general scene will stay with me forever.
I have a whole collection of these dreams stored in my memory. This is the first I have committed to writing, and even with this one I have let enough hours go by that some of the details are already gone. But it, too, will be stored with the others, a collection of experiences I am not sure what to do with. I have no formed opinion on the place and meaning of dreams; I think I am afraid to come to such a conclusion, afraid what importance these terrible things might have. For now I file them away and try to live with a little more compassion for the things human beings endure in this life.