Sometimes I see these things. Visualizations, I guess you’d say – metaphorical representations related to scenarios playing out in my reality. I have them from time to time, when I’m experiencing difficulty or when I feel uncertain what decision to make. Do you know what I’m talking about?
They happen in waking life, but also in dreams. In these episodes, the message is manifested in a figurative representation. What I mean is – I’ll see something that corresponds to my particular conundrum. It seems that it’s my job to decipher the meaning and apply what I learn to my circumstances.
It can be hard to discern whether this is a form of synesthesia, intuition, or the after effects of reading 5,000 textbooks on Freudian theory. I have yet to rule out the explanation of my having gone completely mad. In any case, I’ve learned the hard way too many times that when I ignore or go against these visions – for lack of a better word – things do not work out well for me.
The thing about these visualizations is, well – they’re persistent. When I don’t heed the message, the imagery intensifies and increases in occurrence. A powerful instance of this phenomenon started when I was young. I can’t say for certain when the dreams started, because it seems like I had always had them. They came and went over the years, but the feeling was the same each time.
Having woken from a start at some point during the night, a foreboding sense of déjà vu would haunt me throughout the next day, that thing that you can’t quite put your finger on. I guess I thought it was normal, that everyone experienced this. Maybe it is and people do. And maybe I’m incredibly thick, but it took me until right up around my 30th birthday to finally figure out the meaning behind this particular musing.
I was in my late twenties when the dream resurfaced, this time with a vengeance. To the outside world, I was on an extended career moratorium, at home with my daughter until she was of an age to attend school full-time. It was during this time that the intensity of my recurring nightmare escalated, to the point where I’d wake at the crescendo of the dream – that moment right before you hit the ground – sitting straight up in bed, breathless and cold with sweat, mind racing and heart pounding as though it might explode from my chest and bolt out of the room.
In these dreams the cast and setting were variable, but the outcome the same. My companion and I would be engaged in some form of activity; visiting someone or running errands, characteristically situated at the top of a hill. When it was time to go, we would hop into the vehicle. They would start the engine and put it in gear. Then they’d inexplicably vanish. Baffled, I’d look around, quickly realizing that I was the lone occupant of a vehicle rolling downhill – rolling fast, down a busy street or through forest-like terrain. In the passenger’s seat.
Gaining momentum, panic would set in as I scrambled to get to the other side of the vehicle or reach for the brake, all while trying to maneuver the steering wheel so as not to crash. Just as the imminent collision rose to the forefront – I’d wake up. I can’t tell you the first time I had this dream or how many times it’s happened since then. But I can tell you the last.
It was summertime, three years ago. My existence had taken on a pressurized feeling, important understandings threatening to break through a weathered fabric backdrop. Health challenges and hard decisions had drained my spirit. I had pulled back from life to an extent that should have been alarming, with no energy to sort through the layers of my unhappiness – much less explain myself to anyone. Giving of myself with no means of replenishment while stuck in a perpetually revolving door of treatments and surgeries had left me empty.
Life has a way of forcing a point. We lost a close friend just as I threw myself in the path of a loved one heading down the same terrible track. I did my best to manage the heartbreak surrounding us, to keep up appearances and take care of my family. But when one of the most beloved people in my life left the world, the reverberations cracked my façade. The canvas of my life ripped wide open, and realizations like bricks began to rain from the sky. Through the fray I could see my marriage collapsing. I had been in denial, but was waking up fast. My world was falling apart.
It was at this time that another visualization came to me. This time I was awake, in quiet contemplation of my life. It was about love. And perhaps you already know this about love. I hope that you do. In my typical fashion, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.
Picture the love you share with another person as a living being. For the purposes of this analogy, let’s say it’s a human. A child. There are a lot of similarities. When a child is born into your life, it absorbs your time and attention. You don’t get a lot of sleep. Your emotions are all over the place. The same things are true of a new relationship – you nurture the relationship as you would a newborn.
And so that love grows, just as a child would. As it grows it requires different things, so you adapt. You grow with it and continue to provide your love with everything you can to keep it happy, healthy and safe. When it’s hungry you feed it, if it’s cold you warm it up. If there is a threat, you protect it. If it’s insecure or unsettled you give it your undivided attention and provide reassurance.
But what if the love is neglected? What if – for whatever reason – it becomes pallor and weak, and neither partner does anything significant to intervene? What if the attempts you do make aren’t enough or don’t fix the problem? What if you get distracted? Life is so busy and we all have things to do. I know you don’t like hearing this. It’s uncomfortable, but listen. What if when you finally wizen up and seek professional help, your love is really sick?
You’ve missed all the signs and, to your horror, your love slips into unconsciousness. The essence of love is still there somewhere – you’re convinced, but to bring it to the surface is an entirely different matter. At this point there isn’t much you can do. So you have faith.
But it’s too far-gone. Your love’s vital organs give way. It goes into cardiac distress. Alarms sound as your love flat lines, and though exhaustive efforts are made to save it, attempts to resuscitate are fruitless. Whether it’s as dramatic as this or your love simply slips away in the night doesn’t matter. Who did or didn’t do what is irrelevant now. Whether it was simply meant to be this way or that you can’t comprehend this happening to you are moot considerations. The love is dead.
The thing about gaining this kind of understanding is that once you have it, there’s no going back. When you unlock something from your subconscious, you can’t hide it away again. It becomes something that you indisputably know.
The final dream in the downhill series came at the height of all of this, when the themes of my life were at fever pitch. I remember each vivid detail as though it had happened in real life, real time.
My father and I were at my childhood home, situated in the country at the top of a tall hill. As children my brothers and I would use the lengthy driveway to obtain an adrenaline high by riding or bikes in the summer or sliding down it in the winter, counting our lucky stars each time we managed not to seriously maim ourselves.
As always with this dream, we got into the car and as we were backing out, my father vanished. This time though, the vehicle began rolling backwards down the hill. In a frantic ballet, I managed to keep the car on the dirt road – but I couldn’t stop it. It was moving faster than ever. There was a lucid understanding that I had to ride it out, steer it to safety. At the end of the driveway, the car crossed a road running perpendicular to it and launched into the ditch. After knocking out a section of barbed wire fencing, it continued to careen into the neighbour’s field beyond the fence.
Then everything was still. I emerged from the car, the sun warm on my skin. It was the first time I’d actually gone through the crash without waking up. Shocked at the silence of the scene, I surveyed the damage – broken and uprooted fence posts, wire, scars of upturned land and certain damage to the vehicle. But I was okay. I noticed my father making his way to me. He rubbed his forehead, clearly distressed at the mess I’d made.
Ever the optimist, after a time he simply said, “Well, let’s clean this up.”
So we did. The next day I began the long process of sorting out my life. That was the last time I had the dream.
Listen to your dreams, whether you’re awake or asleep. They’re there for a reason, especially those that are repetitious or particularly poignant. Don’t wait until you’re heading backwards down a steep dirt road into an inevitable tailspin before taking control of your life. Don’t wait until your love is dead before deciding to do something about it. Stand up for yourself. Take action. Be awake, even in dreams.
Get in the driver’s seat and take the motherfucking wheel. Take care of your love. Drive on.