Is It a Dream or a Memory?

Is It a Dream or a Memory?

As a little girl, I used to have a recurring dream about being in a car driving up, up, up over a steep hill, kind of like the cartoon image you see of those crazy rollercoasters with extreme drops. It would terrify me every time – I would sit, white-knuckled, in the backseat, as nervous as if I were driving. Usually, the dream was about a driving vacation – we were never at home when these steeply hilly situations occurred. An alternate route would be available, but it would be so far out of our way that my dad (or whoever was driving) would elect to take the steep, steep hill, rather than take the very extra-long way around. To this day, I find driving up and over steep hills a bit stomach clenching.

I must have mentioned this dream at dinner one time, because I remember my mom being convinced that I was remembering the drive she and my father made from Detroit to Phoenix when I was mere months old. As I heard the story – and perhaps vaguely recall seeing in a photograph – my folks packed up what I imagine must have looked like the Beverly Hillbillies’ wagon with every stick of furniture, dish, and item of clothing they owned, and hitched it to the back of their 1967 Chevy Impala.

Then they headed west.

I’ve made that drive, starting farther north and east. Regardless which way you go, there are some pretty scary stretches, particularly if you’re pulling a perilously packed trailer stacked to the rafters behind a low-riding boat of a car. As my dad described the journey, he was terrified at several points as the trailer wavered severely that it was going to topple over.

So I suppose there could be some analogy between that actual journey and my crazy, recurring dreams. But is it really possible that I remember something that happened when I was less than 4 months old? My earliest conscious memory, also car related, is of pulling up to the house where I grew up in the backseat of my mother’s Oldsmobile, all squared off and olive green. I had to have been at least 2 years old when that would have happened.

My husband swears he remembers being bathed in the kitchen sink as an infant – so his conscious memories go back a lot further than mine do.

Dreams are weird things. I often balk when a fiction author uses a dream as a device, as it tends to feel like lazy writing, unless the whole story somehow involves sleep and the dream process. I feel the same when movies or TV shows use them. Yes – the screenwriter or author is God, creating the characters, story, and scene – so he or she should know their character well enough to know what they’d dream, but it’s never just a dream. It’s usually a plot device. There’s almost always a special or hidden meaning under the dream, and it usually feels very manufactured, as if the author couldn’t be bothered to write dialogue or paint a scene depicting whatever the dream is supposed to help explain away.

Dreams can be harbingers of events to come; they can be reflections of memories; and they can be patchworks of the past, present, and future – as Mr. Scrooge experienced. Sigmund Freud famously expounded upon universal dream symbols, but I’m not convinced. While I have ABSOLUTELY no authority on this subject, it seems to me that accurate dream analysis is a highly subjective art, as dream symbols probably vary from person to person, from geographic location to geographic location, and from culture to culture. For instance, dreaming of an owl in certain cultures has ominous prophetic meanings, while in other cultures, the dream might be viewed as a positive message.

My sister and I were not twins, but we most definitely had a psychic connection, to the point of having the exact same dream on the same night. She’s been gone for more than two years, but I still dream of her often – and she is always beautiful and healthy and smiling in those dreams. Sometimes they are so real, it seems I could physically touch her.

I’ve never spoken with Eric about his dreams – he’s a fairly analytical person, so it’s possible he might not tap into them very often. On the other hand, perhaps he’s like my husband and has memories that go back to almost his earliest days. Either way, it would probably make for an interesting conversation. Who knows? Maybe we’ll actually have it one day.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

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