Recently I had a dream that I was living in Paris and I had a chance to meet Groucho Marx. I marveled that Groucho was not dead; in fact, he looked great. He was, not surprisingly, grouchy, but I was thrilled to meet him nonetheless. I was tongue-tied, but that did not faze Groucho. He barely acknowledged my presence and then, this being a dream, he vanished, and I found myself alone in a room with a lot of suitcases, only one of which was mine.
The presence of a comedian in my dream was an anomaly. Most of the plots my unconscious serves up in the wee small hours are grimly serious. The Paris location was another surprise. For the past several years, many of the dreams I remember have taken place in Hawaii. The 50th state of my dreams, however, is nothing like that pictured in tourist websites or the Facebook photos your co-worker posted of her Hawaii honeymoon. It is a lurid, fluorescent version of the island of Oahu, where in real life I lived for nearly 15 years, with a gritty overlay of malice that I don’t recall from my time in the islands.
During my last few years in Hawaii, I had a recurring dream that involved my mother, my brother and me. We were living together near a broad river in a town with steep, winding streets and a section of really great small stores — clothing shops featuring fashionable, natural-fiber garments and gift boutiques with elegant raku pottery and other intriguing objects from the far corners of the world.
In real life, when my mother’s Parkinson’s disease worsened, I left Hawaii and moved back to the area where I grew up to help her and my brother. I had been there for some time before it dawned on me that I was living in a town on the banks of a broad river, just a few miles from my mother and my brother. My dreams had come true — except for the steep, winding streets and the really great shopping.
But now that I live in this river town in Pennsylvania, I dream about Hawaii, and the Pacific Ocean, and vivid, Day-Glo landscapes and seascapes. Nothing is precisely as it was when I lived there, and yet it is hauntingly familiar. In some dreams I can fly, and I do so over the ocean shoreline and the residential neighborhoods of Honolulu — and, occasionally, through the vast, airy lobbies of hotels perched precariously near the beach.
The houses I soar above are painted bright sherbet colors that would be familiar in the Caribbean, but that I never saw in real-life Honolulu. Strangely, the bright colors seem to intensify the sense of dread that travels with me in these Hawaii dreams. Something sinister lurks behind the bougainvillea and the fragrant plumeria blossoms, forcing me to be vigilant until I wake up.
Occasionally a dead loved one will come back to life in my dreams. Sometimes it is my mother, who died in 2009. Sometimes I encounter my father, gone since 1983. He invariably wears the brown business suit, white shirt and thin, 1960s tie he wore to work when I was a child. Some nights my parents are together and we are back in the house where I grew up. But even fast asleep I know this is not a permanent arrangement: It is just a dream. I also seem to know that my parents really are dead. I want to ask them, eagerly, “What is it like?” But the moment is never right for that question, and then they are gone.
When I am not soaring over Oahu or passing the time with my ectoplasmic parents, I find myself back in college — and panicking about it. It is always the end of the semester, and I have failed to attend a single class in a certain subject. Usually that subject is French or math, for some reason, although in my real student days my love of and academic success in French was directly proportional to my hatred of and difficulty in math.
In order to graduate, I must somehow acquire enough knowledge in a hurry to pass the final or finagle a way to drop the class without a penalty. These dreams take place on generic ivy-covered campuses, but the ivy is a dismal shade of green, and the rest of the setting — the stone walls of the buildings to which the ivy clings, the campus walkways, the thunderclouds in the sky overhead — is dark as well, as if foreshadowing the bleak future that awaits me when my cavalier attitude toward my studies is exposed.
My therapist once urged me to write down my dreams. I have tried this sporadically, but it always seems like a terrible way to start the day. Waking up from my dream life each morning is a relief; I am only too happy to put that threatening, vaporous territory behind me. In the real world, I can’t fly and there are no cute boutiques within walking distance. But on the other hand, I don’t have to re-live the grief of losing my parents or plead for mercy from a shadowy, unsympathetic college official to keep my life from being ruined. Dreams are always subject to interpretation, of course, but perhaps mine are nudging me toward the realization that my wide-awake here and now is not so bad, after all.
Copyright 2013 By Susan Hooper
Image: D. Howard Hitchcock, A Hawaiian View, 1914. Via Wikimedia Commons. This image is in the public domain in the United States of America.