Swimming with the Sea Monsters of My Mind

When I was six years old, I had a nightmare that would stay with me for the rest of my life.  Even now, all these years later, I can still recall the dream, and the way I felt when I woke up.  I can’t remember what I did that long-ago day, or what I was thinking when I went to bed.  But the dream, yes.  I remember the dream . . .

nightmare

 

************

Somewhere in that universe we call dreams, that alternate reality that seeps into our own, the edges where the two overlap often blurry and indistinct, I looked into the water of an indoor swimming pool.  My two older brothers had just dived in, and challenged me to jump in after them.  But I had hesitated.  I was just six, after all, and the water looked deep, impossibly deep . . . I couldn’t see the bottom.  And I couldn’t see my brothers.  Why weren’t they surfacing?

pool

 

A sense of dread descended on me.  I knew, on an instinctual level, somewhere beneath the rational refuge of conscious reasoning, that something was wrong.  I called out their names.  Nothing.  Another few seconds, and they might drown!  How long would they be able to last without air?

I tried to tell myself that maybe they were just playing a joke on me.  After all, how could they vanish in a swimming pool?  But the reassurance rang hollow.  This was no joke.  And the body of water that lay before me was far more than an ordinary indoor pool.

I looked around.  The room was empty.  When I called out my brothers’ names, the echo reverberated against the tiled floor and bare walls, a mocking, taunting jeer.  Steeling myself, I jumped in to the pool.

tiles

 

When I opened my eyes, I expected the harsh sting of chlorine.  There was no sting–and there were no boundaries, no poolside walls, no solid floor beneath my feet.  And no brothers.

There were only fish, and coral, and strange, undulating shapes that floated past me like the severed remains of a mysterious sea creature.  I felt a wave of panic.  How would I ever find my brothers down here?  And how could they even still be alive, if I did manage to find them?  Already I felt a pressure building in my lungs.  I had a minute, maybe two, at the most, before I would have to surface.

fishandcoral

 

Suddenly a tentacle reached for me, and I yanked myself away just in time.  A giant eye, unblinking, stared at me, and more tentacles reached.  I gasped, nearly swallowing water.  But then the monster swam away, as if bored.

tentacle

 

Before I could process what I had seen, a Great White Shark emerged from the shadows behind an underwater cave.  It raced toward me like a bullet.  I closed my eyes, waiting for the pain, the blood, the evisceration, praying for a miracle.  A moment passed.  Than another.  And another.  I dared to open my eyes.  The shark was gone.

shark

 

But not for long.  It returned, and so did another shark, and an octopus, and a stingray.  Other fish appeared, too, as if out of nowhere, strange, exotic-looking monstrosities that science had yet to discover.  I wanted to scream, but couldn’t.  I needed to escape.  I needed air.  I needed to breathe.

octopus

 

I swam toward the surface, the collection of man-eating sharks and squid and octopi following, just behind–predators circling their victim, waiting for the moment to kill.  I didn’t look at them anymore.  I was sure that if I did, my eye contact would be the impetus they needed to attack.  I focused my gaze toward the surface, imagined that I was inside a long tunnel, protected from the sea monsters that flanked me on all sides.

The trouble was, no matter how far I swam, I couldn’t make out the surface.  The sunlight that filtered through the water never grew brighter.  It remained a pinprick, a tantalizing slice, a pathway to nowhere.  I tried to swim faster, faster, as I felt a tentacle brush up against my knee.  The scales of it scraped away at the skin and stung.  I didn’t look down, but was sure the tentacle had drawn blood.

sunlight

 

It felt as though my lungs would burst, explode into bits of shrapnel that would float through the water in a million different directions.  The monsters closed in.  I could feel their eyes on me, their mouths opening . . . why couldn’t I reach the surface?  Why had my brothers done this?

I couldn’t stand it another moment, couldn’t hold my breath a second longer.  I opened my mouth and . . .

. . . screamed–in my bed.  The blankets were bunched up at my feet.  I was panting, gasping for air.  I blinked once. Twice.  Three times.  Taking in my surroundings.  I was not at the bottom of the sea, about to be ripped to shreds by a school of monsters.  No.  I was in my bedroom, the silence of the house at night surrounding me like a winter glove.

I got out of bed, my legs weak, nearly buckling.  I peeked into the room my brothers shared, just to make sure.  They were there, snoring away.  Finally, I allowed myself to take a deep, calming breath.

wakingupbaddream

 

*************

The next night, I fully expected to experience the dream again.  I worried that it might haunt me for weeks on end, as I swam, kicking and flailing but going nowhere, the monsters following, always there, ready to bite and rip and sting.

But I never dreamed of the bottomless pool or the missing brothers or the flesh-eating sea creatures again.

*************

I have always been fascinated by dreams, and The Eye-Dancers explores the world of dreams at some length.  The “ghost girl,” for instance, first appears in the nightmares of Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, and Ryan Swinton.  But as the boys soon learn, her visitations are much more than mere figments of their imagination, and she cannot be extinguished by the simple act of opening their eyes.  The line between the waking world and the dream world is not clear–not in The Eye-Dancers, and often not in our own lives.

ghostgirl

 

When I was six, when I dreamed of Great White Sharks and giant squid and multicolored surgeonfish whose sting would instantly prove lethal, I was trying to flee from them, put as much distance between myself and my pursuers.  With good reason, of course.  Who wants to be served up as a nighttime snack in their dreams?  But as the years came and went, as Time pushed on, turning the pages of life with its whisper-quiet fingers, I began to realize that the monsters in my mind were not things to run away from, but to confront.

handsoftime

 

And write about.

The monsters we write about are not necessarily killer sharks or giant creatures of the deep.  More likely they are feelings of regret and loneliness, rejection and guilt, anger and loss.  If we write poetry, these monsters are let loose in verse form.  If we paint, they take shape on the canvas.  If we write nonfiction, they manifest as memoirs and soul-baring truths.  And if we create fiction, they inhabit our characters, our plots, the very fabric that weaves together, a literary embroidery, in the stories we tell.

So now, today, I can look back on that childhood dream, and see it in a very different light.

I can jump in and swim with the sea monsters of my mind.

stingray

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

43 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sue Dreamwalker
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 19:53:13

    Wonderful encounter of your Dream, and when being a six year old I can relate to your nightmares.. For me my re-occurring nightmare was a fly… yes a giant fly that would be crawling down a straw like tube which I had my eye held too… it would get closer and closer and I couldn’t escape as I slept with my back against a wall, ( sharing my bed with my sister ) … I would wake screaming waking my siblings up in the process… …. Imagination is a wonderful tool to create those picture stories … And you did a wonderful job here with your post and embellished with those wonderful photos ..
    A Happy Successful 2014 to you Mike…
    Sue

    Reply

  2. Miranda Stone
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 19:57:17

    I’m glad you’re able to interpret your childhood dream in a different way today, but I still shivered reading about it! I remember being a child and first reading about the giant squid and that it could grow up to 55 feet long. When I realized just how big a 55-foot-long squid would be, it was mindboggling!

    Reply

  3. BroadBlogs
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 19:58:11

    “I can jump in and swim with the sea monsters of my mind.”

    How cool is that?!

    Reply

  4. eemoxam
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 23:32:01

    Great post! I like how you pointed out that you remember the dream so well but nothing else about that day. It’s so amazing what sticks in your mind and what doesn’t.

    Reply

  5. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 23:39:36

    Great post and realization on facing things and not running away. That’s where freedom lives. 🙂

    Reply

  6. Sherri
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 12:47:52

    Powerful dream that Mike. Wonderful how you pulled this recollection of your dream into your analogy at the end and that you can now ‘jump in and swim with the sea monsters of your mind’. Very beautifully written post, it moved me greatly, especially as I begin to delve into my own ‘monster dreams’.

    Reply

  7. John W. Howell
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 14:22:16

    I had a dream at about the same age. It also stays with me and comes back now and then. Good post.

    Reply

  8. Fashion Mayann
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 15:13:30

    This “monster” metaphor is so beautiful and so true ! To me, your amazing post is about being brave. I’ve always thought that the best artists, writers or designers were those who were brave enough to face and embrace their fears … and dreams !

    Reply

  9. jjspina
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 15:31:44

    This was fascinating Mike! The mind is a strange and curious thing. You have a very vivid imagination that you can transfer onto paper through your incredible prose. What an enjoyable thrill ride you provide for your readers!

    Thank you. Go to my blog and read about yourself! Jemsbooks.wordpress.com

    Reply

  10. jjspina
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 15:32:22

    Reply

  11. teagan geneviene
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 19:26:17

    Mike you had me on the edge of my seat again. 🙂

    I always had such strange and vivid dreams. Maybe that’s a requirement for writers of fantasy.
    Sleep tight.

    Reply

  12. jenniferkmarsh
    Jan 11, 2014 @ 22:53:19

    Such a wonderful outlook to have on something that once caused such negative emotions. What you have written is so very true. Those bad dreams we have as children really do have a very peculiar way of staying with us! The feelings are incredibly powerful. You’ve got me thinking about all my dreams now! (not like that’s a bad thing). When I was little, I used to have very bad dreams, all the time, and I can remember an awful lot of them. But, as you say: I can now view them in a different light 🙂

    Great post! Thank you for sharing

    Reply

  13. Lyn
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 02:51:20

    I had the same nightmare over and over when I was a child. There were dogs – lots of dogs and their snouts were like an old WWII gas mask. If they touched you with their nose, you died, but if you could hold onto their nose, you could peel the end of it off and you were safe until it grew back. The dogs could also read your mind, and talk to you telepathically. It was a terrifying dream especially when the dogs would taunt you. The dream started when I was about eight and continued until I was about ten and suddenly stopped. it started up again when I was around fifteen, but I remember being angry in the dream and picked up rocks and threw them at the dogs and told them to go away. They did, and never returned.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 13, 2014 @ 13:29:19

      That is a very striking recurring dream, Lyn! Very vivid and specific, too! That is really intriguing, and fascinating the way you made the dogs go away and then they never returned . . .

      Reply

  14. dharmabeachbum
    Jan 12, 2014 @ 21:25:22

    Great writing, Mike. At the beginning, I thought you might be going in the direction of the old Twilight Zone episode with the old man and the kids and the kids jump in the pond, but your story took the most interesting of twists. And, oh, the “monsters” we must confront. Odd that I was working on a piece for publication early this week about beach fog and I was already planning to talk about a nightmare and the origins of it. Cool!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 13, 2014 @ 13:30:48

      That’s quite the coincidence you were already working on a piece that dealt with a nightmare! That “coincidence” in itself almost sounds like a Twilight Zone episode.:)

      Reply

  15. ladysighs
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 14:10:34

    That was a long dream. I don’t think I’ve ever even been asleep that long. 😦
    Thanks for visiting my dreamy blog.

    Reply

  16. stormy1812
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 17:24:37

    I always have the wildest dreams…okay maybe not always but frequently. To be honest, with the exception of two or three, most are probably just my subconscious misfiring ha! It’s just a jumbled mess of whatever’s going on in my world at any given time. I’ve almost never had a recurring dream, other than that one where I’m just falling and falling then suddenly wake up. I haven’t had that dream in a very long time. I will say, I understand that fear of “sea monsters.” I have had plenty of dreams with sharks in them. Most have been too weird to actually be afraid but there was one that was intense with my uncle and a friend of his who were surfing. It didn’t end well for my uncles friend. I virtually never have violent dreams but that was one that was vivid, felt real and terrifying. Granted – it happened right before, during or right after Shark Week on Discovery so I’m sure that played a part. 🙂 It can be pretty amazing how our dreams can help point out certain things to us that we might overlook otherwise. I have had a few frightening dreams too but I’ve found when those have happened, I’ve had a lot to deal with, changes were coming, etc. It’s incredible how our minds interpret our lives for us, all we need is to take a moment to consider what those things could be metaphors for. Your dream certainly sounds scary but glad you’ve come to realize it wasn’t literal but rather an interpretation of elements in your life. It hasn’t happened in a while, but I did used to have deja vu a lot and that was always a bit trippy. That’s a very peculiar blurring of lines between real and fantasy. Another great post – thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 14, 2014 @ 13:55:06

      Always wonderful to hear from you, Jen! I think dreams are among the most fascinating things in our lives. And no matter how much science studies them, I don’t believe they will ever be fully understood. There will always be a quality of mystery about them, and maybe that’s for the best.:)

      Reply

  17. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Jan 14, 2014 @ 06:38:33

    Terrifying, Mike. I think I would have been afraid to go to bed ever again.

    Reply

  18. The Fashion Huntress
    Jan 14, 2014 @ 13:29:43

    I love the title of this!! Though, I’m scared of deep water when I’m awake so I think these dreams would have scared me a ton!!

    Reply

  19. FreeRangeCow
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 18:48:54

    I have actually awakened in the morning and been ANGRY or SCARED, with the real world taking a few moments to overcome the fantasy…or is it fantasy? Great post!

    Reply

  20. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum
    Jan 17, 2014 @ 00:17:03

    What a nightmare! Anytime someone mentions dreams, I perk up. My dreams are so unusual that I can hardly wait to go to sleep at night. Question: I notice that you described the surgeon fish as “multicolored.” My nightmares are in black and white or grey scale. Do you remember if your dream was entirely in technicolor or mostly black and white?

    I watch John Paul Jackson on “Dreams & Mysteries.” He just finished a 12-part series, which is free to watch on the Dreams & Mysteries Website. I have a collection of his CDs on dreams and visions. Dreams are usually symbolic–a lot like parables or allegories.

    I am not a dream interpreter (wish I were!), but your effort to “rescue” your brothers sounds significant. A pattern perhaps?

    Thank you for sharing your dream and relating it to “The Eye-Dancers.” Well done, as always.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jan 17, 2014 @ 17:54:55

      Thank you, Sheryl! Yes, that old dream was in color, which is odd, because many of my dreams are black and white. This dream must have had a lot of significance for me on a symbolic level, but I still am not completely sure what that might be.:) Always great hearing from you!

      Reply

  21. 2embracethelight
    Jan 17, 2014 @ 00:31:52

    How magnificent this post. I find myself in this. And although I tried to run away many times I am glad I had to face the reality I feared most.
    yisraela

    Reply

  22. fashionassist
    Jan 17, 2014 @ 03:14:04

    It truly is amazing, the journey one takes when learning to face their fears…
    it often takes time and much strength, but the end result is well worth it…
    courage + confidence grows and so do your skills at swimming…
    swimming with all sorts of monsters (land or sea) 😉
    Thanks as always for another excellent post~
    “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

    Reply

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