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The keys, by the way, are still missing

February 23, 2011

This morning I’m plagued by a dream hangover. Few things are more tedious than the recitation of someone else’s dreams: bear with me for a minute.

Two nights ago I was visited by one of my greatest-hits recurring dreams. (The others are: the dream of previously undiscovered rooms, the dream in which I witness an airplane crashing, the dream in which a car I am attempting to drive proves impossible to control, the dream in which I have sex with my mother and kill my father–wait, no. Scratch that last one.) Anyway, one feature my recurring dreams share is my conviction, while asleep, that I’m finally actually experiencing the dream I’ve had so many times. “I knew this would happen in real life someday,” I think to myself in the dream, as I watch the plane crash or kill my father on the road to Thebes. “Why, this is just like that dream I’ve been having for years!”

(An aside: There are presently FOUR blue jays battling over the suet in my feeder. Three cardinals are scolding them. So far today I have had a downy woodpecker, several fat little juncos, a nuthatch, a couple of mockingbirds, the usual chickadees and titmice, and a very bossy Carolina wren, who should not be here this time of year, I don’t think. Not quite the feast for the eyes that greeted me every morning in Honduras, but not bad for a snowy suburban back yard in February. The kitten is watching the spectacle eagerly from the windowseat, her tiny tail twitching.)

So two nights ago I dreamed about losing teeth. This is a Jungian archetype, I believe–I know other people have the same dream, and I think Jung decided it symbolized castration (oh, he just would, wouldn’t he? Another aside: one of the most pretentious people I knew in college went through a phase where he liked to talk about Jung every chance he got. “Are you familiar with the work of Carl Jung?” he’d ask whatever poor soul had drifted, unwittingly, into his orbit, except that he’d pronounce it with a soft “j”, to my friends’ and my neverending glee. “Yes, I am,” the poor soul would say, “but isn’t it pronounced…” at which point one of us would throw a bag over his head and drag him off before he could spill the beans. By senior year the jig was up, and the pretentious guy never spoke to any of us ever again….)

Anyway.  Sometimes the tooth-losing dream starts with wobbly teeth, which I first think are baby teeth (and therefore fine to wiggle and lose) but then realize, with sudden, sickening dread, are permanent, grown up teeth. Sometimes they don’t fall out, but it’s clear that they are about to, and so I spend the dream mumbling and gingerly worrying them with my tongue and fretting about their imminent loss. Sometimes I take matters in my own hands and decide to pull the offending teeth out myself. Usually they slide clear of my gums with minimal fuss, like grapefruit seeds slipping effortlessly from soft fruit. But two nights ago the tooth I yanked had a fleshy root that went on, and on, and on.  It was the size, shape, and color, exactly, of an earthworm.  And though it didn’t really hurt as I pulled, I knew I was bound to mess things up eventually. It was like biting a fingernail below the quick. You know you’re on the verge of pain and blood and soreness as you gnaw away, but what can you do but keep going?

I’m going to have to cut this root somehow or I’ll never get the damned thing out of my mouth, I thought in the dream.  And then I woke up.

Over the years it has become apparent to me that my subconscious thinks I’m an idiot. I once dreamed I was–no kidding–the madwoman locked in the attic in Jane Eyre, and I’ve had plenty of other dreams whose symbolism was so eye-rollingly obvious as to be laughable.  Apparently, my id has very little faith in my superego’s ability to decode things (come on! I wrote a dissertation! I watch foreign films! I’m friends with actual poets!) So the tooth-root-cutting dream was only moderately disturbing once I woke up (I can still feel that nasty twinge in my jaw, that phantom tug as the ugly worm-like root just kept coming), because it is, let’s face it, not the most subtle way for my subconscious to get its rather heavyhanded message across.

And then last night I dreamed a dream whose plot was far more innocuous, though its meaning (if one believes in the meaning of dreams, which I suppose I must) is just as obvious. And I can’t shake the terrible feeling it gave me.

I dreamed my ex-husband and I were laughing and chatting together in the dining room of our house–the very room I’m sitting in right now, with the sun pouring in and the kitten and the squabbling birds outside the window. I was looking for my keys, which are (in real life) misplaced, but I kept finding sentimental objects instead–love letters, pictures of the two of us when we were happy, a valentine I made for him when we lived in Paris–and trying desperately to hide them before he saw. They’ll make him sad, or possibly furious, my god, what are these things doing here?  I thought in the dream. Meanwhile my ex-husband hung around amiably, being funny and charming and sweet, and suddenly my bowels turned to ice. Wait a minute, I thought, what is HE doing here? I thought we were divorced!  Oh god, he’s back–how on earth did I allow that to happen?

My ex-husband chatted on, oblivious and happy, in the dream.  And I went on smiling, stuffing more and more sentimental artifacts under stacks of papers, willing him not to notice. I can’t ruin everything again, I simply don’t have it in me to go through the whole process of separating a second time, I thought, near tears and hiding it.  I’ve lost everything, the whole last three years. I cannot fucking believe we are back to square one.

Then I woke all shaky and sweaty, newly astonished at how damned obvious (yet how effective) my stupid subconscious is.  Score one for the id, zero for the superego, again.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. February 23, 2011 3:35 pm

    Reconciliation dreams w/my ex absolutely drive me berserk…
    The most literal were a recent series I had, in which we weren’t truly reconciled, he was just hiring me to have sex w/him for money (aka the child support).
    IRL, ex has been sharing far too much w/his son about how the child support is bankrupting him – what an asshole.

    • MEP permalink
      February 23, 2011 4:41 pm

      My daughter has recently started asking me what I pay for with child support money too. It’s a ridiculously tiny amount, in fact it doesn’t even cover the health insurance I provide for her every month because her father does not. But both she and her dad think I should be spending all of it on toys and candy. (Not for me, but for her.)

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 23, 2011 5:06 pm

      I think ALL men (okay, most) think that “child support” is money they’re paying you. And that you are spending on yourself. No matter how many times my lawyer patiently explained that child support was not just for the expenses I cover entirely, but also for things like housing and food (one could naturally live in a much cheaper place if one did not have children), my ex-husband seemed unconvinced. I keep thinking it would be better and saner if the check were somehow able to be made out directly to the children. I think having the ex-spouse’s very name on the check is problematic.

      My ex-husband refused to pay child support past 18–why I agreed to this I will never know–even though my older son will turn 18 partway through his senior year in high school. In other words, he will cost exactly the same amount of money to support the day after his birthday as the day before, but his father will no longer support the costs.

      I was complicit in the agreement, of course, but it strikes me as downright bizarre that he would have insisted on this. Why would you be eager to skimp on child support?

  2. Heidi permalink
    February 23, 2011 3:44 pm

    I used to have the falling-out-teeth dream all the time. For me, the obvious anxiety implications were coupled with the fact that I really HADN’T been to the dentist in a long time. I thought the dream was mostly about leaving undone those things that should be done, in a variety of realms. Funny … after I ‘fessed up to the fact that I really DID want children (after a mostly unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t have them), my marriage imploded, and I moved on with life, which included a new husband and two children, the dream vanished. I haven’t had it in ten years. But I also started visiting the dentist regularly.

  3. nancy permalink
    February 23, 2011 4:05 pm

    I always heard the losing teeth dream was about money worries.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 23, 2011 4:23 pm

      Money, testicles–hmmm.

  4. Laura permalink
    February 23, 2011 5:39 pm

    Not that this has anything to do with anything, but I’m now terrified that I’ve been pronouncing “Jung” incorrectly for, oh, my entire life. It’s like “Yoong,” right? Right?

    Someone recently made the point in the NYTimes that in situations where one person parents full time and another generates income, there must have at some point been a mutual decision that this is the ideal arrangment for the children, something that does not change just because the marriage dissolves. If it was best for Junior and Susie to have mom around all the time when she was married to Dad, presumably this remains so even when Mom and Dad are no longer on speaking terms. This does not strike me as a terribly complex concept, but the number of people (generally men) who struggle with it is…. alarming.

    And unless “bankrupt” Daddy has stopped eating out, watching cable, renting Netflix, buying Starbucks and can’t make rent or the mortgage he can take a flying leap.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 23, 2011 9:15 pm

      Nah, you’re good. It’s Yung. Like Youtube, not like Junior. Worry not.

  5. February 23, 2011 8:37 pm

    I have the repeated dream that my teeth are crumbling in my mouth and I can’t spit all the crumbled pieces out. Somebody told me it was a sign of anxiety.

  6. Celeste permalink
    February 23, 2011 9:33 pm

    I always heard that the tooth dream was a symbolic loss of power, of being weakened…”this legislation has no teeth”, etc.

    The longer I live, the less I understand men.

  7. February 23, 2011 11:57 pm

    what a dream … it’s funny and annoying at the same time! i am going to look up the nyt article a previous poster referenced. i’ve thought the very same thing (not that i want to be financially dependent on someone but since i gave up a career in high-tech, i am now scrambling to have a different one … i just think the whole deal is unfair, specially when it was my ex’s idea that i quit working). and even aside from my own case, i think women are generally screwed in divorces, and where is the justice in that

  8. lucy permalink
    February 24, 2011 4:54 am

    Ok, I know it’s not really relevant, but I’ve got my online dictionary on pretty much all the time (being a translator and all) and it displays this ‘phrase of the day’ thing even before you type anything in. And guess what: it’s ‘white teeth’ today! On the other hand, why would such a simple expression make it to ‘phrase of the day’ anyway? And BTW: teeth dreams always freak me out as where I live it apparently means death. Have a good day, regardless:-)

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 24, 2011 7:41 am

      Oh, great. Death. Coming to get me with its white teeth.

  9. February 24, 2011 5:10 am

    Ha. You tell the tooth one so well I am actually gagging slightly.

    Having discussed how we both have the teeth dream, turns out we both have the uncontrollable car one too. My one isn’t going fast but I just can’t stop it. I have my foot stamped right down on the brakes but nothing is happening and I can’t stop the nauseating, slow, inexorable roll into the car in front.

    Clearly my subconscious also thinks I am an idiot.

  10. February 24, 2011 10:35 am

    Weren’t you a bit relieved to wake up to find you don’t have to redo the last few years, that your relapse was just a nightmare? I sometimes dream I’ve murdered someone, clumsily, and I’m about to get caught and then I wake up and the world is so sunny, even if it’s gray and zero degrees and the taxes are due.

    Have you found your keys yet? Have you checked the pockets of past pants?

  11. February 24, 2011 10:48 am

    I have had varieties of that tooth dream for years, maybe like more than 20. What someone told me is that it’s actually a very common dream that women have when they first go off to college or get married…that it’s (at that tender age) about growing up, about a rite of passage as it is when your baby teeth fall out. I’ve heard that as you get older the dream of teeth falling out/rotting can also be expressive of great anxiety over transition. Or just great anxiety. Whatever it’s about it’s a rotten dream. I hate that one. It’s always good to wake up and realize my teeth are still in my mouth but I guess that’s what the whole mechanism of the nightmare is, right? To express the anxiety but also to experience the relief on waking…

  12. February 24, 2011 12:45 pm

    I hate tooth nightmares. I used to have them regularly from childhood on until I got pregnant the first time. In the past few years I’ve only had a couple of them, but they are still disturbing. For me, personally, I think I just don’t want to lose my teeth, so my symbolic dream life is truly plain because a tooth is just a tooth.

    The dreams that used to drive me truly crazy, though, were the ones where I got up, brushed my teeth, got dressed, etc. Then I would wake up for real and think, “Really? I have to do all that again?”

    Hope you find your keys. (I literally made a half a dozen sets of extra keys at one point just because not being able to find them when you need them is such a pain.)

  13. No Tooth Dreams permalink
    February 24, 2011 1:25 pm

    I’ve never had a tooth dream, but not long ago I discovered that my youngest child had a massive tonsil stone in his throat that looked a lot like a molar growing out of his tonsil, and I’ve had nightmares about *that* ever since. A tooth where a tooth isn’t supposed to be. Like some kind of nasty National Geo documentary.

    I continue to be amazed by how you can write about something as mundane as tooth dreams and still be so brilliant.

    • Mizasiwa permalink
      February 25, 2011 5:53 am

      Sorry what is a tonsil stone??

  14. Libby permalink
    February 24, 2011 2:06 pm

    Wow, I have your other three recurring dreams! Yikes. Rooms, check; driving,check; planes crashing in front of me, check. I just had the plane crashing one two nights ago – a plane crashed into a lake I was standing on the shore of, and it caused a massive tidal wave which caused people to get tossed about on shore, including Alec Baldwin, who landed in front of me bleeding from the head. Wacky.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 24, 2011 4:54 pm

      You’re the only person I’ve ever encountered who has plane crashing witness dreams. Mine never have Alec Baldwin, though. Wow! We’re our own archetype…

      • Ellie permalink
        February 25, 2011 10:53 pm

        I have repeatedly had the plane crashing dream. I witness the crash, then need to run to find shelter from the flaming debris hurtling through the air. Then I wake up. I also have a tornado dream, where I need to quickly find appropriate shelter….

      • cherylc permalink
        February 25, 2011 11:13 pm

        I have airplane crashing dreams and have since childhood. I would dream that a plane crashed in the horse pasture next to our house when I was a kid. But in my case, it makes sense because my dad was an engineer at Boeing for 35 years. He worked in Propulsion, the division that makes the plane go. So, in my case, it’s more specific, not really a universal archetype. (Although, I have to say, I get along well with my dad and he was a great dad and now grandpa. But no relationships are free of issues.)

      • Melissa permalink
        March 11, 2011 1:39 pm

        Make that three of us, then. And I thought I was unusual in this. I have the plane-crashing-in-front-of -me one every few months, and then sometimes two or three times in one week. In one, I was walking around one of the lakes in the city with a girlfriend and looked up to see a plane, doing the usual routine of starting to wobble and falter mid-air before turning upside down and heading down, and I pointed up, saying, in the dream “Hey, wow! Lookit that! Just like I keep dreaming, only it’s finally happening!” So I also have the dream that it’s coming true dream-within-a-dream.
        In many of these dreams, the plane is flying low overhead, and I watch as it loses control, begins sort-of wave back and forth (wind shear), and turns upside down, crashing with a sonic boom, so loud it’s silent but still deafening. I can sometimes see the sound waves ripple in my dream. Very sci-fi.

  15. No Tooth Dreams permalink
    February 24, 2011 3:13 pm

    Oh, wait. I once dreamed that I had given birth to the full-grown version of Steve Martin, and I was repulsed by the idea of breastfeeding him because he had such big teeth. So I get to be in the club, too!

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 24, 2011 4:55 pm

      Did he have an arrow through his head?

  16. Geraldine permalink
    February 24, 2011 7:20 pm

    I am part of the ‘subconscious thinks I’m an idiot’ club. Before I left my husband, I had a recurring dream where I was trying to shout but could not make any sound come out. Haven’t had the dream since I moved out…

  17. jdens permalink
    February 25, 2011 4:44 am

    Your writing is always very good, but I found this to be exceptionally so.

    My dreams have also been rather obvious lately. This week I dreamed that my husband traded me for a different wife for financial reasons.

    I’m unemployed, and neither of us wants me to be.

  18. Mizasiwa permalink
    February 25, 2011 5:57 am

    I dont have dreams or if I do i dont normally remember. My sister on the other hand often dreams things that tend to come true (dont know if anyone would belive this but it is) and a few months ago she dreamed that she was on a farm with a friend and the house caught on fire, then a car nearby caught fire too and it exploded was flung in the air and landed on top of her best friend. She woke up completly hysterical and couldnt stop crying in the morning she tried to get hold of her friend and couldnt so she spent the day hysterical becouse the dream had just been so real! (The friend was fine when she did eventually get hold of her) She hates dreaming becouse the dreams are so lifelike.

  19. Pinkie Bling permalink
    February 25, 2011 12:11 pm

    UGH, the tooth dreams! Hate them. I’ve been watching the first season of Damages, and one of the characters has recurring tooth loss dreams, and they are incredibly bloody and disturbing. Mine aren’t gory, but I’m completely freaked out in them.

  20. Kate permalink
    February 26, 2011 11:05 pm

    I too have the plane crashing dream — in my variation it’s not just that the plane is crashing but that it is crashing right toward me and I probably won’t be able to get out of its path in time. I generally wake up right before the point of impact, thankfully, but it’s still terrifying. I used to have the tooth one all the time (in mine, I don’t pull them out, but just struggle to keep them in). Thankfully haven’t had it in awhile as the wobbly teeth are pretty bad and in the dream I would always be super conscious of barely moving my mouth lest I knock one out. While I’ve never had the car dream, I also used to frequently have one where I’d be walking somewhere and suddenly my legs would become leaden and I could no longer propel them forward. That one, too, has thankfully passed, I think. As a child, I used to have the previously undiscovered rooms dream — always accessed through the back of my parents’ coat closet, which would morph into a part of my grandparents’ house before becoming a long hallway to these other rooms. That one was equal parts fascinating and a bit creepy, though never outright scary.

    I’ve come across a fair number of people who’ve had a variation on the tooth dream, a few with plane crashes and one or two with the immobile legs — which sounds like a variation on your cars dream, but never anyone with the undiscovered rooms before. Never really thought of them as a part of a package deal before now. Interesting!

  21. Staci permalink
    February 28, 2011 1:57 pm

    I get tooth dreams when I grind my teeth. The harder I grind my teeth, the more they fall out in my dream. It’s taken me years to figure this out. Tooth dreams usually come with a headache in the morning afterwards. They don’t happen as often as they used to for me, but when I am particularly stressed I get them often.

    Excellent writing!

  22. F Price permalink
    February 28, 2011 5:50 pm

    My mother has had the same plane-crashing dream for years. It lands off in the distance near their neighbour’s farm. One day a few years ago she was talking to the neighbour and for some reason mentioned it. The neighbour cried, ‘I always have the same dream, but the plane crashes at YOUR farm!!!’

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      February 28, 2011 6:57 pm

      That’s the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. I can’t believe it!

  23. March 20, 2011 7:49 pm

    I have a helicopter crash dream more often than the plane, and I blame my Nana. She was addicted to Brookside, and there was an episode where a police chopper got shot down, when I was about 10… Ever since, I have periodically dreamt of helicopter crashes (80% of them police helicopters).

  24. September 16, 2011 1:36 pm

    Has anyone ever had the dream where they lose a chunk of their teeth? I often wake up checking my bottom row. Weird!

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