My dreams have been wild lately.Vivid. Violent. Cast with real-life characters. Memorable.
For someone who so rarely recalls those subconscious narratives, coming out of them is more than a little jarring. I've always treasured my empty-headed waking, fumbling for a sip of water and a quick peek at my e-mails before I flick on my light and blink away the last bits of sleep. These dreams have screwed all that up.
Last night, I was with my family — parents still married, my sister and a brother who doesn't actually exist — taking an old-fashioned road trip to a national park. Beautiful mountains and a canopy of lush green trees. Other families were camping out, nestled into their tents and mobile homes along the gentle incline of the mountains, their station wagons parked nearby. This could have been a nightmare in itself. (I do not do "the great outdoors.") But it got worse. The details are blurry, but there was a sort of fiery landslide that started to take out all the campgrounds. Panic ensued. Running. Screaming. A swath of trees fell, starting at the peak, in an avalanche of flaming leaves and trunks. The cinematography of my dream was epic; James Cameron would have been proud. Actually, it was all a bit like Titanic, the frantic searches for family members and personal belongings, trying to make it out alive — together.
I found my suitcase but not my family. The suitcase was red. My family was gone.
These dreams of destruction and loss are…obviously a manifestation of something. Anxiety. Fear. Constant change. Competing thoughts and memories and waking dreams.
At 7 a.m., I woke to my alarm, exhausted and drenched with sweat. I shook it off, slowly, and dressed in a daze for my first 5K run in more than a year. Certainly there was no anxiety associated with that… At one time, I would have used the dream as an excuse to stay under the covers. Go back to sleep. Skip the race. Not today.
I got on my bike and pedaled north, bending to the crisp breeze of Chicago's first truly chilly fall morning, until I reached my friend's house. We pinned our bibs to our shirts and set off, joined the 4,998 others near the starting line. Claustrophobic.
We lost each other before we'd really even begun. I watched the back of her head, her bouncing mop of curly brown hair pulled into a bun, until she rounded a corner out of sight; I settled into the groove of my music and the rhythm of my footfalls. Anything to keep running and finish the damn thing.
The dream was almost instantly forgotten. Replaced by endorphins and steady breathing. By awe at the team of runners who each had one working leg and a curved plastic blade in place of the other, passing me like it was the easiest thing they'd ever done. At the parents barely breaking a sweat as they pushed three-wheeled strollers, their babies wrapped in pink fleece blankets or toddlers gaping open-mouthed at the waists, legs and feet of the other runners. By my own insistence to keep going. Just run. Ignore the clocks and people passing and leg cramps.
Five thousand runners took over the streets. Police cruisers blocked traffic out; neighborhood residents sat on their stoops, stood along the sidewalks in their pajama pants and robes, wide-eyed children and leashed dogs at their sides, absentmindedly cheering us on as they sipped their Sunday morning coffee. We owned Bucktown. I owned every size-ten piece of asphalt my shoes touched.
I knew exactly where I was; I was in control. I drew sharp, deep gulps of air, taking in the chill, and felt a burning in my left calf as I rounded into my last mile. But I was awake; I was alive. No acres of burning trees, no lost family members, no station wagons.
I passed the final mile marker and broke into an all-out run for the final two-tenths, pushed through my jagged, gummy breathing and searing leg pain. I don't know where that last burst of energy came from. I'd trained — "trained" — for exactly five days before the race, barely breaking a mile and a half for each run but ready to pass out when I hit my front gate.
I felt so strong when I crossed the finish line. So proud of myself. All fear forgotten and unable to fathom change overwhelming me. My heart nearly burst, my eyes welled with tears. Nine a.m. catharsis: My nightmare was 3.2 miles behind me, and a big plate of biscuits and gravy was before me. I'd earned it. And on an ordinary Sunday, I'd just have been rolling out of bed.