It’s interesting how the simplest nightmare can be the most terrifying, and the most revealing.
When I was about 10 years old, I started noticing recurring dreams. At least once a year, I would dream that the hag from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves would chase me through an enlarged version of the dwarves’ cottage. Occasionally, I would also dream that she was my grandma, and for some reason, I wasn’t afraid of her then. I still haven’t quite figured out what those were all about, if anything, but they seemed a little too specific, and too frequent to be meaningless.
I still shudder whenever I watch that movie, watching her creepy eyes peer straight at the camera, almost like she sees me…
I remember having dreams about Halloween, and being so sad when I woke up, instantly ending whatever adventure had taken place. These became more prevalent just before I went off to college, and I took them to represent me pinning for my soon-to-be-lost childhood.
But the dream I remember with the most clarity was a nightmare, and while I stopped having it long ago, the memory of it stays with me even to this day.
In it, I was about 5 years old, sitting behind the wheel of my dad’s oldest car. I know it was his because I recognized the inside, as well as the huge, spider-like crack in the center of the windshield. He told me that he got that mark driving on a winding mountain road, when a rock fell off the back of the truck in front of him.
The car was on the street, not the driveway, and within seconds, it began to move. Not racing by any means; it just began drifting along at 5-10 mph. But if you can, remember when you were little; back when you had no idea how a car worked. Now, imagine being set behind the wheel without supervision and pushed down a steep hill, with nothing but a shout of “good luck!” from your parents.
I panicked, of course. I wasn’t sure how to stop it, and I was worried that it might hit something if I did nothing. All I could do was grab the wheel with both hands and struggle to look for a way to stop in between scanning the road for any objects or pedestrians.
In the end, all I could do was drive around the neighborhood, which, incidentally, is one big loop. I did that all night, or at least that was what it felt like. And as much as I wanted them to, no one appeared to help me stop the car. No one appeared in general; I was alone on the road.
I don’t think I’ve ever realized that I was in a dream mid-dream, and I remember this one in particular being absolutely terrifying in the moment.
But even as a kid, I was decently perceptive. If dreams mean anything at all, surely this one was a reflection of my fear of losing control. I’m not the most stubborn person usually, but I could get very easily distressed when I felt like I had no control over a situation. As a little girl, more times than I would like to admit, I spent recess or daycare crying, wondering what I had done to make all my “friends” ignore me. I hated feeling so scared and frustrated, not knowing why that was happening or if it would ever stop. I felt powerless, but had to keep going anyway.
That was what the nightmare felt like. There was no time to stop; no time to figure out what happened. Before I had even fully processed what was going on, I had to steer a two-something-ton deathtrap – something I normally loved riding in with Dad and my brother Jack – and keep it from ruining my life and possibly someone else’s. I don’t remember it being particularly hard to steer, but my anxiety was more than enough to keep me freaking out, as the brakes continually refused to be brakes.
I think they actually made the car go a little faster.
I find this all the more revealing (and helpful) as an adult, when I am constantly having to decide what I have control over and what I don’t. I have to decide when I did my best, or when I could have done more. Practically everything has multiple interpretations depending on your mood, and sometimes I think I let myself off easy, simply because the alternative would drive me insane to think about.
There are times when you have few choices. You have few resources, so you have to water down your ideals to something easier to swallow. And you can sit around blaming your job, your parents, or other obligations, but at the end of the day, you are the one who has to set limitations for yourself.
One the other hand, having too many choices can sometimes be just as bad. Too much freedom is paralyzing, and it leaves a lot more what if’s.
Choices are hard when you aren’t sure what you want, or when you want something and can’t have it. Sometimes, a choice hurts you in the moment, but pays off later on. Sometimes, it’s vice versa.
Other times, a choice is simply choosing to do nothing.
Seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? But how many of us really look at doing nothing as a choice all its own? Because it is.
In essence, that’s what I take from this nightmare. It was reality seeping into a world that usually barely resembles it, trying to teach me something even when I was so young. I barely knew anything about the world, but something semi-wise came from my own mind and said, “Sometimes, all you can do is just keep steering.”
Sometimes it’s scary to think that we move in anything but giant strides – great leaps toward the future – but hey, at least it’s still forward motion.