Every night, Joe turned off the television at 11:20. He always watched the news and weather, but didn’t really care for the sports. He would lay on his back in the darkness, ready for rest. Sometimes he would fall asleep right away, but most times he would start to think, and stories would race through his mind.
He would think about what he had done that day, and whom he had talked to. He would think about the meetings at work, and what everyone had said, and what they had really meant. He would think about what he should do tomorrow, and how he could make things better. Sometimes the thinking would go on for a few minutes, while other nights he would lie there for hours, trying to analyze everything, and worrying. And finally he would sleep.
One particular morning, Joe woke up earlier than usual, shaking and in a cold sweat.
He would look back at this morning as a turning point, the day that the nightmares began. Only today all he could do was get to the toilet and vomit. It really wasn’t a nice way to start the week.
‘I’m here to see Dr. Aislinn’.
Joe stood in front of a reception desk, gazing at a young longhaired girl. She had a fresh prettiness about her, but Joe noticed a small tear in the seam of her jacket, and to him it made the girl seem less refined.
‘Good morning, Joe. She’ll be with you in a minute. Please have a seat,’ replied the girl
The receptionist knew his name, since he had been coming here for the past three months, every Monday from 9 to 10 in the morning. He never could remember her name though, and stopped asking after his third or fourth visit. He sat down in a spindly metal chair, and was careful not to lean back in case it broke. He had just begun to leaf through a pile of old magazines when the doctor entered the room.
‘Good morning Joe. I’m ready for you now, please come in.
Dr. Aislinn stood in the doorway, a middle-aged woman more handsome than pretty. She wore a white doctor’s coat even though her office was nowhere near a hospital, and it gave her an air of authority. Joe entered her office, and sat down on a large comfortable couch. The doctor pulled up a chair, and sat down. She rested a clipboard and notepad on her crossed knee, and leaned forward.
‘So, how are we this week Joe?’ she asked.
‘I had a terrible nightmare last night. I only woke up a couple of hours ago, and I am still shaking.’
The doctor leaned back in her chair and lifted a pen. ‘Tell me about your dream, Joe’.
‘I was in a store about to pay for something, and realized that I did not have my wallet with me. I was checking all of my pockets, in my coat and in my pants, but it was not there. Next I was in my house, and I was looking in drawers and under couch pillows, but I couldn’t find it. I had no money and no identification, and all of my credit cards and bank cards were missing as well.’
As Joe paused, the doctor took a deep breath, intending to tell Joe that it was her turn to speak, and also to encourage him to breathe deep as well. ‘Tell me Joe, how did this dream make you feel?’
‘I was terrified. I still am. As I was searching, I got more and more scared, and realized that without my wallet I had no identity and no means of paying for anything.’
‘And why is that so scary?’
‘Do you know what it is like to lose your wallet? There are so many things to replace, and for a while you are a nobody.’
‘So what do you think that dream means for you?’
‘That I’m afraid of losing my wallet.’
‘Yes, and what else?’
‘Umm. Maybe that I’m afraid of losing my identity?’
‘What if I told you that there was deeper meaning to your dreams, something that you can learn from? Would you like to try and find out what that meaning is?’
Joe nodded in assent. The doctor put aside her clipboard and stood up. ‘I think we have made good progress this session, Joe. I would like you to start keeping a record of your dreams. Each morning, write down what you remember as soon as you wake up.’
That night, at 11:20, Joe turned off the television. On the night table beside him was a notepad and pen, waiting for his awakened input. All day long he had thought about his dreams, and the only one he could remember was the most recent, where he had lost his wallet. He knew that he dreamed, but he hadn’t bothered to remember any of them until the nightmares had started. Before he could go to sleep, Joe reached over and felt his wallet in his pant pocket. It was right where it was supposed to be, and Joe closed his eyes, comfortable that everything was in order.
When he opened his eyes, he was standing on a street, all by himself. He immediately reached for his pockets, and found that his wallet was missing. He felt scared, and tried to think about what he should do. He should go to his car, except he couldn’t remember where it was. He should be at work, except he couldn’t remember where he worked. He should go home, except that he could not remember where he lived.
Joe looked around, and while the street looked somewhat familiar, he didn’t know where he was. There were tall buildings along one side of the street, and a park on the other side. It was daytime, and people were walking along the sidewalk. An old man in a dirty blue plaid jacket was begging for money, and people were ignoring him. Joe saw a sharply dressed man wearing a suit and tie walking towards him, and Joe raised his hand and said ‘Excuse me’. The walking man gave him a harsh look, and said ‘Get off the street you bum’.
Joe opened his eyes, and he was back in his bedroom. He switched on the light beside his bed, and reached for the notepad. He could clearly remember this nightmare, and prepared to start writing.
A week had passed since the nightmares had begun, and Joe was back for his next appointment with Doctor Aislinn. Joe looked rather thin and pale, and he walked like a man who was sad. He slumped into the couch and started talking before the doctor had even sat down.
‘Doctor Aislinn, I just don’t know what to do. I have been having nightmares every night. Every time I go to sleep, I dream about being lost and homeless. Lately every nightmare ends up with me sleeping in a park. It has gotten so bad that I am afraid to go to sleep.’
So what did you dream last night?
‘In my dream, I woke up and I was lying on the ground. Instead of a blanket I was covered with newspapers, and my pillow was a rolled-up coat. I got up and was covered with dirt, and I remember brushing the dirt off my pants. I started walking, and went to the place where I had parked my car, but the car wasn’t there. Then suddenly I was at my house, and the front door was locked. I started looking in my pockets for keys, but I didn’t have any. I knocked on the door, and a short man answered. He said ‘what do you want?’ and I said ‘this is my house’. Then the man said ‘I live here. Who are you?’ Then a group of children came up behind the man, and they all started saying ‘who are you, who are you?’ That’s when I woke up.’
‘May I ask you a few questions about your dreams?’
Joe looked at the doctor, and then leaned back onto the pillow.
‘Sure, but I have already told you everything I know.’
‘In your dreams you lose your car. Do you like your car?’
Joe shrugged before he responded. ‘No, I hate it. It’s an ugly brown color, and doesn’t start in winter’.
‘So why do you keep it?’
Joe shrugged again. ‘Well, I need a car to get to work. I signed a lease and have to make payments every month.’
‘In your dream, you don’t have a job. Do you like your job?’
‘No, I hate it. The work is boring and the people are all idiots.’
‘I see. And how about your house? Do you like where you live?’
‘No. It’s small and cold, and once I have paid the rent I have no money left.’
Joe could hear the doctor’s pen scribbling on the clipboard, and she wrote for quite some time before making any comments. ‘Are you starting to see a pattern here?’ she asked. ‘In your dream you lose everything, but when you are awake you don’t like any of those things. So why does your dream scare you?’
‘Can’t you see doctor? In my nightmare I have nothing. What would I do without a house? What would I do without a job?’
‘Maybe those are the questions that you really need to be asking yourself,’ responded the doctor.
It was 11:15 p.m., and Joe was wide-awake. He stared at the television, not really paying attention. Instead, his mind was racing as if he were under attack. He thought about his nightmares, and the notepad that was filling up with terrifying details. He thought about his job and how much he hated it. He thought about the doctor, and wondered why she couldn’t understand how frightening his nightmares were. She acted as if being without a home or identity was no big deal, and he realized that he would do whatever was necessary to stay secure. As he finally drifted off to sleep, he thought about working some overtime to help clear off the bills.
Joe opened his eyes, and the sun was shining on his face.
He lay comfortably on the ground, and decided to stretch.
‘Hey Joe, you awake?’
He heard a voice and sat up, pushing aside the old newspapers that covered him.
Sitting on a bench nearby was an old man with a dirty blue plaid jacket.
‘You awake now Joe?’ he asked again.
Joe shook his head, and it all came back to him.
‘You having those nightmares again Joe?’ asked the old man. ‘You were kicking and talking in your sleep’.
‘Yes. I keep having the same nightmare, and the one last night was no different. I was this miserable guy with a miserable life, and everything was awful. I was scared all of the time, and I was unhappy with everything.’
‘So what are you going to do about it?’ asked the old man.
‘Nothing’ replied Joe, standing up and brushing the dirt off his pants.
‘It just makes me realize how lucky I am.’