My social circle has been remarkably supportive of the traumas and challenges I’ve faced over the past year. A few of its members, however, haven’t yet grasped the nature of the rift that has emerged between me and my parents. They keep telling me to watch how viscerally I criticize them and to intersperse my rage with acknowledgement that the people who raised me are doing “the best they can” to wrap their heads around my situation. At their worst, they tell me not to “air the family’s dirty laundry,” failing to grasp that one of the foremost weapons against their particular secrecy-based abuse dynamic is the cleansing light of day.
Every time I hear those phrases, my mind flits back to the worst nightmare I ever had, in June 2015. This was around when my parents first started losing their minds over seeing my long hair and painted nails over webcam, and sent the first of an onslaught of Emails that stabbed directly at what I was going through. I was terrified that, in their bigotry, they would do something extreme. They threatened to cut off my financial support if I breathed too loudly in their direction; what “punishment” would they impose for joining what my culture regards as its most outré abomination? What would I face if I ever again put myself at their mercy by sleeping under their roof, as I did for two weeks every year?
Those are the fears they tell me to put aside when they plead for reconciliation.
Those are the fears I dreamed about that night.
Those are the fears I wept about that morning.
Content note for oneiric horror, kidnapping, and emotional trauma.
There were two unconnected non-nightmare dreams, and then a dream in which I was at the house in Miami. Time and space are faint illusions in my dreams, so several rooms were transposed from the apartment in Ottawa. Mom and Dad had just come home from a vacation of their own, mirroring the visit I had made the previous December. Mom was behaving in a weird, hostile manner. It rapidly escalated to me shouting at her about how nothing about the situation made any sense. Her responses were always angry, sad disappointment. Several times, she reared up for a slap and then put her hand back down. Other times, she demanded that I stand in front of her, to prevent my disengagement.
There was a scene in which I was in a bedroom playing music, and she somehow became convinced that I planned to euthanize two of her pets. The names she used don’t correspond to any pets we’ve ever had. My siblings were there and didn’t say anything. More and more, the milieu was that all of them had gone made but me. I threw a spoon at Mom and hit her in the forehead. She didn’t react.
Then I went to the living room, also transposed from my home in Ottawa. I noticed some of the furniture was different, and looked around for some item I wanted to find. Mom was there, with a pained, tragic expression on her face. I asked her what was wrong. She mouthed, “I’m sorry” and then I felt a sack pulled around me from above. I shouted for my grandmother to help me. I was not helped.
That dream is part of a three-way tie for the closest people have ever come to having faces in my dreams.
I have dreamed about being chased through flooding buildings by gray water, waking just before my dream self would have drowned. I have dreamed about being in futuristic flying-car accidents. I have dreamed about being attacked by kraken-like nests of tentacles. I have dreamed about being found and stared at by shiny, kite-shaped worms that faced my strange body with alien fascination. I have dreamed about having ticks the size of small dogs and having to fight them off with sticks. I have dreamed about getting lost on ships and never finding my way out. I have dreamed about being painfully transmogrified into a green, bat-like monster, finding the creature that transformed me, and clawing it to pieces. I have dreamed about lightsaber duels with wraith-like incarnations of my own fears that whispered them to me with sickening glee. I have dreamed about paddling a rowboat across a black ocean beneath a dim green sky, watching sea monsters with bony fins dive and surface around me, knowing that any of them could lead me to a watery grave without even wanting to. I have dreamed about the creeping dread of a huge, ponderous monster stomping and echoing through a darkened temple and having nowhere to run. I have dreamed about being stalked by shadows so grotesque that others wonder how I sleep at all. I have dreamed about creatures so chilling even I don’t turn them into D&D adversaries.
None of those dreams left me as June 2015 did.
None of those dreams left me huddled tightly into myself as I escaped into the mercy of consciousness, crying into my pillow.
None of those dreams made my cat’s habit of climbing onto my chest and purring if she notices me stirring in the morning but not getting out of bed not just a welcome moment of affection but a desperately needed hug.
None of those dreams made me wish so desperately that Ania hadn’t been somewhere else that night.
None of those dreams made me start sleeping with a stuffed toy again, as I hadn’t done in two decades.
And none of those dreams were what my parents gave me instead of accepting their eldest daughter for the person she is.
When you tell me to forgive them for what they have done to me, or “accept” their culturally-imposed backwardness as some quaint old-country quirk I don’t get to challenge, that is where you put me.
In that room that shouldn’t be, watching faces that shouldn’t be apologize to me for deeds so nightmarish even my nightmares couldn’t contain them.