Pandemic Dreams

These are stressful times, friends, and stressful times mean weird dreams.

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I’m already prone to weird and vivid dreams. Effexor, my antidepressant, tends to make weird dreams a Thing, and in the five years I’ve been on it, I’ve had some real doozies. Sometimes, they relate to what I’m dealing with in my waking life, but more frequently, they’re just really weird. They’re occasionally good, rarely bad (and when they’re bad, they’re really bad), but mostly just vivid, to the point where they embed themselves in my psyche for years and years. 

So. Combine my innate tendency towards weird, vivid dreams with these weird and stressful times, and let’s just say that my nights have been… fun lately.

*

At first, my dreams weren’t bad at all. In fact, they were very reassuring and heavily thematic. Every night, I had a slightly different dream about moving with my parents and siblings (and sometimes Kyle and the kids) into an old house in my hometown. Now, when I say “old” I don’t mean “I used to live here!” old but rather “wow, I think George Washington may have lived here” old. Old, as in “this is about as old as a white person’s house can be in this country.” Old as balls.

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As houses that are old as balls tend to be around here, these houses were severely haunted, none more so than the one built beside a CVS and just down the street from my favorite pizza place. It was within walking distance of the high school (which I still attended in my dream), and the ground around it was stark and dusty, like the house had drained the land of its very life. The house itself was solid, dark brown, with a front door as vibrant red as ripe strawberries. 

Inside, the house made its hauntedness more than apparent. Ghosts lurked around every corner of its twisted interior, an interior that kept changing shape to suit the house’s moods. Getting upstairs was a challenge, because you never knew where the stairs would turn up. One minute, the stairs would begin in the kitchen and lead to the back yard. The next, the stairs would start right inside the front door and lead to the roof. 

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The door to the basement remained static, though, ominously so. It didn’t move because it didn’t have to move, you see. It radiated an ominous energy that should have threatened away anyone curious about what was in the basement. The darkness wasn’t visible; it was palpable. Whatever lurked behind that door seethed malevolence. It needed the world to know that nobody was welcome inside.

Nobody, that is, except me. 

In my dream, I went through the door without the slightest bit of fright, and when I did, the house rearranged itself for me specifically. It created a sanctuary for me with a huge writing desk, lively green plants, and soft amber lights all around, as if the desk on its pedestal was situated in a field of stars. Perhaps the house was haunted, and perhaps the presence haunting it was malicious, but that old house (built in 1716, I remember clearly) accepted and embraced me. Even if it rejected everyone else that came inside, it wanted me to know that I was home within its walls.

*

Travel has been common in each stage of pandemic dream series. This first series transitioned with a dream about touring the world with a subset of my college choir, all girls. We took a ship from various ports, but then had to drive from China to Russia in the middle of the night, escorted by the mafia. We passed at lightning speed through a forest of impossibly tall trees, so dark and enormous that their tops melted into the black sky above. 

Once we arrived, we were given quarter in another old house, this one renovated within and not at all haunted. “I’d like to live here someday,” I remarked to the old house’s owner, who spoke with a British accent (apparently, the actors in my dreams can’t do Russian accents). “It’s a little odd, but it’s a very nice house.”

“Perhaps you shall someday,” he answered. “Perhaps you shall.”

*

As the pandemic has continued, and we’ve all coped with Schrodinger’s virus (which we must all act as if we have, so that we cannot contaminate others, but simultaneously as if we’ve never had so that we cannot be contaminated ourselves), my dreams started to change shape. Everything remained haunted, but the comforting feeling of the old house vanished to be replaced with malevolent haunted dolls.

Haunted dolls have always fascinated me. I’ve never had a fear of dolls like a lot of people; in fact, I’ve always loved dolls, and haunted dolls just added a layer of fun to the whole idea. My best friend in the third grade had a whole room full of dolls, those porcelain ones that are always possessed in the movies, and I loved them and the delicious shiver of fear I felt when she’d tell me scary stories about the ghosts she saw moving outside of her window. 

Most of the haunted doll dreams have blurred together, save for the first and the last. The first involved a doll my mother and I found about twenty years ago while we were on vacation in Maine (because of course; there’s a reason all of Stephen King’s stories take place in Maine, and it’s not because he’s lived there most of his life. It’s because Maine is scary). My mom and I used to go antiquing during our annual family trip to the lakes region, and on this particular trip, we found an ancient doll that had obviously been very loved but looked very deeply cursed. We agreed that it was probably possessed by something and left the store, never to return.

Well. In the first haunted doll dream, that very doll started following me around, and I couldn’t get rid of it. It didn’t do anything to me; no Chucky-esque murder sprees here. It just followed me around and delighted in popping up whenever it knew its presence would shock me the most. 

It was, in short, an asshole.

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There were a few more haunted doll dreams, and then, earlier this week, the last haunted doll dream. 

This dream took place in London, which I’ve visited about five times in my entire life, never long enough to really get a sense of its vibe beyond the neon tourist glow of Piccadilly Circus and the double decker buses pointing out where the king used to have people beheaded. Based on my dreams, though, London is very dark with amber lighting, except near the airport, where the dark sky gives way to white clouds and surreal glowing interiors.

In this particular dream, I was trapped in a market–not the covered market I knew from my days in Oxford, but a hybrid of a ballet school and a supermarket (don’t ask me, I don’t write these things). I didn’t want to be trapped there; I knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave London if I stayed much longer, because of the pandemic, and I knew the last flight out of Heathrow was leaving soon. 

But I was trapped, and I was trapped alongside a boy and another girl (we were all young at the time), all of us in the bodies of dolls. People passed us by and we silently screamed at them to break us free, but they never listened. I don’t know where my real body was.

Night fell, and it soon became apparent that the other girl doll was behind the boy and my entrapment. The boy and I were from modern times and very much alive; the spirit possessing the girl doll was far older, far angrier, far more dangerous. Perhaps she’d trapped us within the dolls because she wanted company in her curse, or perhaps it was just aimless maliciousness. Whatever the case, we struggled with her atop a flight of stairs and through a hallway with doors leading to a candy shop and a cafe. Her fate, we agreed, was horrible, but that didn’t allow her to condemn us to the same miserable future.

Rain began to fall. It looked as if the girl might have the upper hand, but she slipped on the stairs and fell screaming to the cobblestone pavement below, her face shattering as she landed in a shallow puddle. As our porcelain skin reverted to flesh, the boy and I could see her spirit lying in the puddle as well, defeated and destroyed, growing slowly mistier and mistier until it faded away.

But I still had to catch my flight, doll or no doll. I raced through London; the streets went from black to grey to white, and  I finally reached Heathrow airport. The last flight out was leaving the next morning, and they offered me a room in the glowing hostel nearby. As I checked in, stowing my luggage behind the front desk, the desk clerk remarked that I looked terrible. I laughed. 

“You have no idea,” I told her.

*

I took a nap yesterday (because I didn’t sleep the night before for reasons that are far beyond my comprehension), and I knew my dreams were shifting theme again because I had a travel dream. 

I went to Disney World, as we’re planning to do this fall with my parents (assuming the Rona calms its tits before then), and I’d arrived before anyone else, including Kyle and the kids. 

(don’t ask me how that happened)

I waited for everyone in the lobby of our hotel, which was enormous–miles and miles of carpet and lacy white walls and enormous windows showing the warmth outside. Terminals every few yards listed the arrival times  of various modes of transportation alongside the park hours; each terminal had a circle of seats around it, and one even had a stage in front of it. 

I mention the stage because it was home to, of all things, the entire cast of Lord of the Rings, or at least the Fellowship. They were as beautiful in my dream as they’d been in the theaters 20 years ago, but they also glowed silver, which I assume none of them do in real life (maybe; I’m not really sure. If anyone knows anyone who was in Lord of the Rings, could you let me know if they glow in real life?). I hugged them all, and I lingered in Aragorn’s arms a bit longer than I probably should have.

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(wouldn’t you?)

Afterwards, I grew tired of waiting for my family and settled down in a gondola. I didn’t want to go to a park; I just wanted to ride in the gondola, and I did, around and around, enjoying the views of Disney World from my moving room in the sky.

*

And then there was last night, the only truly thematic pandemic dream.

Things started logically enough. Kyle and I had the kids in the van, and my mom was with us. We were rushing to get Kyle to a commuter rail station so that he could get to work on time; despite the pandemic still being a thing in the dream, he had to go into work, so maybe this dream was about the future.

But the commuter rail station was closer than we thought it would be, and it was right next door to my favorite local supermarket, Wegmans. “We might as well do some grocery shopping while we’re here,” Kyle remarked, and added, “Why don’t you go in? You haven’t been shopping in a while.”

(I haven’t been shopping in a while, it’s true)

So I went in. I was bolstered, emotionally, by the things I saw as I walked into the store: entire pallets of Charmin and Angel Soft toilet paper being brought into the store! Was this really happening? Was the earth really healing?

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Yes! I got inside and found that, while the store’s shelves weren’t full, it still had a far more robust selection than most stores I’ve seen and heard about in the last several weeks. I got stuck in the pasta aisle, dumbfounded by the wide selection, thrilled at the idea of buying as much parmesan cheese as my cart could carry. I guess I’d been there too long, though, because Kyle and my mom came inside with the kids and another cart to get me back on track.

We bought everything. Candy, soda, pasta, so much toilet paper. And not just toilet paper, two ply! Really good, cushy toilet paper! We bought fresh fruits and veggies, canned fruits and veggies, frozen fruits and veggies, and food for Easter. The only blip came when we were checking out and Kyle pulled six pounds of ground beef out of my cart.

“They were on sale!” I told him, pleased with myself for finding such a deal.

He clucked his tongue at me. “This,” he said, “is ground chuck. It comes from the chuck truck. I don’t like chuck truck chuck.” 

And then he went and put the chuck from the chuck truck back on the chuck truck chuck shelf. 

*

Anyway. There’s no point to this entry beyond that (a) this was a really fun writing exercise, and I hope that you really got a sense of these dreams the way I experienced them, and (b) these were some really weird dreams, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of this weird time brings me while I’m sleeping. 

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