Janet (j4) wrote,

The lion dreams tonight

There are three recurring dreams that I've had during different periods of my life — specific enough that I recognise them as the same dream (occasionally even within the dream itself) and persistent enough that there are small niches in my mind where they've sat, like grooves in rock worn smooth by a lifetime of water. They've settled into place like a stone in the palm of a hand, not quite reassuring, but present and solid, something that can be restlessly turned over in a pocket without losing its wholeness. Because of this familiarity I've got to resist the temptation to elaborate when I'm telling them; their simplicity is part of their shape.

The first is a dream I had many times in my childhood. In it, I look out of the window of our house (no matter where I am at the time it's the house in Crawley Down, the first house I remember clearly) and see a lion walking up the path to the front door. It's huge, and I'm scared, and I make sure the door's closed and run upstairs to my bedroom. But somehow the lion gets into the house, and climbs the stairs; so I climb to the top of my bunk-bed, because (and this fact is absolutely certain in the dream-consciousness) lions can't climb bunk-beds. But the lion starts climbing the bunk-bed... and at that point I wake up.

Once, in the dream, it was a wolf instead of a lion, and it felt obscurely wrong, the slight but jolting dissonance of walking into a familiar room and knowing that something has changed, the colour or shape of something, a picture on a wall, a gap on a shelf.

I stopped dreaming it altogether after the age of about 12. In some ways it was, I suppose, a childish thing.

The second dream started when I was in my first job and suffering from depression. It doesn't take a specialist to work out the significance of the dream. It's a simple scenario: I'm getting ready for work (the details are indistinct in the dream, but it's the usual ingredients: clothes, bags, packed lunches, that sort of thing). I look at the clock and realise that I'm late: not just late leaving, but already past the time when I should be in work. I carry on getting ready, hurrying, but somehow there are still things to do (it is never clear quite what is taking the time), and I look at the clock again and it is even later. By the time I eventually woke out of this dream I often was later than I'd want to be.

The actual times on the clock varied from time to time, but the dream normally appeared on a few occasions within a short space of time — a week, a fortnight — and the dream-lateness would increase with each iteration, usually ending up at around 11am, but on one occasion getting to 3pm before I woke up. (In real life I don't think I ever got in later than 10am, which was within the parameters of acceptability for geeks and editorial staff.) I have only rarely had that particular dream since, though of course I've dreamed of being late for things (work, exams, conferences, concerts, you name it).

Oddly, in one subsequent real-life job, a colleague did start coming in to work later and later, as late as 3pm, eventually stopping turning up altogether. Perhaps she ended up in the dream that I wasn't having any more. I haven't been back to check.

The current recurring dream is more of a recurring motif; the details of the dream change, but the bit that keeps coming back is that at some point in the dream I realise that it's Christmas Eve and I haven't bought any presents for anybody. In the dream this realisation usually strikes when I'm decorating the tree, or when other people are wrapping their presents, or something Christmassy; but sometimes I'm on the bus home, or in town with the shops about to close. I always wake before Christmas Day, before the mistake is revealed or resolved, and I wake with a sense of things left undone: sometimes a general sense of deadlines past, sometimes a specific worry that I really haven't bought any Christmas presents and should have done.

I still dream this now, and not only near Christmas. I haven't actually started doing my Christmas shopping yet this year, but that's normal for me, and I don't think I've ever actually forgotten to buy something for anybody who'd be upset or offended by it.

I don't want to overanalyse these dreams, but it's interesting (to me, at least) that in the childhood one the anxiety comes from an external threat, and I know how to deal with it (even if my knowledge turns out to be flawed). I take action, I'm not locked-in and unable to move as so often can happen in dreams. Whereas in my adult anxiety dreams, the threat is internal, it's me failing to do something and not even knowing why I'm failing (let alone how to fix it). The childhood dream was scary — I remember being frightened by it, and I remember looking out of the window while awake, in daylight, wondering what would really happen if there really was a lion walking up the path in broad daylight — but it was clear and narrative. The adult dreams are fuzzy-edged, wearying, full of unstated expectations and obligations; they leave me not scared, but drained, tired, frayed around the edges.

When I look out of the window of our house I see gardening that needs doing, and fences that need creosoting, and an old classic car that I can't maintain sensibly, and a wall that's slightly falling down, and possibly litter blown in from the street that I should go out and pick up. Maybe one day there will be a lion. But I don't have a bunk-bed any more, and I'm not sure I'd know what to do.
Tags: dreams, nablopomo

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