When I was a kid, I used to have this recurring dream that, at the time, scared me more than anything. I had the dream so often that I stopped disturbing my parents when I entered their room for comfort and would just stand alone in the dark, listening to the pair of them breathe, shivering in the cool air until I was calm enough to return to my own bed and the warmth of my blankets.

In the nightmare, I was alone in what I can only describe as a vast endless bayou or swamp. There was dark water all around me, murky, sweating into the air, humid and fetid, heavy. There were marshland trees far away, their roots coming out of the mud and into the water. Their branches were surely draped with grey moss.

I stood on a muddy sandbar of sorts out in the open: a protrusion of soft, wet, mushy ground that oozed under my bare feet. I was dressed in a yellow bathing suit, cut simply and polka dotted in white, a child’s boxy one-piece. I was not muddy when I dreamed this as a child, except for my feet. There were other protrusions like the one I stood on all across the water, not a far swim and they probably stretched to the shore, but there were gators in the swamp, under the surface, invisible to me but a danger nonetheless. I was trapped and frightened and clammy on my muddy little pedestal.

The worst part was the speedboat. It was red and so far off that I would always hear it before I saw it. Tiny and fast, zipping about, close to the trees along the shoreline. I knew it would save me if I could just get its attention. But I never could.

Eventually, I would decide to get in the water and swim from sand(mud)bar to sandbar and this is where the dream varied.

Sometimes I would wake just as soon as the massive reptilian jaws rose from the water before me, too close to paddle backwards away from. Sometimes hands or claws would wrap around my feet or ankles from under the murk. Sometimes the water was shallow and sludgy and I would begin to trudge across the ground before inevitable piercing my feet on hidden harpoons jutting from the mire.

A few times the speedboat turned just as I reached the midpoint between two perches and ran me down. Once I grew heavier with each kick or pull with an arm until I could no longer tread water and I sank beneath the surface. I’m sure there were more variations on how I met my doom but there was never a time I survived.

I had that nightmare from before I was in school, so approximately the age of 4 all the way up until I was about 16 years old. It recurred most frequently when I was a very young child, but I did have it at least twice in junior high and once in high school. My senior year of high school, I sketched the scene for an AP Psychology project and I still have the sketch somewhere.

There’s a certain significance placed on recurring dreams, particularly nightmares. They’re supposed to reflect the inner workings of your subconscious and are supposed to reveal hidden fears. I wonder what I could possibly have been afraid of, or convinced of, or so subconsciously fixated on as a child of four that I then gradually let go of over time.

Was it symbolic of my growth? My fear of being mired in the stresses of adulthood? Once I reached high school I no longer feared the adult world?

That doesn’t quite fit. I stayed pretty sheltered until I was at least 18.

Did I feel trapped?

That doesn’t fit either, as the only thing I’ve ever really felt trapped by during that period was the expectations of others and that didn’t kick in until I was at least 8 and by then the dream was less frequent.

Is it something else? Something I’ve missed? Has the nightmare really ended? Or is it lurking there beneath the placid surface of my current dream pool, like some scaled, jagged toothed reptile, waiting for me to paddle back into its jaws. Will I find myself in that swamp once more, a grown woman, breasts pressed high and hips squeezed by the now ill-fitting swim costume? Will the harpoons pierce the monarch butterfly tattoo on my foot? Will my flesh still be sweet to the gator’s tongue?

Have I perhaps grown too bitter to eat? Am I too wise to slink into the water willingly? Might I now devise a way to flag down the boat?

Is the nightmare even so awful now?

I think perhaps its become some sort of bittersweet dream. If I could slip back into it I might reclaim that effortless suspension of disbelief and in being trapped once more in a distant swamp, find myself free of the mundane bonds of my adult mind..

It’s the mosquitoes I should worry about.



Who’s driving that boat and do I really want to flag them down, especially in the tiny yellow swim suit?

There are a thousand worse dangers than murky waters and alligators.

So perhaps the nightmare isn’t quite a nightmare after all.


{Written in response to The Daily Post’s Nightmare Prompt}


One thought on “Nightmare

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