Everyone has dreams about falling and flying. My flying dreams are comical because I clumsily flap, flap, flap, gliiiide. Never going too high or too fast, my arms don’t tire. It’s the aerial equivalent of coasting on a kick-scooter. Icarus could have learned from me.
My falling dreams happen in the etherous greige between sleep and awake, I slowly roll over from one side to the other to find bed, wall, earth -- I never remember -- replaced by a sudden void reaching past me like a formless, sonic hug.
My falling dreams seem to be disconnected from my flying ones. I never flap, flap, flap, faaaaaallll. But I’ve learned there’s a connection. In those flying dreams excitement and risk hit just hard enough to make life interesting, but not so dangerous that I couldn’t survive their impact. It’s controlled and correlated to my actions: I flap and I fly, but never higher than street lamp height on nondescript streets edged by nondescript houses in a nondescript neighborhood. The low cruising altitude lets me see a manageable amount of the world from a distance that’s just as manageable and safe, albeit just a little bit dangerous.
What’s most frightening about my falling dreams isn’t that I’m falling, it’s that I can’t see what I’m falling into. There are no houses, no grass or asphalt rising up to meet me. It’s just a black flash into nothingness. Like my flying dreams, the action is still precipitated by my movement. I roll over and I fall, until my blinking eyes and fluttering heart beat me awake.
Instead of trying to find out what the dreams say about the dreamer, I’m learning how the dreamer builds the dreams; about how the child I was influences how I fly or fall tonight. As life during COVID edges into a monotony that matches the Monopoly houses in my flying dreams, I understand how my need for safety – now and then – has been shaped by a broken frame.
I was a kid who rebelled to, not against religion. My parents’ materialism and drug use drove me to church. My stepfather’s empty cocaine vials and my Sundays spent at worship became leverage when he would try to ground me for leaving the house with my bed unmade. When as a college freshman I fell out with the church, I didn’t cast myself as an Animal House extra, I got married at 19.
Flap, flap, flap.
Throwing myself into religion when other people my age were throwing footballs and standing up to say “I do” when I should’ve been doing keg-stands didn’t seem like falling at the time. I’ve told myself they were choices meant to give me anchors my childhood didn’t provide, but even that’s not right. I was a kid trying to build an identity out of a void I was afraid to fall into.
I’m starting to get to know my inner child. I’m trying to understand who he is so I can give him the love and guidance he may have lacked and needed that I still need today. I’m going to find out who I was then, before parents and pastors and my own choices as a young adult left him awkwardly hovering over monotonous suburban streets when he should have been dreaming of jetpacks.