In the past ten or so years, I’ve only had a handful of nightmares — really closer to three or four — so bad that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, go back to sleep after them. One of them was last night. My friend was dying, and I couldn’t do anything about it. Nothing. One second, I was with him in the nightmare, and the next, I was awake and completely disoriented, my mind still partially entangled in the nightmare, scrambling for my phone to send him a message and chanting “please don’t die please don’t die please don’t die.”
I actually don’t tend to call bad dreams “nightmares.” In dreams, I’ve been shot or dodged showers of bullets more times than I can remember. I’ve almost drowned; I’ve had people threaten to shoot me; I’ve had people threaten me with bombs. People and creatures have chased me numerous times, and there have been huge conspiracies to kill untold numbers of people. I even had a dream in which I was hiding from the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park. And still, I would classify few of those dreams as nightmares.
Last night, though, was terrifying. The worst part was the knowledge that he was dying — the complete certainty that can occur in dreams. Even after I’d woken up, even after I was capable of thinking rationally and realizing that my friend was almost certainly just fine in real life (unfortunately after I sent him a likely incoherent message), I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe — just maybe — something had happened to him.
That’s the thing about dreams — even after reason has reasserted itself, the feelings and emotions remain. I remember knowing that he was going to die. I remember the disbelief and the grief I felt in the dream. I remember seeing him so exhausted, so sick, so unlike himself. I remember all of that, and the feelings linger. Even in the light of day, the nightmare still had a grasp on my mind.
I hadn’t realized just how much the nightmare had affected me until I got a message from my friend letting me know that he’s okay, and all this tension I didn’t even know was there just left my body. Everything seemed a little lighter and easier to deal with.
The brain is an incredible thing — I don’t know how it does it, but everything felt so real. So much that never happened almost feels as though it did. But even beyond the memories of what happened in a dream, the emotions stay with me. I can remember how I felt in dreams that happened years ago. Terror, grief, longing, loneliness. And that moment when I wake up is always the worst because I’m so caught up in the emotion, and it takes time to realize that it was just a dream.