I used to have nightmares. It’s been a while. The worst one I ever had was when I first moved in with my ex-husband. I had dreamt that I found three severed heads in the dirty clothes pile in our closet. It was so real to me. I picked a woman’s rotting head up and then I realized that he had seen me discover the heads of his victims. My brain stumbled as it scrambled to piece together the rapidly approaching facts of terror that I had found myself in. I hate that feeling. When your bloodstream fills with adrenaline and your brain goes into some weird primal space to sort out your options for survival. Even worse, when your brain has finished pursuing all the routes available, and you have that strange calm feeling of knowing that you are probably going to die. It feels like your soul is stretching out in preparation for the exhilarating process of leaving your body.
I have experienced this phenomenon in many dreams, and in a few real life situations. I hate it. My nerves are on edge, just writing about it.
One of those situations was when I had rode along with my friend to visit her new boyfriend. She had just met him, working in a little factory in town. I should have known better. Especially after she told me that he was in his fourties and had just been released from custody after ramming his ex-wife’s head through a wall. I had seen her. She worked at a deli in town. Her face was scarred from her forehead to her chin. But we were nineteen, and nothing bad had ever happened in our safe little town. So we couldn’t really wrap our heads around the danger of a real psychopath.
When we walked into his apartment, he didn’t look so scary. His friend creeped me out, but I also found him kind of attractive. He had long scraggly hair and faded old tattoos that looked like he drew them on himself. He was one of those guys who was probably really hot in high school, but the world grew up and around him, while he got lost in the quicksand of having a good time all the time. He was a biker, wearing ripped up jeans and just a leather vest, bearing his ripped up abdomen. My eyes were confused, following his sexy body up to an old, weathered face. He taught me how to roll a joint that day.
My friend’s boyfriend wouldn’t stop talking. He was clearly insane. From the moment we walked in, he paced back and forth through the kitchen and living room, just rambling on and on. I was nervous, a little on edge. But back in those days, it was common to get paranoid from the pot. We didn’t have fresh, homegrown strains like we have now.
I remember feeling like I wanted to leave. We were only supposed to hang out for a moment, but my young friend was trying to connect with someone who I now realize was a complete psychopath. He finally sat down in the cramped living room, across from me and the biker guy. And out of nowhere, he stood up, grabbed a roll of duct tape from the coffee table, pulled out a couple feet of tape, and held it out while he asked what we would think if he were to tape us up and hide us in the closet. He stood there, straight faced, eyes looking right into mine, drinking in my fear like he was tasting a glass of elegant wine.
All I could think about was my dad. He had always been so over protective. He was always aware of everything that could go wrong, a side effect of his PTSD from the war. He had warned me about this moment, a million times over. I just sat on the couch, frozen like a deer in the road. It felt like hours. I looked at my friend’s face, she was laughing. She thought that he was joking, but his face wasn’t giving a clue of humor. He just kept staring at me, emotionless and cold. I just kept staring at him, thinking about how I could get to the door, how I could get out of that apartment.
And then, just as suddenly as he had bombed the room with adrenaline and fear, he began laughing hysterically. He dropped to the floor, rolled around on his back, sobbing with laughter.
‘What the fuck was wrong with this guy?’ I thought. ‘And what the fuck was wrong with my friend?’
I stood up, shaking from the experience, and told my friend that I would be waiting in the car. She followed me out shortly after. When she got into the car, she played it off like I overreacted.
That is entirely possible. Being a stoner who was raised by a veteran, my nerves were always a little sketchy. But for about ten minutes in that apartment, I truly believed that I was going to die. It’s not like it was my goofy uncle playing a joke on me. This was a guy who had tried to kill his wife. This was a guy who didn’t know me. He was not a normal guy.
I never went back over there. He had dumped my friend a couple months later. And a couple years after that, we had heard that he committed suicide.
My friend is now married to a man who hides his crazy a little bit better. But he also has some very strange behaviors. I think she is attracted to those types. Maybe she feels safe, having the dangerous people on her side. I’m not like her. I prefer to be the crazy one in my relationships.
I don’t have nightmares anymore. Now I dream about water. I’m always by the water, watching the ships roll in. I guess that means I’m starting to find peace.