Dreams. I don’t remember them often. I wake to a hazy shade of blank in the morning, most days.
Not this morning. Somehow aware I was sleeping and dreaming, I couldn’t shake my disturbing visions — splicings of abuse and trauma all swirling in my head.
Coffee shop, old-style American ’70s joint with tattered vinyl booths, a stainless steel coatrack by a jukebox, long counter filled with blue collar workers, lotsa beards. Felt like a truck stop. Waitress straight out of Alice — dark roots, blonde, overtight calves from too many long days, older looking than her years. Blue diner uniform, white apron, frequent smoke breaks.
Scene two: Junkie, rat-trap apartment with cracked plaster, taped fractured windows, bugs skittering across worn floorboards. Old furniture once-loved in better places than this — ’80s brown floral couch, round sidetables covered with threadbare cloths, wobbly coffee table, old console TV with rabbit ears. Thin woman with scarred arms from years of lesions and self-harm. Natty mousy hair, dry and dull, messy and barely tied back. Sunken complexion, decaying teeth, sad hollow eyes. Needle and pipes at couch’s end table.
There was also an old rancher in the country. Broken swingset, overgrown lawn. Guy with a penchant for jean shirts, in his 40s. Isolated. Likes working on his truck.
Dreams being dreams, mine was a swirl of childhood moments with these three. Incestuous, abuse-filled snippets, albeit somewhat stereotypical.
They flooded at me, images of things some of us should never imagine but others have tragically lived.
And that was horrifying but it was more who and what these people grew into that ate at me. How you can never undo that loss of innocence. How we get imprinted at such visceral levels as to what we feel about the world, thanks to our encounters in our youth. How cynicism and hopelessness find us through experience.
This is a "joke" picture people post to Facebook, etc, but imagine growing up with this guy as Dad. It's a little disturbing for me. Should we unsee this?
We joke about embarrassing photos of others, calling them “things you can’t unsee,” but what if an entire childhood is formed that way? With the things that can’t be unseen?
I had a nice comfortable upbringing, aside from an asshole child molesting teacher at my Catholic high school (with whom I had no contact). The rest is par for the course — adversities and challanges aplenty, just not the soul-destroying kinds.
Even still, moments with certain beggars on the street, brushes with homelessness, imprinted me deeply at a young age. And it was in passing, at best. Yet.
But this morning’s dream haunted me on waking. I realized I’m often guilty of judging people for who they are now, with little consideration of what the may have moved past in becoming who they are. What abuses, adversity, horrors may have helped shape them.
I have a neighbour, a burn-out former junkie who seems to be a pathological liar, and I’m suddenly wondering what it was that got her to where she is now. What kind of childhood did she have? Where did the wrong turns come? What could she have expected otherwise?
A cynic would say soul-crushing is a compounding experience. Every hurt adds to the last. Every layer of dejection lands atop another, slowing wrapping us up from the world, walling us off. Like the outcome is unavoidably dire, and one can’t unravel that damage.
For some, I’m sure that’s true. Adversity has the same way of affecting us. When everything keeps being hard, it’s sometimes easier to fall into survival mode than to remember that thriving can be a choice, a series of actions.
But when it comes to people like those I dreamed about, the damage is often long done. If they don’t overcome that hardship as a child, they often pay the price through lacking education, all but determining the lives they’ll live largely marginalized, paycheque-to-paycheque, unprepared for a complicated adult world.
From Whence We Came
I don’t know what it is that makes some able to fight past all that, but I’m so glad that resilience can be found in the world. I’m glad not all souls get crushed and stay that way.
I grew up in a white low/middle-class neighbourhood, a mix of kids. My days seemed fun like anyone else’s. We kept our doors unlocked, had some neighbour parties, all knew each other like you’re supposed to, way out there in white suburbia.
Now, though, I know two families had incest happening, another had violent abuse beyond the screaming fights we all heard.
Another had drug-addicted kids by the age of 15. One family had parents who were addicts. I found needle works in their sofa when I was 14 and had no idea it was for heroin then.
Sure didn’t feel like it when we were all out there on the street doing neighbourhood snowball fights. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, it sort of taints the memories on some days and makes them more awesome moments on others. For a brief time, we were all kids and having fun. For a little while, some snowballs whizzing through the air put us all on equal ground. Life could be good, even just for 30 minutes.
It’s safe to say I feel like I’m living the end of the movie Stand By Me this morning, as I remember the life we all had but tempered with the knowledge of an adult who one day learned the deep dark secrets each of us had back then.
I lived so close to darkness in some of those homes. It never touched me personally. I don’t think it ever dampened my light. I wish I could have helped them.
But deep down inside, I’m glad I was able to be ignorant of those worlds until much later. I’m sure it helped me have a wider worldview.
I’m sure the years of looking-but-not-seeing have affected greatly the way I see the world today. Knowing how “normal” people seemed, yet how they were anything but, seems to have shaped my very skeptical view of what others being what they project at us.
I guess, in a way, being raised so close to some of the things I dreamed about last night yet so insulated from all the happenings, has defined a lot of my empathy and perceptiveness in life and in writing.
It’s funny. We’re shaped as much by what we didn’t know, it seems, as what we did. What a weird world we live in.
And that’s where my headspace is this Monday morning. I wish I could better wrap it up and put a bow on it, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how this one ends. Much like my dream.