The sun was just breaking the eastern horizon, climbing through the narrow slit of clear space between the Cascades and the cloud cover, when the dream woke me. I was breathing heavily, sweating despite the open window, and crying. I was grateful to be awake all the same.
A nightmare? Yes, but not the usual sort. Tess and I have been investigating fostering children and, as a result, the flavor of my anxiety and consequently my dreams has changed.
Five years ago the dreams were similar. In these, I would have misplaced my then soon to be born second son on a shopping trip or dropped him accidentally down the kitchen sink drain. Clearly, my anxiety concerning childbirth is significant. I’ve played the part of expectant father twice now and both times, as the day got closer and closer, my dreams fixated on all the things I might fuck up with this new little life.
This morning’s dream wasn’t about birth or even me making a complete mess of child rearing. Nonetheless, it’s been clinging to me like a stinky t-shirt on a hot day. For some reason, Tess and I owned something like a timeshare at a condo. The place was small, and we were, if I recall correctly, visiting this place. We walked into the room and quickly realized that someone was living there. Tess was upset that the timeshare wasn’t cleaned before we came, and I discovered a man named Doug emerging from the bathroom.
My memory is a little hazy at this point of the dream, but stuff happens between me and Doug. It becomes crystal clear, however, when Doug lifts his baby girl and puts her in a plastic bag like an article of luggage. He intended to carry her out to his waiting work truck (don’t ask, it was a dream), but I jumped into this situation and took the girl from him. I couldn’t stand there, even for a moment, and watch her struggling in the plastic.
As soon as I had her in my arms I realized that she needed a change. I laid out a towel on the bed and had to cut off the diaper. Doug dropped some nappies next to me, which looked kind of like medical gauze, and I threw them from the bed. When I got the diaper off the girl, I was so angry. She had a horrible rash, clearly this guy’s neglect had lead to this situation. Fortunately, my imagination had expelled him from the dream; I’m not certain what I might have done to him given the freedom of that dreamscape, if he wasn’t instantly missing. I cleaned the baby girl off in the sink, taking care not to hurt her fragile skin, and spent what seemed like hours holding her and trying to calm her.
She screamed and raged until I woke up from it.
Now, I know that the orientation we attended had an effect on me. They played a number of videos and I cried during one of them. I wasn’t the only one crying, and I know that those that weren’t were employing big voodoo to distract themselves from that horror show.
I’m still processing the information we gathered at the fostering orientation. I know that some of that information has plunged part of my mood into a low place and I’ve yet been unable to overcome this funk or the anger that seems to follow it around. Some part of me just repeats the words “How could you? How could you?” A mantra, equal parts indignation and pity.
I have a good friend that has been working for the office of the State’s Attorney General for about ten years. His job is to argue for the safety of these kids, he takes children away from the “Doug” of my dreams. Before this nightmare, I wondered at the mechanisms he has in place to deal with that trauma. I now envy him, his ability to detach from these horribly unfortunate situations while remaining compassionate and capable of dealing with all these children. I’m not certain I can do this.
“How could you? How could you?”