July 11, 2005

The Witch of Shallow Stream

When he was three or four he had a recurring nightmare, entitled “The Witch of Shallow Stream.” It was very simple. In a wide, flat valley, a shallow stream meandered toward him, and in the background, a castle stood above a forest. A woman’s voice came on, wailing in a demented, banshee coluratura, “The Witch…of Shallow…Stream!”

He had the dream again and again. It would wake him up and he would run into his parents’ room.

“I dreamed about the Witch of Shallow Stream.”

His mother laughed. “If that isn’t a panic. The Witch of Shallow Stream is me.” His mother was a psychotherapist.

“No,” he protested. “It’s not you, Mommy.” He didn’t understand what she could mean.

“Are you kidding? It’s obviously me.”

But he went back to bed somewhat reassured, the dream having been broken for that night.

Many years later he realized that his mother had been right: the dream had been about her. It was too obvious, actually. The stuff about the shallow stream: too Freudian.

His mother was an old woman. She was not frightening anymore. She no longer had a stream, shallow or not, to feed him. He visited her sometimes and tried to be nice to her. She was after all a human being like any other.

One night after visiting her and successfully avoiding any of the old tensions, he wondered what had happened to that dream. When had it suddenly stopped, and why? He called his mother on the phone.

“Mom, remember that dream I used to have?” He asked for details: how old had he been exactly? How often had he had have the dream, over what period of time?

She laughed. “Who remembers all that stuff? You dreamed I was a witch? Listen, darling, I used to believe in all that Freud crap but I’m too old for that now. I’m focused on the present, that’s all. If I remember my doctor’s appointment, that’s good.”

“Okay, Mom. Have a good night’s sleep.”

That night he tried to make the dream return. Before shutting his eyes he told himself to dream about the Witch of Shallow Stream. But he woke up the next morning without having been awakened by any scary voice, any castle–guarded landscape. He forgot to try the next night. Then he remembered he had forgotten to try.

He sat for a long time, eyes shut, remembering the dream as well as he could. But there was no action, no detail. He needed more. He needed to feel the terror again. If he couldn’t feel it again, who was he, and what would become of him? Who had stolen his terror? He had, all by himself, long, long ago, and now what?