When I have nightmares, I sweat in my sleep. There are few things I dislike more than waking up to find my t-shirt or the bed sheet stuck to some exposed, damp portion of my skin, but it happens. It used to happen all the time, but now, not so much. The sweating makes the nightmare worse, like I have to wear the bad dream on my body long after the images have faded from the front of mind. It’s the worst way to linger.
A recurring nightmare I experience, a familiar narrative at least, is a house, building, or room I can’t leave. There are people, known and unknown to me, in these dreams who purposefully distract me from my goal to find the nearest exit, doors that lead to rooms with nothing except more doors leading to other rooms, and even the sudden loss of limbs. Sometimes my limbs stop working, and other times they fall away from me altogether. It’s dark. My glasses are broken or missing. Someone or something is chasing me, and they can see me, but I can’t see them.
Each obstacle, each dark hallway, and every loss feels insurmountable. Whatever pursues me will have caught up before I get the chance to recover. I believe this in the nightmare. There have been more than a few times when I give up on myself in my dream. Crying, and running though some confined space, seeking shelter or a moment’s safety, I stop. Not crying. I stop running.
I sit on the ground. I quiet my weeping, and because I can not see, I don’t even attempt to look toward whatever’s coming to get me. Instead, I sit, and I wait. I feel how sad I am, how afraid, how utterly devastated to be ending this way, and I decide how I want to confront confront the monstrosity just behind me, the big bad unseeable thing coming down the hall.
The Thing either never arrives, or, if it gets close enough for my eyes to focus on, it changes into something non-threatening. It isn’t necessarily something I want or need, but it often presents itself as something I would call…useful. It’s still a dream, so I can’t remember if it turns into some kind of tool, or shape, or message, or any other thing that could be true in the land of the subconscious. I just know my feelings change, and my fear, which felt so real I thought it would drown me moments ago, slowly dissipates. Then, if I could get myself to take a deep breath, I would wake up.
I think I keep thinking I’m going to wake up from certain real life existential nightmares. It isn’t magical thinking per se, but requires at least a little delusion about how things might be different in 2021. After a good long stretch of unbothered sleep, you can’t convince me I haven’t made some choice that made bad dreams go away for good. I’ll be certain I’ve found THE emotional safe place, THE nighttime routine, a spot-on combination of over-the-counter medicine, or a mental hiding place where the rooms, doors, sweat, and disappointment won’t find me.
A new year, a new love, a new home, a new pet, a new journal, another chance, etc. So many reasons to believe, because I really wanted to believe, that I could be so good I wouldn’t ever have to feel anything bad. All that time, I could have been waiting, enjoying myself, knowing I would have everything I needed when it was time to face whatever appeared to me. Once I sat still, took a deep breath, and opened my eyes.
Yesterday, we visited my tree. Well, the Kile Oak isn’t just mine, but I feel close to her, like a friend might be mine, though not mine alone. Kel, Astro, and I drove over to my old neighborhood to have takeout from my favorite restaurant (The Legend), and take a little walk. The food was good and hot, and the walk was rainy and cold. More than once, Kel reached over and took my hand, until we were pulled slightly apart again by the dog or a narrow sidewalk.
When I lived in Irvington, I didn’t have a car. Or much money. Or a whole lot to do with my free time. To shake away some of my nervous energy, I walked. A lot. I took many different routes, and had my own preferences for the best walks and the best days for them. My body remembered these preferences as I walked the familiar steps with my family, in a new context, and a deeper understanding of my needs and wants. I nearly cried thinking of how far I’ve come, and how much it’s meant to me to be back in step with an older version of myself.
I was lonely, the first time I lived in Irvington, but I learned to love my loneliness. Not the solitary weight of isolation, but the sweet independence of solitude. It was on these streets, on these routes, and in my head I started to think of my life as something I owned. On these walks, I opened myself up to the idea of sharing my life instead of handing it over. I looked at Kel and wondered how long we’d been drifting toward each other, and why it felt so good to land with his palm in mine. Maybe because I’d learned to hold my own hand here first.
Listening to soft rock radio as a young teenager, I honed in on the shows where the DJ’s had listeners call in and request advice or song dedications. Delilah was my favorite, and still is, when I get the chance to tune in. It wasn’t, and isn’t just the Sexy Sad songs, which is a favorite genre of mine, I can’t lie. There was also something about listening to grown-ups admit to infidelity, addiction, unrequited love, and missed connections over the airwaves, inviting me into their private lives. Those people told stories about love, sex, and relationships that were a lot more complicated than most of what I encountered in media, but it also validated my experience. For me, love had always been complicated by dishonesty, violence, and desperation.
It felt so good to hear somebody say it, and for a nice lady on the radio to play a song, imprinting the memory on me, encouraging it to linger in the best way. Not on the skin, and not in the cold, but in the warm movement of my blood.
Here are a few Sexy Sad Songs, just like you’d hear on the radio.
Usually, at the tail end of December, I pick a word for the year. Just one word to come back to, a reminder of something I want to be, or know, or remember. If 2020 taught me anything, it would be to think outside the box a bit. To let myself be myself in all directions, and watch, and feel, how that sets me free. As much as I like the idea of having a Word of the Year, and as badly as I wanted one to come to me, it just didn’t. But a color did.
For me, 2021, is blue. It doesn’t have to mean sad, but it might. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with the birds or the sky, but it might. In any event, this year, it’s my color. I can’t wait to see what it has to show me about what we’re going to get up to next.
Big Hug to every person doing their best to work toward a better future for us all. Middle finger to every person who would diminish another person’s humanity to avoid embracing the fullness of their own. Gotta grow up some time, Friends. Now’s always a good time.