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Unsavory Thoughts

Thomas Walton

Don’t Tell Me Your Dreams


y friend knows everything about his dreams. That is, he knows what they mean. Every event that occurs, he finds a meaning for it, and he’ll go on and on about what he dreamt about and what it means.

I don’t mind having dreams, but I don’t like talking about them. And I absolutely abhor anything resembling dream interpretation. I’m glad I didn’t live in the mid 20th century. All that Freudian, Jungian pseudoscience . . . yuck, horrible. Even when my wife—whom I love—starts to tell me about her dreams, I immediately feel claustrophobic. It ruins the morning for me. I leave. I leave because if I don’t leave, I get irritable. I know myself. I despise talking about dreams.

Sometimes she—my wife (who I love)—tells me about her dreams before I have a chance to get out of bed. First thing in the morning. I’m not even really awake yet. As consciousness dawns on me, I realize she’s talking about her dreams. I’m trapped. By the time she’s done describing them, I can’t hide my distaste.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ve told you before,” I say, apologetically, “I can’t stand talking about dreams.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well what did you dream about last night?”


I always say nothing, even if I’ve had the most wonderful dream. I don’t want anyone to tell me what my wonderful dream means. I don’t want anyone even knowing what I dream—even my wife (who I love). My dreams are my dreams. In a world where there’s less and less privacy, dreams are about the only place where no one can see you. No phone is listening. No one’s overhearing. No data’s being gathered. And no one is commenting.

I like to think of dreams as if they are a snowfall when it’s warm, when it’s forty degrees: they just appear, flurry about, then melt away. That’s a perfect dream interpretation, one that doesn’t interpret at all. There’s no need to ask, “what did it mean when the flakes blew this way, that, when they swirled up into the streetlight, or fell fast and heavy onto the drive?” Who cares? Were they beautiful? Yes. Terrible? Yes. Did you slip on the ice? Yes. That’s it. Leave them alone.

To reveal your dreams on a regular basis (as my friend does) shows, I think, an incredible amount of narcissism. We live in an overly revealing society. Why does everyone think their experience is so interesting? The exhibitionism long ago reached embarrassing proportions. It’s something like a nudist on the beach . . . it may feel good to you to be naked but that doesn’t mean other people want to see it. Why do you need to reveal yourself to enjoy being alive? Show some discretion. Some taste. Grab a towel for gods sakes!

With respect, my dreams are my dreams, and yours are yours. I’d like to keep it that way if you don’t mind.

Let Me Tell You a Dream

My grandparents owned a timeshare in Fort Meyer’s Beach when we were kids. My brother and I played tennis there. They had a small condo in a huge building. They didn’t have it very long, but I remember going there a few times. In spring, I guess. Or maybe summer. We drove down from Milwaukee in a brown station wagon. People didn’t fly as much, then. If you had a station wagon, you took that.

I had nightmares when I was a kid. I still have nightmares. I never tried to figure out why. My mom says she has nightmares, too. I guess I got them from her, if you believe in that type of thing—the passing down of nightmares from one generation to the next. I suppose that “the passing down of nightmares from one generation to the next” is one way of looking at the history of humanity.

In one of the dreams recently, someone was tearing my dictionary apart. I couldn’t tell if he was doing it intentionally. He was just letting it fall apart. And it did fall apart. It was falling apart. I watched, helpless. It doesn’t sound like much, but I assure you it was terrifying.

My brother and I weren’t very good at tennis, but we had energy. Endless energy. What we lacked in skill, we made up for in spite, in determination, and a competitive hatred only known to brothers. We may have been from a family whose grandparents owned a timeshare with tennis courts, but we were not from a family who took tennis lessons. We were self-taught. We willed the ball over the net. Often we just hit it as hard as we could, hoping it might hit our opponent in the face. We would take turns being John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. My brother was blond and actually looked like Bjorn Borg. I had the mouth of McEnroe. The tennis matches usually ended in a fight.

At one point in the dream, a former neighbor of mine who’d been kicked out of his apartment tried to run me over with his motorcycle. He blamed me for kicking him out, which was somewhat fair since (1) I manage the building where he lived, and (2) I was the one who posted the eviction notice on his door. The dictionary was now in shreds. I was able to avoid my former neighbor for most of the night, but eventually he succeeded. Eventually he just ran right over me. Nothing ever hurts in my dreams. Things just happen.

My grandparents were of the country club age. Born in the twenties. They came of age during World War II. Perhaps the country club age was a coping mechanism for the horrors of the atomic age, the mass-killings of the war, and the tense, uncertain future of the Cold War on the horizon. The country club as antidote for existential crisis.

My grandparents golfed and bowled and played bridge and pinochle right through Vietnam. My father got married, had all four of his kids before the war in Vietnam was over. His draft dodger’s capital was high. He was white, married, had four kids and a sports hernia. He wasn’t drafted. I suppose he could’ve volunteered, but maybe the hernia would’ve kept him out?

The dream lasted all night. It’s difficult to describe. Dreams are like action movies to me. They don’t make any sense. They’re just a series of fights, murders and screaming. And there’s never enough sex.

It was 1980-something. The early 1980s. When we were in Florida playing tennis. I was ten or less. My brother was two years younger. My sisters were three and seven years older than me. They were never around. Sometimes I think about that. About how I never knew where my sisters were. At least until I went through puberty. Then I always knew. That is, if one of their friends was over, I always knew. Then I just hung around them, or tried to, with no idea what to do or say. I wasn’t sure why I was even hanging around.

After he ran me over, he grabbed an iron poker. In my dream the iron poker was called an andiron. I remember that very clearly, the word andiron. Even though it wasn’t an andiron, it was an iron poker. Anyway, the former neighbor of mine grabbed the iron poker and crushed my skull with it. He kept crushing and crushing my skull. I watched from a tree branch nearby. It went on long after I was dead. Most of the times when I get murdered in my dreams, the murder continues happening long after I’m dead.

They would take us to play miniature golf. For a long time I thought miniature golf only existed in Florida. We said “miniture” golf. Three syllables, not four. I liked miniture golf, but even as an adolescent I found some of the holes a bit overthought. Overwritten. They were just trying too hard to be witty, those holes. It wasn’t curiosity that killed the cat. An excess of design killed the cat.

When I came down from the tree (more like a rat than a bird or human), I walked past my former neighbor, who was still engaged in my destruction, still thrashing me with the poker. (The poker, I might note, was not red hot. It wasn’t hot at all, though it was red from all the blood everywhere. I realized this in the dream—the fact that the red poker was not a red-hot poker—but only as a trivial piece of information, a sort of subtext.) I walked past him and down the stairs to the subway. In the subway there was a kid, something like my tennis-playing self, who began antagonizing me. I told him to leave me alone, but he wouldn’t. He kept saying, “You want me to cut you? You want me to cut you, don’t you?” “No,” I said, and I called 9-1-1. The dispatch put me on hold. While I was on hold the kid reached around my back and cut me. He cut me badly. My skin and muscle splayed open easily, like a fish. In the dream I even smelled fish. My open body smelled like fish.

I tried to hold the kid off with my free hand while holding my phone with the other. He reached around again, and sliced me open again. Blood was spraying everywhere, and I was furious with 9-1-1. I decided to give up, I hung up. The phone wouldn’t fit in my pocket, though, and while I was trying to shove it in, the kid sliced me open again.

I still liked playing miniture golf, even though the holes were overdesigned. My brother and I would hit the ball and see if we could “accidentally” get it to roll all the way out into the street. My grandfather found this unamusing. The last hole on the course, the one that steals your golf ball and somehow (pneumatically?) returns the ball to the office, always made me sad. Each time we played I would experience a tremendous sense of loss when we reached the last hole. Of grief, even. And also a vague sense of being duped. For this reason, I always feel tricked when someone close to me dies. When I think of divinity personified (which I don’t, really, but when I do), I always think of a Jester.

A train came then. We were in the subway. It was an express. It didn’t stop. Faces in the windows sped by me. I thought they would see me and try to call 9-1-1, but the faces just stared, bored, while the kid cut me again and again and I tried in vain to put the phone in my pocket. I had been dead for a long time, but the kid kept carving me. It was the second time I died that night.

Tennis was popular in the 80s, mostly because of Andre Agassi. He was young and cool and everyone loved his hair. His hair was the same as John Stamos’ hair, but blond. My sisters had a huge crush on him. On both of them. I tried to grow my hair out but it didn’t look very good.

Then I was suddenly on the train. The train was delayed and we were just sitting there. I could see me on the platform. I was already murdered but the kid kept cutting me. He had scissors now like those pizza scissors they give you at Neapolitan-style pizzerias. I looked out at me already murdered, a pool of wet meat on the platform floor, and the kid on his knees working at me. Cutting me into bits and then sewing parts of me to other parts. I don’t know where he got the needle and thread.

I miss my grandparents. I loved the way they drank gin, and moved slowly across the room with martini glasses in their hands. They had a Cadillac with leather seats and sometimes I can smell it. And sometimes when I smell a tennis ball I think of them, too. And the miniture golf AstroTurf. When I see AstroTurf I think of them. And how hot it used to get on the tennis court in Florida.

When the train went into the tunnel, I suddenly saw my reflection. I don’t know why but that was the most terrifying part of the dream, my reflection. I went from watching me being cut up and sewn back together, to seeing my face staring back at me. When I saw myself so close, I gasped and immediately woke up.


Thomas Walton