The Specialist, known in certain circles as Rocker Nutley Bugspray, said that she was willing to bet that recurring nightmares about my mother would recede, then fade, shortly after Mom's death almost two years ago. This was partly true in that it seemed to be so for a while; but lately they've returned with a vengeance. Happily, I did not take the bet -- which was that I'd have to go back to a shrink if they did. Lately, winter nights have been cold enough to evoke a childhood in Illinois. I have reached for blankets, turned on the heat -- after having found it -- and caught wraith-like trails of my breath at the open window at two a.m. This is the hour just before the onset of unwelcome dreams. Dreams that can appall you with the distasteful venom you have harbored in the pit of your id, the ones you thought you had trashed, deleted, sent to that recycle bin on the desktop of your sunnyboy consciousness.
This morning, a Friday, I awoke with cinema-sharp images of being restrained (my right arm) as I attempted to "beat the bejesus" out of old Mom. That was her phrase for maternal corporal punishment, "I'll beat the bejesus out of you!" Whatever that is, her method clearly did not work as my bejesus-inspired peccadilloes continued to land me before the great judge and executioner. M is for many things...and murder was among them in a few enthusiastic attempts on her part.
In last night's dream, old Mom was about to exact some pound of flesh or other from my younger brother, Paul, who died in 2003, preceding her into the great beyond by a year and a half. Paul was a shirtless kid (he could never keep them on) and trying to slip from her clutches with little success. With the aid of rapid-eye-movement sleep, I simultaneously decided I was big enough now to do some damage if I just clocked her with a right hook, wondered why I had never thought of it before (after all, I'd been an adult for some time), and let fly, even as a character I did not recognize but gathered he was some sort of uncle, caught my wrist in mid-throw. I had the certainty that had it landed, Mom (or Biggy, as Paul and I called her after some cartoon show featuring villains Biggy Rat and Itchy Brother) would not be getting up for a while.
Cut to: The dream suddenly changed settings and I was aboard a leaking, gaily colored rubber raft with my shirtless (again) brother, both of us paddling furiously toward a near shore. We were on a lake, undoubtedly Round Lake in Illinois where we lived for some years as kids. Looking behind me, I saw that limousine-sized waves both followed us and at the same time, seemed frozen. Behind them were terraces of water, not unlike waterfalls, but again, oddly frozen. The dreamscape was in heavy oils or acrylics of cerulean, the water a sickly green and black. We made it to shore easily enough, and that was pretty much the end of the dream. Even half asleep, I knew that the menacing but escapable water was a Jungian representation of emotion, arrested, but waiting.
Seated at the edge of the bed Friday morning, I asked myself if that intended blow was tantamount to murderous design. Did I mean to kill her in the dream? This was certainly a reversal of the Freud/Sophocles thing. Oedipus killed his father and married (did he actually marry? I'd have to check again) or say, "did" (or wanted to "do") his mother. I was in a state of roiling confusion and guilt. Questions plagued me, not the least of which was, if Oedipus actually did marry his mother, who paid for the wedding?
My brother and the raft were a kind of surreal, Technicolor recreation of an incident in March of some year in the mid-'60s. My brother had swum out in the freezing water to climb aboard a raft my father and I had made from heating-oil drums and wood planking. After a winter of ice and thaw, the anchor chain had snapped and my brother was carried out to deep water on choppy whitecaps. I swam after him and gave it up halfway across the mile-in-diameter lake. Instead of swimming the other half-mile, I stroked to shore and ran. I arrived at the spot the raft was washed ashore pretty much as Paul zipped up his shorts after taking a leak. He grinned merrily.
For years I tried to transmogrify the story into life-saving heroics on my part, but I could never get Paul to buy it. In fact, he was more in danger of catching pneumonia (if you really can get it that way) than drowning.
I think I'll start a dream journal again to document these things for the inevitable return to some shrink's couch. I'll call it "Murder in My Heart for My Mom" and hope it lends a little levity to a humorless demon down there.