• Nathaniel G. Sands

My Daughter and her Nightmares

Despite the Covid, Leah and I are both continuing our education via online. She downloaded some educational apps on her iPhone, meets with her classmates through Zoom, and is currently working on a speech. You, like me, probably remember grade 5 and doing public speeches.

Our family was quite good at them. My older sister Erin always represented her class at the gym, and as far as I can remember, always represented our school at the district competition.

I usually did quite well too, often I would go to the prestigious gym to talk in front of the entire school, and even once went to the district’s myself with a speech on Bobby Orr.

I hate the idea of any of my schoolteachers knowing this, but each one of my speeches was meticulously crafted by my father. Some of my friends still recall my grade 7 speech on Thomas Crapper and his invention, the toilet. My dad was quite the writer and knew the importance of humor.

Now its my turn! Last year, Leah represented her school at the districts for a speech she wrote on Owls. We were all so proud of her, but I felt especially proud by the fact she wrote it herself! I helped her a bit with the structure and a few suggestions, but that success was all her!

This year when the discussion of speeches was announced, Leah told me she wanted to write about something important and unique. After thinking it over for a week or two, she told me she wanted to do a speech about nightmares. I instantly perked up and told her what I thought - "That's a great idea!" She is full of them, and I know all parents say this about their kids, but there is something so special and different about my little girl, I just know she is destined for greatness. I have told her before I think she has the potential to do whatever she wants in life if she puts her mind to it and works hard. I really do believe she will have a tremendous effect in the world in whatever she deems fit for her purposes.

She wanted me to help her write her speech and in the manner of tradition I was honored and eager. I myself have been dream journaling for about 7 years now and recount enough nightmares off the top of my head - more than I care think about, and plenty enough written down.

I suggested she intro her speech with a nightmare of her own, and she quickly recounted (with a smile I should add), a nightmare she remembers vividly from when she was 3 or 4; the first nightmare she can remember having.

She is walking up to a big house with her mom. The inside is dark and dirty, she remembers spiders and rats and bats, but in the house there is a fridge/freezer in the middle of the room with me, her old-man inside, pressed up against the freezer door from the inside, with my nose squished against the transparent veil. I am apparently praying, but in her words, “it's just mumbling” - inaudible. She hides behind her mother, then runs away, and suddenly wakes up.

Leah has struggled with sleep her whole life. This was the first of many nightmares to come. I remember for a while at least once a month she would wake up in a fit due to a nightmare... I never asked her about what happened, I would simply console her by rubbing her back, and settle her back to sleep. As she got older, occasionally I'd tell her of my own dreams and nightmares.

As we transposed this and some other ideas to paper on the many aspects that make up nightmares, like the history, the science, time and perception, the psychology of fear… Leah laughed as she recounted a nightmare of mine, (my second), I told her about from when I was a kid, and she wanted to add it to the speech. I was about 4 and was hiding behind a hydro-box in our housing-complex, naked and being called to come inside by my family, but too afraid to run home, fearing someone might see me naked. And I just stood there, for what seemed like forever, paralyzed by the fear of embarrassment.

There are many nightmares I have chosen not to tell her about, and there is one I can clearly remember from around the time she had this first of many nightmares. I’m not sure if they are or can be linked in any way, but this dream was like no other for me.

After Leah’s mother and I broke up I struggled in more ways than I can get into. Leah’s was two-and-a-half, and I was a 21-year-old who was suddenly facing self-esteem issues that plagued my teen years – on top of working daily overtime and taking care of a toddler on my own each weekend. I remember one night going to the pub with my friend Corey and expressing for the first time out loud the intentions I had been mulling over in my mind for the past few months. I had set it in my head to re-join the military. To join full time and leave the city I could only associate with pain and heartbreak. I was still technically a supplementary reservist, and knew with my training it would be only a few simple steps to get back in and run away from my problems. It was set in my mind – I picked a day to go into the recruitment agency and file the appropriate papers. But the night before I had a dream that changed the course of our lives forever…

How a soldier catches Z's

The dream started with me and my mom in a basement – It reminded me of my friend Josh’s basement from when I had gone to his place in my teen years. My mom is sitting on the couch and were discussing my plans for the night – apparently, she was babysitting my daughter; Leah was sleeping in the other room. Suddenly to the right of the couch, in the mirror, I saw my daughter ride by on a tricycle – slow and eerily, as if se were a ghost of spirit. I turned knowing this was only a reflection but noting was behind me. Knowing something was wrong I ran to her room around the corner. She was lying in a bed, pale and sweating with the soft glow of a nightlight showing me she was in spiritual torment. I picked her up and brought her out into the main room, lying her on a bed as I wept, crying for her to wake up. As I held her in my arms, her limbs began to elongate, her skin turned green and I began to pray – “God, wake her up!” I said a couple times. Then suddenly, I realized I was the one asleep, and said “God… wake me up.” And I woke up.

The next morning, I didn’t go into the recruiting office. I had interpreted and internalized this dream as a sign – to run away from my issues would be to abandon my child; my responsibility was to her. Even though I had previously rationalized my decision - that I could visit her and I would be pursuing a career I deemed important and worthwhile - clearly my own fears and desires pushed this narrative, and I was reminded at the perfect timing of my unconscious reminder. Eight years later, with countless memories we have together, and the rich relationship we now share, I have no regrets, and am eternally grateful for such a disturbing nightmare.

Dreams are mysterious; they can be hard to explain because they defy what we know as reality – yet while were in them, anything is possible and excepted as true, and our reason and reality is intrinsically defied - only to wake up and forget.

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