The dream sequence in every movie either ends with something so sickly sweet it gives us a cavity when we watch it or so terrifying it causes nightmares. The sleeping character awakes either with a dreamy smile or having sweated through the sheets in sheer terror.
I am a dreamer. Not the pleasant kind, like a daydreamer, or one who dreams of a perfect future. But I dream all the time. I know this because my husband tells me the conversations I am having with someone when I talk out in the night, and also because sometimes when I wake up, I can remember what I dreamed.
Some days I wake with just the vague idea that I was in the middle of a big adventure, and even if I fall back asleep, I can rarely get back into my dream. Other days I can remember the whole thing, and I am primed for a re-telling.
“You won’t believe what I dreamed,” I say to my husband. That’s his cue to immediately stop whatever he is doing and listen intently to whatever long-winded thing I have to tell. And generally he is rewarded with something pretty good.
My dreams have included things like the time I was leading a hiking expedition up to a very snowy mountain top. My group of about 20 had very expensive backpacks, healthy pink cheeks, and can-do attitudes.
Here’s the thing. I don’t like to hike. At all. I don’t even really like to walk and have to carry anything. There is no way I am hiking to a mountain top, and surely no way anyone is following me there.
When I told my husband that dream, he said it probably meant I was looking for something to lead or maybe already getting ready to take on a leadership role. His practicality in interpreting my dream left me wanting more.
Who were all the people? Where was that mountain? How much did the gear weigh and how did I know what to pack? Why were we dressed in shorts when we were hiking to the top of a snowy mountain? I spent about two cups of coffee drinking time ruminating about it and decided he was probably right.
I mentioned it at work that day, and a co-worker said, “Did you eat popcorn last night?” Turns out some foods make us dream a little more than others. She shared that popcorn, cheese, smoked meat, pizza, spicy foods, candy and sweets, milk, and pickles also create more intense dreams.
“I don’t think you have to eat them all at once,” she said. Thank goodness. But could my pickle and candy milkshake could have been the culprit?
I have a friend who has put a lot more time and effort into collecting and interpreting her dreams than I have. She placed a tape recorder by her bed in case she woke up and wanted to record a dream she had.
She bought pretty notebooks to chronicle her dreams. She gave great thought to where she was sleeping when she had her best and worst dreams and what kind of pillow she had used.
She bought books, attended a kind of shady seminar held in a hotel ballroom, where she was the only one not wearing a turban or weird hat of some kind on her head, and she even did a little online research to formulate her own dream database.
She came up with some pretty good stuff. When she dreamed she was falling off a cliff, the shady seminar lady told her it meant she was afraid of failure and that the average person has at least five falling dreams in his or her lifetime. As is per usual, I am below average, as I cannot remember one falling dream.
When my friend dreamed she was pregnant, although far past child-birthing years and with no one around with whom to conceive a baby, one of her books told her that meant she was just searching for what kind of legacy she could leave.
When she dreamed about driving really fast and recklessly in her car, she saw online that it meant she was headed off track in her life and needed to slow down.
I shared my mountain climbing expedition dream with her ,and she became very animated. “That’s on the list of top 100 dreams,” she said. “It’s number 64!” Sure enough, other people were dreaming about mountain climbing as well.
“It means that you have an obstacle in front of you. If you are leading the climb, it says you are feeling confident you will overcome the obstacle,” she said. I tried to tell her I don’t know anything about climbing.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The mountain is just a symbol.” She spent about ten minutes telling me the symbolic meaning of everything from elephants to grapes in dreams. She urged me to tell her more of my dreams.
I shared with her another dream about being in Europe with my whole extended family and losing our passports. Fear of closed doors and missed opportunities in your life, she replied.
What about a cake falling apart? She thumbed through her resources.
“Was the icing slipping off or did the cake just crumble?” she asked.
“It just crumbled,” I said, frantically trying to remember the status of the icing.
“Oh, bummer” she said. “If it was just the icing, it means you can repair or smooth out the problem, but crumbling means you are struggling trying to pick up a bunch of pieces and can’t get ahold of them all.” She sighed heavily, either for effect or with genuine dismay at my crumbling life.
Three of four more dream scenarios, and three or more pat answers. I was beginning to think I was a very pedestrian dreamer. Was everybody dreaming the same things as me? There were already books and lists about my boring dreams?
My friend said hearing about my dreams just made her think I was a normal person, with normal thoughts that translated into normal nighttime visions. Those of you who are regular readers know by now that I have been called a lot of things, and normal is not one of them.
And maybe in that moment I didn’t want to be so normal. I opened up and spilled out something that might change her mind. She wants a dream to interpret? How about this one?
I detailed for her the dream about the day when my former administrative assistant, then in her late 50’s, asked for time off to be in a beauty pageant, during what was an incredibly busy time in our five person office.
Carmen was a great assistant. She was creative, good with the public, good with budgets, not at all scared of technology. Basically the yin to my yang.
I had given her great job reviews complimenting her on her skill sets. Efficient. Fast worker. Paid attention to detail. Good project manager. But never once had I commented on the fact that she would do well in a pageant.
In the dream, she asked to see me in my office, and reserved about a half hour to do so. In the dream I was scared to death she was going to quit. FYI: I would also have been scared in real life.
After what seemed like an eternity, with her first telling me about a cute thing her granddaughter had done, sharing a recipe for sweet potatoes cooked in olive oil she had found, she got around to the point.
She needed some time off, she said, to pursue something that had been a lifetime goal of hers. She knew the time to get this done was running short, and she had found a small window of opportunity. She wanted to enter a local beauty pageant, and she needed time to train and practice.
I need to supplement the narrative at this time by saying that Carmen might have done pretty well in a pageant. She was a good conversationalist, so the interview question was a cinch. She was in shape, so the bathing suit competition wouldn’t scare her off. Friendly as all get out, just hand her Miss Congeniality. And Carmen was pretty. Very pretty.
But what happened next in my dream is the most bizarre part. Instead of saying, “Well, let’s see if your leave request fits within our policies and start from there,” like a smart boss would have, I said, ”Yes! Of course! But what will you do for your talent?”
Within minutes in my dream, our whole office was buzzing around Carmen like something between a cross from Cinderella and the beauty shop scene from Grease. People were pulling dresses and wraps out of desk drawers for her to try on. Someone had created a fundraising flier for her that would guarantee her travel funds if she won and needed to go to the next level. The phones were blowing up with congratulations. John was snapping black and white head shots, with Danielle and Phyllis holding fans to blow Carmen’s hair back for a sexy, tousled effect.
I determined the best talent would be for her recite a poem from memory, accompanied by interpretive dance moves, and she agreed. We began vocal lessons in earnest, and she used silky lilac -colored scarves to emote. Her arms waved furiously, and I corrected her and demonstrated what the move should actually look like. She was a natural.
The day of the pageant came, and I had rented a charter bus to take us to the auditorium, where we all snuck back stage and delivered flowers to her. Her husband had saved a block of seats for us.
Her sister had come from California, but was leaving on her oversized sunglasses and a scarf for fear of being recognized. How did I not know Carmen had a famous sister?
Her granddaughters were dressed alike, beaming at their competitive grandma killing it on stage. In fact, we all cheered each of her appearances on stage, the loudest contingent present.
When the emcee asked her, “What would be even better than world peace?”, we applauded her cleverness when she said, “Flavored coffee creamers at every work place.” Genius.
My dream goes right up to the point where they announce the winner. Carmen is a finalist, one of five. I am already planning the purchase of a file cabinet where she can lock her tiara during the day. And then… the dream stops.
In all the technicolor detail I could remember, nearly crying when I reached the part where there is no resolution, I finished my tale. Had Carmen won? I would never know, despite repeated attempts to reconstruct the dream for the finish.
“What do you think it all means? Isn’t it crazy? ” I said breathlessly.
My friend didn’t frantically type into her dream database. She didn’t immediately go to a special chapter in one of her dream books. She didn’t phone-a-friend her shady dream seminar lady with whom she had become quite close.
“Aren’t you going to look it up?” I practically screamed. Had I gone too far, and my friend thought I was a nut?
“I don’t have to look it up. I myself have had this dream. Lots of women have had this dream. It could mean you are questioning your own self-esteem if you were the contestant, or you would rather see someone elevated above you if you dream it about a friend,” she said.
Relieved to be a humanitarian, placing others above me, I decided to save my dream about waking up being able to speak fluent Chinese and Russian interchangeably for another day. It’s probably normal. Probably.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.