Monday, August 27, 2007


My first memory of a bad dream deals less with the dream itself and more with what I did to cope with it.

My mother helped my brother and me keep journals before either of us could write: she bought us each a large, artist's sketchbook (the difficult-to-find ones with hard covers and bindings like real books) and encouraged us to draw, paint, sticker and rubber-stamp our thoughts on the pages. One of my journal pages came to depict the scene of a nightmare that had left me bleary-eyed and shaky in the morning: a family car, a frightened brown rabbit, and a shadowy, faceless man in a yellow suit and black hat.

At the time, I had no idea why this dream was so terrifying or what it meant--or even that dreams were supposed to mean something--but drawing out that scene as best I could in bright Crayola marker helped.

I hadn't thought about this early instance of dream-journaling in years. But a few weeks ago, I started having nightmares. Two or three times a night, I wake up confused, searching for the clock, Rob's breathing, something to confirm that it was just a dream. I get up and go to the bathroom, as though I could empty my mind along with my bladder. I try to take deep breaths when I get back into bed, hopeful that relaxation will yield more pleasant dreams. But despite my best efforts to meditate on images of kittens and rainbows, I wake up in the morning feeling anxious over my brittle, chicken-bone teeth, my car plummeting off a cliff into a dark cavern, or my husband collapsing and dying while I sleep peacefully in the other room. Rob touches my shoulder gently and says, "Time to get up." And the reply is the same every morning: "Nightmare."

Each day I think about the events of the previous night's dreams, and separate myself from the anxiety. It was just a dream. There is nothing to be afraid of. But every night, there is something new to fear. Naming the nightmares as such does not make them go away.

Like so many of the discomforts and disturbances that have arisen in my body over the past six months, these nightmares could easily be a side-effect of pregnancy hormones. I certainly haven't experienced the pastel-daydreamy version of pregnancy; nightmares almost seem appropriate. I would be quicker to blame pregnancy for my dreams, however, if the dreams themselves seemed to have anything whatsoever to do with birth or newborns or becoming a mother. But images of crooked teeth and bomb shelters and falling through the darkness are just generally, surreally terrifying.

When I told my mother about my nightmares, she noted the recurring theme of anxiety: "Is something making you anxious?" she asked me.


Except, of course, the usual things that make everyone anxious. More and more, I am trying to ignore that kind of anxiety: there will never be enough money, the circumstances will never be exactly right, and thinking If I had only… is useless because we have no agency in the past. Being anxious will not banish the demons and spirits that plague us during the day. I repeat the daytime version of "It was only a dream" and try to believe it: It will all be okay.

But apparently my unconscious mind will not agree with this statement. Or else it has some serious restructuring to do before it can. I can assure others that "I'm fine," but clearly I'm not truly convinced yet.

Will the nightmares--like other discomforts of pregnancy--disappear when my baby is born? Somehow I doubt it. I will have to be the source of comfort for the person I bring into this world, and I can't yet manage to comfort myself. This, I suppose, is my real nightmare.

I wonder if sprawling out on the floor with a sketchbook and a box of Crayolas would help at all.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Honorary Aunts and Other Poems

A week ago today, I was travelling alone for the first time in over a year. I used to do this at least every four months, and then more often when the man whose letters I loved turned out to live 1,000 miles away from my home, and 3,000 miles away from my home-away-from-home. Now, air travel is reserved for weddings and graduations and long-awaited reunions.

Barefoot and pregnant

Never have I been so thankful for an aisle seat near the rear of the plane. The little belly passenger who had been so quiet and still until a few weeks ago decided to celebrate its first transcontinental journey with a series of joyous, bladder-pounding starts and thumps, one of which was powerful enough to dislodge my forearm from my torso. I tried to relax and concentrate on the book in my lap: ironically, Fear of Flying, chosen hastily while heading out the door and absentmidedly bookmarked with an old boarding pass and a laminated St. Dymphna holy card. Sometimes my life comes with an invisible production designer.

I was off to reunite with four college friends, soon to be Honorary Aunts, though they didn't know it until I pointedly smoothed my shirt over my round midsection. "You're so skinny!" Melissa exclaimed, hugging me. I'm not skinny everywhere, I suggested. "I knew it! Ellie told me you were trying." I wasn't trying so much as not preventing, but when you're 24 and having lots of sex, there's really no difference. And your friends like the way "trying" sounds.

Plum Island Blvd.

I sat cross-legged in the back of our rental car for the duration of the drive from Boston to our destination, an unfinished beach house in Newbury, MA, pronounced "NEW-bree," two syllables. Sarah corrected us until we got it right. Five women, five days in a house with exterior walls only and no curtains. Girls Gone Wild, Plum Island 2007! Woooo!

Except that it wasn't. It was laughter and beachcombing and laziness. Jenny had us pose for photos with angry expressions so that we'd look like models. The house was across the street from a liquor store which we managed never to step foot inside, despite my non-pregnant companions' aspirations of drunkenness. Because crossing state lines is more trivial on the East Coast and it is on the West, we shopped in New Hampshire.

Now I miss them more than I did when I was depressed over having no local friends. I spent five days in the company of incredible, chatty women and returned home to find that my life seems very quiet by comparison, and my husband's voice almost jarringly deep. I wish I had studied poetry in college, because my visual studies-trained brain is having trouble with the language of how much love I have for these women. They will make great contributions to law and art and medicine and politics, and they can have me in stitches for days over four-scoop "kiddie" cones, boys named Jamtex, and Jesus on What Not to Wear ("Just because they sell a rope belt doesn't mean that you should wear it!").

There is nothing like spending time with women friends to make you realize how important it is to have other women around. How they bring out your best qualities and laugh at your worst ones in such a way that you feel loved and not really picked-on. How much you need other women to thrive, and how much it sucks when you can't see them every day.

Staying up late telling jokes and stories across a living room is the best way to renew your friendship-marriage vows to stay in touch and see each other more often. There will be another reunion, and another, until we can all afford by buy a big house together.

Because I don't want to be apart from these beauties any longer than I have to be.