Dreams fascinate me.

They roil up of their own accord from somewhere deep in the twisty turns of our minds and pull us down unexpected paths.

We can’t control them.

We can’t make them come to us or even stay.

And usually we can’t understand them. When we try to tell them to others, they rarely make sense. Yet, here we are, spending nearly half our lives walking around in illogical dreamscapes.

In earlier cultures, dreams were the gateway to different worlds, worlds that existed in parallel to our waking one. The ancients believed dreams served as prophesies and allowed communication with gods or ancestors. Dreams were sacred.

I like the way dreams operate in classical Japanese literature. Poets believed the world of dreams was an alternate state where lives could be lived in ways that would be impossible during our waking hours. Lovers could enjoy forbidden intimacies; the living could meet again with the dead. Dreams were frequently liberating and soothing.

If you turned your clothes inside out before you went to sleep, you’d dream of your lover.
If your lover visited you in a dream, it was because you were on his mind (which is the opposite of the way we think of dreams now. If we dream of someone we love, it means we are obsessing over them and not the other way around. I like the idea of a lover slipping into my dreams at night.)

I am particularly fond of this waka poem by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241):

The bridge of dreams
Afloat in the spring night
Breaks
And above the mountain peak
A cloud slips into the sky

I remember Donald Keene saying in one of our graduate classes that the poem was about the brevity of a spring night, too brief even to complete a dream. When the poet awakens, he senses his dream still wavering in the sky, like a floating bridge, connecting the world of dream with his present. When he tries to catch the dream and pull it back, it slips beyond the mountain peak like a wispy cloud, disappearing into the morning sky.

Usually, my dreams are like that—like a floating bridge—insubstantial and soon forgotten.

Now and then, though, one will linger, usually because it was upsetting enough to sear my memory.

In one dream, I am sitting in my car.

A Japanese woman is next to me. We are having a quiet conversation when suddenly the car begins rolling backwards. I tap the brake. Nothing happens. The car picks up speed. I pull the hand brake, the lever rises higher and higher without any resistance. We are rolling now at a quick clip. I look behind me and see the road give way to a gaping gorge.

Occasionally, I’ll dream that I’m falling and I’ll jerk awake. This is called a “hypnic jerk,” and 70-80% of people experience them. Usually they occur just as you’re stepping between wakefulness and sleep and the jerk will yank you back awake.

This dream was no hypnic jerk. I did not awaken. The car kept rolling backwards until it left the road and sailed into the open space above a deep canyon. My companion reached over to hold my hand. She wasn’t a close friend, but she was someone I had worked with in the past. I admired her. She was smart and efficient and always took care of me. If I was going to die with anyone, I was glad it was her.

Holding hands, we looked into each others eyes, and we knew.

This was it.

We were going to die. There was no escape. We didn’t clamor or scream. I had never seen my friend look so beautiful. She smiled at me, and I felt my heart lighten.

Strange that I could see things so clearly. Weren’t we whirling backwards into a canyon? The rush of air through the open windows should have sent our hair flying around our faces like stinging whips. The skin on our faces should have been propelled forward like rubber. None of that happened.

I prepared myself for impact.

If I lean forward, will that lessen the shock to my back? If I put my purse behind me, will that cushion my fall?

I guess I was still thinking to live.

Try not to tense, I told myself.

Our car made contact with the ground.

It did not crumble or bounce or explode.

We just landed. Softly.

My friend got out. She said she needed to go talk to the people standing outside a local sundries shop. We were in Japan. Since she was Japanese, she thought it would make more sense for her to inquire of them where we might find a place to spend the night. And what we should do with our sky-traveling car? Surely there were parking regulations.

I waited for her to return.

Noticing a drink machine outside the shop she had entered, I pulled some coins from my purse and got out.

Pocari Sweat. My favorite.