I get a weird pit in my stomach when certain songs pop up on Pandora, or when I watch an episode of an anime series that really resonates with me. And while I do happen to have some sort of stomach bug at the moment, I don’t think that’s what it is.
I am going to admit right here that the dreams actually started before my husband ran into him in town the other day. “Oh cool, did you get his updated contact info?” “Uh, no.” If you think it’s weird that I would expect my husband to ask my ex for his phone number, so we can call him and make plans, it’s not. You need to understand our shared history and the high school environment we grew up in. Maybe it was just our culture or the way things were back then, but in that circle, it was pretty normal to get involved with someone, drift for a while, be friends again later, date other people in that same circle, etc. Even the relationships/trysts that ended really, really badly eventually became somewhat normal and serene again, with time. If you ended up never talking to the other person again, it was more likely due to normal drifting apart, rather than an extremely bad falling out. So I would have totally expected my husband to be all like, “dude, where have you been, bro?” and for that other guy to be all like, “hey man, just hanging out and shit.” Because that is totally how guys talk to each other, in my imagination.
I don’t really know what the dreams are supposed to represent. Sorry to disappoint, but unless I’m just not remembering, none of the dreams are sexual dreams. It’s just, like, he’s there. Usually we’re not even interacting – he’s just there in the background, like a stage prop. But the stage manager in my brain doesn’t use any extraneous or random props, so I know there is some meaning there. And given the surprising number of recurring dreams I have had about this person, I am slowly getting freaked out about that hidden meaning.
The most obvious explanation is some kind of symbolism about my past. So of course that clears it up. Yeah, I have not had any moment of truth where it suddenly hits me, but what really strikes me is how much he stays on my mind once I’ve rejoined the waking world. I mean, why?
The dreams are not all that unpleasant, so I guess they just bother me as a matter of principle. It feels really uncomfortable to have someone like this, even someone I would still consider a friend, enter my psyche several nights in a row without me having any say in it. Some people say you can control your dreams, but I’ve never tried and don’t have any plans to do so. When I wake up, I realize that it feels a bit like someone opening your front door and saying ‘Hi! It’s me again!!‘ over and over again.
And then there’s that other feeling, the one I mentioned at the top of the page. I get a weird physical sensation that feels good yet slightly sickening whenever I’m moved by something emotionally – a song I love, a show I’m into, anything artistic and beautiful but also powerful and packed full of emotion. The only other time I get that sensation is during those dreams.
I can say that my husband and children are at the forefront of my life, because, well, of course they are. That’s such a normal concept that it feels banal to even write about it. And sometimes, when the usual, ordinary things are going so well, you take them for granted. I don’t mean that I ignore my children and dismiss my husband. But the sense of normalcy I feel in my role as wife and mother frees up my mental energy up to be spent on other, more complicated things. It could just be that one of those complicated things is the Ghost of Relationships Past, embodied by none other than that guy in my dreams as of late.
And that’s just it right there: he’s in my dreams, but not of them. As natural as the dream may seem while I’m having it, I’m left feeling like I’ve been dealing with an intruder upon waking. I don’t mean it to sound grotesque, but it probably comes across that way. I’m sorry.
Once, a long time ago, my heart was completely and utterly shattered, wholly broken. It took me a really, really, REALLY long time to understand that I broke my own heart, all by myself. I’m still grappling with it now, actually – the power I hold, when for a long time I thought myself to be powerless. It’s like a baby elephant being chained up her whole life, unable to break free, until she grows to adult size, but remains unaware of her own strength. She has become so incredibly strong, full of unrealized power, and more than capable of snapping that rusty, decrepit chain in two and running free. But she has gotten so used to that chain that she doesn’t even know she can break free at any time, and so she has not tried.
I think a worthwhile partner makes you feel your own power – reminds you that it’s there, even if you can’t feel it, even if you are completely unaware that it exists. That is what my husband of more than seven years does for me. To be honest, I spent much of my life fearing monogamy and commitment. It sounds so cliche, but it’s not that I was scared to be with one person for the rest of my life. Perhaps ironically, I was afraid of change – that I would change, that he would change, that the world around us would change or that life would transform into something unrecognizable, something I no longer wanted for myself or wanted to be a part of. To my great relief, I was completely wrong about this. My husband and I have changed, no doubt, but the important things have stayed, and will remain, the same. And the things that have been completely transformed – even those beyond recognition at this point, the things that I can say have died or at least withered completely – are either unimportant, or have a shiny new purpose for our marriage, our family, our shared world.
I was hopelessly and embarrassingly in love with my ex, or maybe with a concept he represented. What bothers me to this day is the fact that, even during the best of those times, I never saw myself eventually marrying or raising children with this person. In fact, he even mentioned it once and I instantly freaked out with embarrassment, denying that I could ever buy into such a notion. I don’t think he cared, but still. Over time, I interpreted that feeling as a sign that I could never be comfortable in a grown-up relationship with him; it surely meant that I knew all too well that it was over before it even began. It could also have been his looming, really serious depression at the time, along with my anxiety, undiagnosed and internalized by me as normal. But now I think my dreams are telling me something new about that feeling. It was so incredibly uncomfortable and unbearable, at the time, that life with my now-husband suddenly felt light, free and easy. It has never been a fairytale romance with my husband, and that is just the way I like it: we have something real, even simple. And that feels really, really good!
So back, once more, to that weird pit in my stomach when I hear a certain song that reminds me of my past, or witness a piece of art that punches me in the gut emotionally, or gives me chills when I think of my ex (who I’d like to think of as a lost friend rather than a lost love, at this point): I am writing a story.
I don’t quite know why, but I need to write a story. Maybe a novel. A series of stories. I much prefer comic book format to traditional prose fiction, but we’ll see.
My ex was supposedly a great writer (I honestly never saw much of his work, and even then, we were so young), and I can say that I always thought I had similar chops. Despite loving a guy who made me feel so nervous, meek and insecure, I always had my writing, however buried in law school and work and whatever else I had going on at the time. That creative spark has never left me. It’s finally time to take inspiration from wherever it shows up, and put it all down on (electronic) paper. Because even if our dreams don’t seem to make much sense, they are nonetheless capable of inspiring us to find our own meaning scattered in the recesses of our brains and in the ashes of our past.
Image Credit: Morpheus Awakening as Iris Draws Near, R. Houasse, 1690 (public domain)