After Decades, a Waking Dream

When I was a kid, I had some dreams that were so vivid that the sensory experience of them was almost indistinguishable from being awake. On Monday night of this week, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. with a picture-perfect recollection of the dream sequence I had just had. It was so shocking and moving to have that sort of experience after many years of barely remembering any dreams at all. So I did my best to capture what was happening across the whole sequence. On the surface, it's just random shit, but with each section of the dream, things came into sharper and sharper focus until by the end, I was certain that I was awake up to the moment that I actually woke up.

My dream started a bit like a video game. In a wilderness by a lake, with others – fellow campers? Competitors? It was unclear, but we all moved to the water and used unseen vehicles (tiny, like a jet ski that was so small that you would just hang on and it pulled you through the water) to go elsewhere on the body of water. I rode up the back of a large wave and down the front of it, other campers doing the same. I knew they were there but did not look to the sides to see them. I remember the total sense of exhilaration, the joy of this mode of transport, like body surfing.

Next I was moving through an arid landscape at dusk. I was aware of giant ape-like beasts in the distance that I gave a wide berth around to avoid. Like a video game, adjacent parts of the terrain were wildly different, and so my wide path led me into an industrial space were I climbed across gangways and ladders around huge pipes like aqueducts to keep moving towards an unspecified goal. I was next heading into some kind of train with beds or cots on it for night travel, though my mind never really formed an image of it.

At this point, I shifted into a dream within a dream. It was my mother who was gone in this alternate reality, rather than my father. I went into some kind of dream state to see her one last time. In the dream state I walked down from the woods at Flintlock Drive into the back yard of the house next to my childhood best friend’s old house. Super vivid glance at the back of his house to orient myself to my whereabouts. His house was exactly as I remember it; the house next door was totally different from the one that is actually there.

The inside of that other house was dark and grand. I knew my mother was upstairs and that she was not well. Other adults were there. They were all familiar but I recognized none of them. I sort of understood that there was some role swapping going on. Unfamiliar faces in the roles of friends and family members. People who were there to fill roles and support me a certain way in this inner dream.

I knew that when I woke up, my mom would be gone. But I would also have had the gift of this ultra-vivid last visit (even though within the inner dream, I didn’t actually experience any of that visit with her). My interactions with the other adults were all of the nature of greetings and sympathies for what was happening with my mother, and me mentally noting who these people were in my ‘real’ life, though I never filled in any specifics.

One of the adults was a woman in the role of my wife. As with the others, I was acutely aware that she wasn’t my wife, but that regardless, she was a friend who cared about me. I didn’t want to make things awkward for either of us and so our greeting and conversation were quite chaste and not very long. Others played the role of close cousins, perhaps, or close friends. Just not who they actually were.

After speaking to these familiar people in the house with me, and appreciating them in their alternate roles (which nobody explicitly acknowledged; I just internally understood), I finally went to bed in a dark, first-floor bedroom. Still on the first floor. I never went upstairs. After a brief moment of sleep, I ‘awoke’ in the dream and I was alone in the bed and the same house. The inner dream was over and I awake to the reality that my mom was gone. I was overcome with grief, but also just so filled with appreciation for the gift of that inner dream. The neighborhood was so vividly detailed, and the emotional nature of my relationship with the other adults was so strongly felt.

I awoke for real in my actual bed, surprised that I hadn’t woken up my actual wife with the sounds of my crying. But my eyes were dry; my expressions of sadness had occurred entirely within the dream. I had to remind myself upon waking that my mother is alive and well, and that it was my father who had passed. It was all so vivid, and the gratitude I felt for the gift of this dream was so deeply felt, that I grabbed the tablet next to my bed to try and capture all of it.

In the latter part of the dream, all of these people who I felt close to – but didn’t recognize – were there to support me. In a way, it felt like I was glimpsing into a parallel universe where my life had taken a completely different path, and the roles of friends and family had been filled by a completely different set of people.

Two things moved me to write it all down:

Does it mean anything deeper? I’m a firm believer in the idea that dreams are just the housekeeping of the mind. But I can appreciate a gift when I am given one, and this felt like a gift.