I tell people I never remember my dreams, but that’s not quite true. The earliest dream I recall — actually, I had it several times during my childhood — takes place at Ridge Hill School in Hamden, Conn., which I attended from kindergarten through sixth grade. I’m in the playground with my classmates when, booming over the shouting and laughter, I hear the ominous fanfare from Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” I am the only one who senses something wrong: a hungry and terrible presence just around the other side of the building. I know I must save my classmates. With growing trepidation, I separate myself from my peers and creep around the corner. As panic swells inside me, I catch a glimpse of something Lovecraftian — pitiless and sharp-toothed and insane — and I know I have met my end. I wake up in a cold sweat with a sense that I have failed.
I had another memorable childhood dream when I was visiting my cousin‘s family at their summer home in Katonah, N.Y. Interestingly, it too takes place at my old elementary school. For some reason, I accompany my mother there; she’s on some kind of business — maybe it’s Election Day and she’s there to vote. In any case, she leaves me at the entrance while she goes inside (no doubt reflecting separation anxiety). A substantial span of time passes, and I begin to worry. Here comes the freaky Oedipal part: There’s this knight guarding the door and he won’t let me pass. So I draw a knife from somewhere and start peeling off his armor — the blade cuts right through it and it comes off sort of like his arm’s solid plastic. There’s no blood. But I strike bone underneath.
I don’t remember whether my mother returns in the end.
Later in life, I had certain dream-related sleep problems that have since disappeared. In my teens and early 20s I was occasionally plagued by insomnia and night terrors. Around that time I began experiencing sleep paralysis, sometimes accompanied by lucid dreaming. Sleep paralysis is terrifying the first time it happens — imagine waking up and finding you have no control over your movements. You can’t even scream — and trust me, you try. But I learned to work around it by wiggling a toe, then foot, etc. — or simply going back to sleep.
Falling dreams are said to be common — I know I’ve had them before. Traditional dream interpretation suggests they reflect anxiety by the dreamer, but by this standard, almost everone should dream about falling every night. Not surprisingly, Freudians put a characteristic twist on the subject. But everybody knows Freud was full of bunk.