SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
December 1, 2013

Deathdreams

 

Dreams have always been heavy and plentiful fodder for mystics, shrinks, and science fiction movies, most of it useless bullshit in the end. Science fiction only rarely gets the mechanics, logic, and production values of dreams right. I have never known a dream, for instance, to be fuzzy around the edges. Supposed prophets and the otherwise unemployable with second sight claim their dreams are a way of foretelling the future, but of course thereís no way to prove this until the future comes and goes, at which point you can always go back and reinterpret the dream whatever damn way makes it fit best. This is why Nostradamusí gibberish and the gibberish in the Book of Revelation seemed so profoundly prescient even though it was really, yíknow, gibberish. Two days before the WTC was attacked I had a dream in which two white pillars tumbled into each other and crashed to the ground, but you didnít see me running off to the talk shows to make a big fucking deal about it, did you? The shrinks, surprisingly, probably come closest to getting things right by interpreting dreams as an expression of our conscious and subconscious fears, anxieties, desires, impulses, and reflections of our past experience, but can only do this accurately after coming to know a patient extremely well. Because of this, Iíve found family members and close friends are usually far better dream translators than any shrink Iíve ever been forced to see.

††††††††††† Iíve always kind of envied those cultures and schizophrenics for whom dreams are accepted as an actual, tangible second reality taking place in parallel with our waking lives. If that really is the case, though, I gotta say that other life Iím leading is an incoherent mess. Not that my waking life is any study in rationality, but at least I donít have to deal with all those talking fish and bad day jobs.

††††††††††† Then there are the old wivesí tales, nonsense like ďif you die in a dream, youíll wake up dead.Ē Well, I canít tell you how many times Iíve died in dreams. Iíve been shot in the head, strangled, hacked up with an axe, drowned, hanged, any number of things, yet here I am, damn it.

††††††††††† But this isnít a story about dreams, exactly. Iím not going to detail any of the useless dreams Iíve had this week. I hate people who do that, and my dreams wouldnít make any sense to you anyway. No, this is about simple physicality.

††††††††††† I have no profound or radical theories about the nature, origin, or function of dreams, except that I can use them as a gauge to measure my stress level, my level of activity, and my overall mood. Trouble is, I always forget which way it goesóif the dream studios in my brain take it to be the overcrowded summer movie season when Iím happy, energetic, and stress-free, or when Iím murderous, lethargic, and overwhelmed. Given that I rarely recall being the former, Iíll guess the shows in my head plague me the most when Iím the latter.

††††††††††† Okay, then, letís just say for the past three years Iíve been swamped with dreams on a nightly basis, most of them very brief. I no longer bother to write them down every morning the way I used to, because there are too many to keep track of, and they exhaust me. In that time though another new phenomenon has started cropping up. Something Iíve never noticed before. Whenever I snap out of a dream (and I always snap out of them violently, abruptly, and fully awake), I find myself gasping for breath. Heavy, deep, ragged breaths that continue for some time. Then I fall back asleep and the cycle begins all over again.

††††††††††† What Iíve been able to piece together from what Morganís told me is that whenever I dream, I stop breathing. Once I snap awake, I begin again. Itís a trade off, like not being able to keep your eyes open and sneeze at the same time, or not being able to shit and piss simultaneously. I can breathe or I can dream, but canít do both. Given the endless deluge of dreams Iíve been having in recent years, this must mean I spend half of each night without breathing, then the other half snapping awake gasping in an effort to restore my oxygen levels.

††††††††††† Everyone Iíve bored with this little tidbit of personal information has told me the same thing, that it is in all likelihood a case of sleep apnea, the sleep disorder all the rage a few years back. Okay, fine, theyíre probably right about that and Iím another one of those millions of faceless losers with sleep apnea. Thing is, I donít really care. For some reason I kind of like that whole ďgaspingĒ business. Itís like being one of those kids found floating face down in the neighborís swimming pool, then dragged out. After flushing the lungs out and a few minutes of clinical death, Iíve been yanked back from the brink, revived into the world of the living with no other desire but to breathe. In my case though, once Iím feeling better I jump back into the pool.

††††††††††† That analogy got me to thinking. Iíve read someplace that some researchers have speculated the eerily similar, almost identical life after death experiences recounted by so manyólooking down on their own body before turning and floating down a long tunnel toward an intense but warm and inviting lightóare merely the dreams conjured up by an unconscious brain deprived of oxygen. These poor, unoriginal boobs, having heard the same damn story a thousand times over, and filled with the sad, desperate hope there really is some pleasant afterlife waiting on the other side where theyíll get to see all their dead parents and friends and goldfish again, simply dream what theyíve heard should happen in what may potentially be their last moments.

††††††††††† Well, good for them. It is a little disheartening, though, that if my dreams really are related to oxygen deprivation, when the end finally does come (and from what I hear about sleep apnea it could come at ANY TIME), instead of long tunnels and godís inviting light, Iím going to find myself in a baffling grocery store surrounded by white dogs, mushroom people, and Ernest Borgnine.

 

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