Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

The dreaming brain

Once, many years ago, I woke from a dream about….I don’t remember what. What I do remember about the dream is that someone or something was tapping. On a door, maybe. On a floor. I don’t remember who it was doing the tapping, or what they were tapping on, only that they were tapping. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. No particular rhythm to it that I recall.

I woke up. It was morning, the sun was shining, and though the dream was over, the tapping continued. Tap, tap, tap, tap. Tap tap. Stumbling out of bed, I went to the window and discovered the source of the noise: a woodpecker was outside, digging at the wood around the window frame in its search for bugs.

It always amazes me how outside stimuli can work their way into dreams. I’ve never been entirely certain how dreams work (and I’ve never been particularly interested in looking it up for some reason): do they unfold in your brain over a longish period of time, i.e., over several minutes, so that what feels like a long dream really is a long dream? Or are they more like flashes of lightning, something that is in reality a fraction of a second long, only it feels like a long time? If it’s the latter, then was that woodpecker working on the window before I started dreaming, and was the dream built to accommodate this noise? Or, if the dreams take place over a long period of time, did my brain just decide to take this new sound and throw it in, like a cook might grab some spice off the rack to throw into an already boiling stew? Maybe I’ll look into it, because it is pretty interesting, how it all works.

At about four this morning, I woke up from a dream that, again, I don’t remember at all. The only thing I do remember is there was a muffled thump or bang that was literally right on the boundary line of dream and awake. I lay there under covers, still half asleep, trying to decide if that noise had been in my head or outside of it. The noise was not repeated. The house was as quiet as a house usually is at 4 a.m. I debated briefly whether I should get up and take a pass through the house to make sure no one was roaming the house, or that the roof hadn’t fallen in, or the expansion tank hadn’t blown on our furnace again (though I was awake for that one a couple of years ago, and it was LOUD, let me tell you; this was a totally different kind of noise). After a brief inner debate, I was able to go back to sleep.

It wasn’t always that way, though. For several years, it was common for me to wake up in the middle of the night, or to be drifting off to sleep and snap awake, and just feel compelled to check the house for…I don’t know what. Something. Someone. There was never any rhyme or reason to it. No dream or nightmare, sometimes, I wasn’t even asleep. I’d just get this feeling, a super-creeped out feeling, that I needed to do a walk around. And even when I knew logically there was no reason to get out of my warm, comfortable bed, I would not be able to rest until I got up and checked every room in the house, sometimes even going into the basement. Never once did I find anything amiss.

I wonder if those super-paranoid, check every room in the house moments were related somehow to child protection instincts. My children are both grown, and though the Magpie lives with us full-time, and the Catbird part-time (we’ll see what happens in May when she graduates), I have not had one of those ‘gotta check the house’ moments in years, maybe not even since they were in middle school.

The mind does some really interesting things, doesn’t it?

4 Responses

  1. I always dream. Sometimes I look forward to going to sleep, just so I can experience some weird story my mind wants to invent. And most of the time I remember them. I've dreamt up whole novel ideas which is amazing! i don;t get spooked by dreams though. I've had the whole bang thing and you wake unsure whether it was real or not, but not enough to get up and check the house. However, sleep paralysis is a whole different ball game. I've had that once and it was the scariest night of my life.

  2. I usually forget my dreams, so when one stays in my head, I sometimes wonder if it was real or a dream. Then there was the time I was dreaming of eating a piece of chocolate. I woke up with my hand up to my mouth and no chocolate. I don't think it was fair that I couldn't finish THAT dream!! Haha!

  3. I've heard of sleep paralysis but never experienced it, fortunately. It sounds terrifying! I generally like dreams but have a hard time remembering them for more than a few minutes after waking up.

  4. Oh, how cruel! My wife told me that I was scratching her back in my sleep a few nights ago, which is kind of … strange.

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