April 02, 2006

Why Did I Dread?

I woke up a few minutes ago – less than an hour ago by the time I type the end of this post -- with heart-quickened dread slapping me conscious, pushing me this way and that through the dawn-gray rooms. What’s happened? Nothing as far as I know. It’s Daylight Savings day, I’ve lost an hour in my sleep, maybe that’s it, a symbolic death. But that doesn’t feel like the answer: I’ve been through more than fifty such days, why should this one throw me? Yesterday was a good day, it was someone’s birthday and we had fun: outdoor fun in the afternoon and a good new restaurant last night, dressed up and taking photos to commemorate this piece of passing time. Nothing’s wrong – is that what I dread? Things going too well to remain like this? No, I know by now not to be spooked by that kind of self-dramatizing superstition.

As if to embody what I was feeling, a helicopter flew low and loud overhead moments after I awoke. Police, military? Searching for a criminal, checking security for a dignitary’s visit? I stopped and waited. Was the helicopter the cause of the dread? Did I hear it before waking? The helicopter vanished, it did not enter my life. But the dread stayed.

Or did the dread come from a dream? Unusual, because I love dreams, I love to remember them, even the scary ones entertain me. I don’t expect to be seriously unsettled by a dream anymore unless there’s some dream content I can interpret that comments troublingly on my waking life, and this time I don’t remember any dream content. It’s lost in the darkness and I can’t find my way back to it; it’s evaporated like a sprinkle of rain, it’s been gathered up and carried away like a treasure buried in a cave.

In an illogical leap, a thought comes to me. I don’t know if it’s a thought that was present in my dream or one I’m just making up at this moment. But it’s a thought that carries the dread further into waking life, and, along with a churning feeling, that brings some sense of intellectual satisfaction: a train of thought has been moved forward.

The thought is this: to be scared by a dream is to be scared by fiction, a fiction that rises up in your life and pretends to be real. I’ve spent my life loving fiction but assuming there was a clear boundary between fiction and reality, and assuming that life was the latter. Maybe this phantom dread is telling me that the whole thing has been fiction: everything I’ve thought about myself, all the self-image statements I’ve formulated and held in mind, all the criticisms and categorizations of myself and others, all the goals and hopes and theories and assumptions. What if it’s all been stuff I’ve made up to push myself along, or to stop myself in my tracks, and has no more reality than a fleeting feeling in response to an unremembered dream? And if it’s all been fiction, what’s left?