The Nightmare Before School

At what age do normal, not-traumatized adults stop having nightmares about missing the school bus? Because I’m twenty-four years old and seven years out from riding that yellow child-toting vehicle and it’s still one of my most recurring dream experiences.

Look, dreams have been very powerful for me my whole life. I’ve never understood how somebody can wake up and say they didn’t have any dreams. No dreams? So what have you been doing these past eight hours? Staring at a black wall? Not even a dream that you were sleeping? (That’s Bryant, by the way.)

Meanwhile, I’m having dreams that my teeth are falling out of my mouth. Or that my father died and I’m sobbing in the arms of my brother. Or that I’m at work, running around trying to greet all the tables that just sat down. Or that a robber is in the house and I’m running away from him.

What really gets me, is that every time I have a dream like this—and actually, now that I’m laying all these out, I’m realizing my dreams may frequently just be “nightmares”—amidst the dream, I always think, “Wow, I really wish this were a dream! Too bad this is reality. This sucks!” And I’m faced with the horribleness of my new situation—not having teeth, for example. And every time, thank Goddess, I wake up, look around, and realize with intense relief, “It was just a dream!!”

Let me give you an example of one of my most recent bizarre dreams. So, last week, I purchased a new camera. It’s a nice camera, and I plan on using it for a lot of purposes, so it was definitely a “splurge” for me. So, for some reason, the other night in my dream, I ate my camera. I just gulped it down. I remember I could even feel that pressure in my throat, like when you swallow a pill that’s too big and it sticks a little, that awful “bloated snake” type feeling, like it’s stuck in your esophagus and you can keep drinking water but it’s going to be there to bother you for hours. I could feel that in my dream. My friend Kelly was there, too, and she ate her own camera along with me. Bon appetit, huh? Well, then after we enjoyed our entree, I realized I had made a mistake, that I shouldn’t have swallowed my camera, and now it was ruined and gone forever. Way to go, subconscious. Having felt sufficiently remorseful of this, I got online and purchased a new camera, the exact same model—although this time, I only needed to buy the camera, and not the bundle pack that came with a camera case, because I already had a camera case; I had only swallowed the camera. I was like, “This is really going to put a damper in my rent money, but I’ve got to fix this.”

All that happened in my dream. When I woke up, you can imagine how excited I was to realize my stupidity was restricted solely to my imagination.

Don’t even get me started on the dreams I had as a child. (Oh look, now I’ve got myself started.) My dreams used to scare the sleep out of me. There were several recurring dreams I had that often led to me bothering my parents in the middle of the night, begging to let me crawl in between them because I didn’t want to be alone. Sometimes they let me, if I was whiny enough; other times, my mom was strong and resisted me.

This one dream was the worst: I would be walking down the sidewalk, and, like in an old cartoon, the ground was curved in an exaggerated way, and people were walking by and greeting me in passing. Then, suddenly I would be in this room where all those people had been secretly working on building this giant machine that was scary-looking and powerful. That’s it; that’s the dream. It was terrifying to seven-year-old-me. The climax of the dream was just the view of the machine: panning out to reveal how tall it was, all the random machine parts, tubes, gears, wires, engines, etc. Another nightmare was one where I was just in outer space, facing the vast nothingness and bleakness of the universe. Freaked me out so much. The Muppets Treasure Island haunted me, too; I liked the Muppets, but there was one scene with a character that creeped me out, and so I always dreaded him coming into my room and attacking my feet, which were right by the door. As I got older, I started having more practical fears, like the nightmare fantasy that someone was going to break into our house and rob us, or break into our house and kill us all one by one, or light our house on fire, or bomb us.

Why would I worry about those things? I was a sheltered child; my taste in movies was family friendly! I read children’s books, played with my stuffed animals, sometimes fought with my brother, but for the most part I was spared from many gruesome examples of violence or suffering. Nobody in my neighborhood experienced any robberies, murders, or arson attacks that I had ever heard of, so where the heck did these fears stem? (This is when I blame my Irish “doom and gloom” heritage.)

Anyway. I’m making it sound like I have an issue with night terrors, but my dreams aren’t always horrible; I have a lot of fun, creative dreams, too! The scary ones are just the ones that are most entertaining to talk about because they’re weird as heck. Generally, I try to refrain from discussing my dreams with other people—which sounds dumb because I’m dedicating a whole blog post to discussing my dreams—because unless typically people don’t care about what others are dreaming. Dreams tend to be pretty nonsensical and so the key is to be pretty brief if I’m mentioning a dream to a friend.

But I have school dreams a lot. It’s like, a trend.

It’s rarely college I dream of, though. (Although, I did have a college dream last month, though, which blended Wild Goats and school into a weird find-the-Gouda-stickers-hidden-around-the-hallway-to-get-out-of-your-midterm situation; it’s a long story.) My school dreams are always about high school, as if I want to revisit any of that!

I could understand having high school dreams IF high school had impressed any lasting emotional impact on me. But it didn’t! (Or maybe it did, and that’s why I keep having these stupid dreams.) My high school experience was not horrible and not great. It was a decent time! There were some tears, some laughter, some learning, and then it was over and I could move on with my life and begin my independent existence, which is what I spent my entire childhood waiting for, sweet independence… (Sorry, excuse me reminiscing about my youthful passion for doing things on my own.)

High school was eh, yet my subconscious loves going there. I bet tonight I’m going to dream, once again, about how I’m young and in school again, trying to pick out what to wear in the morning before I leave, and it’s inexplicably time-consuming, as I keep changing outfits and searching for specific clothing articles that can’t be found, and then my mom’s calling for me from downstairs, “The bus is coming!” I feel that nervous dread-tingling in my gut and grab my backpack and run downstairs—no! I forgot my folder!—then run back upstairs, then run to the front door, but my shoes are by the back door, so I sprint across the house. Meanwhile, the bus has been waiting for me this whole time, and as I’m struggling to put my shoes on, hopping through my front yard, it finally loses patience and starts to drive away. Sometimes, it’ll stop and let me run after it, and then I climb onto a crowded bus where there’s nowhere to sit, and I keep walking farther and farther back until the last two seats, where the cool, nonchalant, disinterested older kids sit, and refuse to scoot over because they care about nothing. So I stand. Other times, the bus just rumbles away, and I have to run the whole half-mile around the corner to get to school. Except, it’s usually on some dream B.S. where I’m running and running furiously, except I’m getting nowhere. And by the time I get to school, I’m late and I feel that dread-tingling again.

I. Never. Missed. The. Bus! It’s so weird to me that “missing the bus” is one of my lasting subconscious fears. In my life, I may have missed the bus once, maybe twice, and one of those times was definitely on purpose because one time in middle school I straightened my hair and it was raining, and I wanted my mom to drive me to school so I would be in the humidity less time and my hair would stay straight. (She was so mad at me.)

In another version of my high school dreams, I walk into high school, no previous drama having transpired. (Which is great; I hate those running-late-for-the-bus dreams. They’re by far the most stressful type of school dream.) Except in these dreams, I’m my current age. So it’s like in 21 Jump Street when Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill pretend to be in high school, except I’m just going back… for the fun of it? In the dream, I understand that I’ve already “done” high school, but I’m still there, going to my locker and struggling with the combination. Oh no, class is about to start and I forgot my code! How am I supposed to get my notebook? (Dread-tingling returns.) Or, I walk into a classroom and reunite with a teacher from long ago—I miss you, Carrie Brumit and Shawn Varley!—and take a seat with all the other high school kids, who, to me, look so young, yet, if I were to be placed among a bunch of high schoolers in 2020, they’d probably all look older than I am. These dreams normally end when I fall asleep in class or the bell rings.

Sometimes I also dream about being in my high school parking lot, but that one’s just kind of boring. It’s just like a bunch of high schoolers either walking to or from their cars, and sometimes I’m lost or trying to get home because I can’t find my car. (But didn’t I take the stupid bus to school?!?)

As you can see, these dreams are pretty harmless, other than anxiety surrounding small, daily problems like forgetting a project at home. Not only did I have a boring high school experience, but I have pretty boring high school dreams, too!

I want to know, now, dear reader—if you could shed some light for a pal like me—at what age do these school dreams go away? Once I reach thirty, will they magically subside? Or do I have to complete five years of therapy before my subconscious clears itself of all lingering emotional stress? Maybe I have to revisit my old high school and excorsize some sort of a puberty demon? Is there a cleansing chant? Must I fall asleep listening to Alice Cooper singing “School’s out forever” every night to seal the deal and convince my dreams? Every time I see a school bus, should I slap myself on the wrist?

Or will these school bus dreams terrorize my dreams forever? Will I be forty, still tossing and turning because I can’t find the pink top I want to wear to impress my crush Jake in Language Arts class? Do I have to spend my precious hours of rest when I’m fifty years old dreaming of a school bus of shouting children who make me feel nervous because none of them will scoot over for me? At sixty, must I still recall the hallways of the most underwhelming time of my life? Will combination locks even still exist when I’m seventy, and even if they do, what magic pill will I be able to take to rid me of the memory of having a locker? If I’m eighty and dreaming of loitering in my high school parking lot before the bell rings instead of dreaming of all the exciting futuristic technology, like flying houses, then I’ll be seriously disappointed with the dullness of my brain. When I’m ninety, if I’m still haunted by the nightmarish versions of my childhood memories, then it will have been a life of immense regret for me.

Eh, so the school dreams are preferable to the loved-ones-passing-away dreams, and I’ll probably dream of missing the bus again tonight. But who knows, if I keep dreaming of the same thing enough times, maybe one night I’ll eventually be able to recognize the dream and not sweat over what time it is in the dream, or whether that stupid bus is coming, or what the heck I want to wear. But, honestly, even though a lot of times I go through intense emotional turmoil while sleeping, and sometimes I wake up feeling worn out from drama, I’m still glad I have dream experiences—they’re better than no dreams at all!

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