I can’t recall how much of the story I’m going to tell you actually happened and how much of it was a dream:

A few weeks ago, Sujata and I stayed overnight at the cabin of our friends, Rudy and Liza. The cabin is close to Nederland—just up Canyon Road on the way out of Boulder. We go up there three or four times a year with Rudy and Liza and our families, but this weekend, we were celebrating Liza’s 40th birthday so were 30 or 40 other folks there and about 15 people stayed overnight.

I was hazy by the time I crawled into bed that night. We had been there since the early afternoon and we were drinking and dancing until we all collapsed around 2 am. Sujata was already asleep and I always have trouble sleeping up there—I go into a kind of misty slumber where I’m aware that I’m awake, but I’m not alert.

We were staying in the master bedroom on the second floor. It’s large, beautiful room with a small sitting room and a large bed. There are exposed beams in the peaked ceiling and there is a large sliding glass door that you can open and step through out on to a long and narrow porch.

This is the part where I can’t distinguish dream from reality.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I got out of bed and started pacing around the room. I walked around the sofa in the sitting room and then found myself in front of the sliding glass door. It was a warm night, so I grabbed the door handle and gently slid the door open. I could make out shadows down below but nothing was moving, and all I could hear were cicadas and some soft rustling in the bushes. The sky was clear, and the moon was full and bright, but it was on the other side of the house, so the light it cast was indirect and the shadows jutted outward from where I was standing. I didn’t have my glasses on, either, so that added to my visual confusion.

I decided to step out onto the patio and as soon as I picked up my right foot and lifted it over the threshold, I had a sudden and fearsome sense that the patio wasn’t actually there—that the patio floor that I could dimly make out was just an illusion and that if I stepped out with my other foot, I’d fall two stories onto whatever was down there—I couldn’t quite make it out.

So I held on to the door frame and with my left foot firmly planted on the solid ground, I lifted my right foot over the threshold and gingerly felt for something firm with my right toe. All clear! My toe and then my foot settled on something hard and firm, so I let go of the door frame, slid my other foot across the threshold and there I was, standing on the patio.

I gripped the railing, looked across the meadow and up into the foothills. My heart was racing from the thought of the fall, and I was still disoriented. I was about to turn around and go back to bed, or at least get off the patio, which was addling me, when I looked to my right and I saw a spiral staircase that led from the patio down to the ground. The staircase was black so it melded into the night, and I couldn’t really distinguish between the staircase itself and the shadows of the trees. Part of me wanted to just get back inside, but then another part of me wondered about the staircase. I gingerly moved across the patio and toward the staircase and when I got to where the patio ended and the staircase began, as I stepped my foot off the patio, I had the same terrifying thought as I did a few moments before: what if this staircase is not real? Again, I looked down and I couldn’t see what was there, but my agitated mind saw a dark hole, 30 or 40 feet deep.

If I took one more step, I might just plunge right into the hole.

It was 3 am—no one would hear me fall, I’d descend and crumble–like a piece of toast smashed by a hammer–at the bottom of the pit. I’d lie there for a while, in great pain and agony and then, well, I’d just expire. In the morning, no one would be able to find me—they’d search in vain until, finally, close to noon, someone would peer down into the pit and see my lifeless body below.

With that, I wheeled around on my left foot and basically hopped back into bed. I was sweating, my mind was racing, I didn’t know if I was dreaming or awake. There were a few anxious moments where I thought I actually did fall into the hole and that I was imagining being in bed! I reached over and felt Sujata—she was there for real, so that calmed me a bit.

I didn’t say anything to Sujata the next morning, nor to anyone else, but that feeling and that sensation that I felt on the patio hasn’t quite left me—I guess that’s why I’m writing about it—to get it out, turn it upside down and around in my hands, gaze at it a bit and try to figure out what it was.



2 thoughts on “Dreams

  1. Dear Eric,

    While it’s still somewhat fresh, I wanted to quickly respond to your blog post about dreams. Ever since Christina died, my sleep pattern, as we talked about, has been pretty screwed up. I frequently have an experience similar to what you describe—similar in emotional tone and reaction, but not involving action and body movement like you describe. I wake up, say at 2 or 3 am, take a leak, then have trouble falling back to sleep. I slip in and out of semi-wake and dream state. I seize upon a troubling thought I may not have fully digested in consciousness (like “there’s something I forgot to do to memorialize Christina’s life,” or “What could I have done to save her?” or “I’m going to go broke before I die,” etc.). It’s like I carry that thought with me in and out of consciousness and dream state, like the part where you hesitate to step onto the deck, then step out onto it. For me my thoughts get transposed in the semi-sleep, then I have to reprocess in part-wakefulness—then the cycle picks up speed and compounds. The result is the same as you describe: agitation, disorientation, fear, anxiety, groping around, descending, crumpling. I’ve thought too that maybe the thresholds of different centers in my brain are lowered. Such thoughts get passed between my executive brain (I can figure this out) and my primitive, reptilian brain (my tribe is under attack, I’ve taken big losses). I try to look at it as a process of adaptation to a powerful turn in my life course, and I give myself some freedom to experience it fully when it comes—and then, as you have done, lift it up, learn what I can from it, ride it out, etc. Talk about it. I’ve noticed lately—maybe the last 3 or 4 weeks—that the frequency of such episodes is way down. And I take that to mean that my whole being/spirit is somehow adapting to such a big hit. I am reintegrating, not disintegrating.

    You are stepping onto the threshold of the greatest adventure of your life. You are going to be tested in all sorts of ways—physically, emotionally, intellectually, dad-and-husband-wise too. It would be unwise to expect that the reptile within you would remain silent or unfazed. And, think about it, you are taking your entire tribe with you! The question becomes: what can you learn from Salamander? Go with some caution. Step lightly. Don’t hesitate to reach for the door frame and the railing for support and orientation. Reach over and touch Sujata. She is there to bolster your strength. There may come a time when you might have to back away from a dangerous or precarious staircase. If so, back away in confidence and self-respect. Be grateful for Salamander. He is your ally.

    David >

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