It’s been a long time since I had a nightmare. Until last night.
I’ve been spending a few days at my daughter’s studio apartment, sleeping on an air mattress. Sometime during the night I cried out, making just enough noise to wake her up. I remember her shaking me awake, sounding very fearful, and asking if I were sick. I woke up quickly, like stepping through a doorway from one room to another.
“No, I’m not sick; I was dreaming,” I responded.
When I was a kid, watching scary movies and telling ghost stories were enough to keep me awake at night. I’d clutch the sheets over my head, hoping that if I couldn’t see the Bogey Man he couldn’t see me. Later, as an adolescent, we enjoyed going to the movie theater to see the latest horror flicks. But, by the time I reached my early twenties, I lost the thrill of feeling afraid.
I don’t recall many details about the dream, but I was in a dark house and somebody was pursuing me. I kept trying to get away, going from room to room and looking for a door to get outside. When I couldn’t find one I started looking for places to hide. A couple times they got close enough to reach out and grab me, but I was able to shake them off. I didn’t know who it was, only that they wanted to hurt me and I couldn’t understand why.
Throughout the morning I wondered why I had a bad dream. I didn’t eat anything crazy before bedtime and we watched a couple episodes of Arrested Development, which is a comedic sitcom. I continued to think about it and around lunchtime the realization hit me: the latest round of mass shootings had found their way into my sleeping brain.
Listening to the survivors’ accounts of these killings is enough to give anyone nightmares. My dream correlated with how these events often occur:
- Someone pursues other people with the intent to hurt them – Whoever was chasing me definitely wanted to hurt me
- The victims try to find a means of escape – I went through one room after another, looking for a way out
- If there is no escape they try to hide or hit the floor, pretending to be dead – I looked for places to hide
- These victims don’t know who the shooter is or why it’s happening – I was feeling that same thing as I tried to get away
With the amount of violence we’re seeing in this country, it’s not surprising that the fear level is going up. There have been a couple of relatively benign incidents recently that made me nervous; longer ago I wouldn’t have given them a second thought. Today I walked into a very crowded Post Office. As I waited in line, I looked around to see where I could take cover if I had to.
Gone are the days when nightmares were caused by terrifying, fictional creatures in horror movies. The Bogey Man isn’t hiding under the bed anymore; he’s out in society masquerading as an average person, in what is becoming a very scary world.