In the dream, I was watching Pocket and Parsley (our pet fantail goldfish) swimming in a very big tank. It was a beautiful tank, lit from above and filled with colorful fake coral and plants. The room I was in was dark and a little scary. I watched my little fish swimming around, and felt an old fear, that I was not caring for them properly – that I was incapable of keeping them alive.
The tank had two levels. The top level was the one the fish lived in; the bottom level was another tank, filled with old water, unused, and dark. I never looked at it, because it caused me an unspeakable dread to do so. Suddenly, Pocket squeezed through a hole in the floor of his tank, and popped into the tank below.
I was terrified that he was going to die, that some imbalance in the water chemistry of the lower, neglected tank would kill him. But he didn’t, and before long Parsley followed him in. They swam around, excited to explore their now larger space. Then they swam up the filter tube. Then I was really scared, because I didn’t know what was at the top, where the tube turned from clear plastic to black. But soon they found their way back into the top tank, proving it to be safe. They swam down into the lower tank, up the tube, back into the upper tank, and down again, over and over, and I began to relax, realizing that they were going to be okay – that they were happier now, to live in their whole house, instead of just the top level.
Then I was in another room, talking to Oprah Winfrey. We were talking about pets. I had Sunny with me. Oprah had one of those jogging purses around her waist. She showed me what was in it – a few dozen tiny treasures, sparkling things that she had collected throughout her life, very dear to her. I pulled out a little box of my own, and opened the lid. Tiny treasures of my own, mostly things from my childhood. Looking at them brought up the old loss and dread, feelings I carry with me, under the surface, all the time. But the treasures were beautiful. It made me feel better, to see that Oprah carried her treasures, too.
Then her cameraman (who was traveling with her on a story) suggested she do a story on me and my magical connection to my pets. Oprah thought I’d make a great story.
Then I woke up.
I’ve had one dream like it, a long time ago when I had recently gotten out of the psyche ward. In that dream, I confronted something terrifying, something I’d been running from my entire life, an aspect of the shadowy part of me I’d had to bury – it had always taken the image of wolves. After I finally stopped running and talked with them, I started running with them, learning their ways. It was an incredible experience, to open myself back up to something that had become so repressed it had turned into a blurry, yellow-eyed monster in my dreams.
This wasn’t as scary an experience, nor did I have as much control – with the wolves, I made a decision in the dream to stop and face them, and braced myself, teeth gritting, as they swarmed around me. In the latter dream, it seemed to be my . . . pet goldfish . . . making the decision for me. And, well, Oprah.
I’ve had lots of nightmares, from my late teens on, about small animals being hurt. It was often cats. They were sick, and I was petrified of them in their illness. I couldn’t heal them, or help them – I was too afraid – so I killed them, in really terrible, violent ways. I would wake up physically sick from it. I’ve often dreamed about animals in my care. In the dreams, I’ve forgotten to take care of them – completely forgotten they were there, and when I remember with a bolt of shock that they’ve been there locked up, and go to get them, they’re either dead or very close – suffering badly. Often, I killed them. Sometimes I tried to save them, weakly, in vain.
This was a nightmare that turned into something positive, like the wolf dream. The lower tank (as silly as it sounds) is the repressed part of me, the memories I have stuffed away, things I maybe can’t remember in images or words but rather in body memory and dream symbols. In similar recent dreams, Rukan and I are moving into a big, empty house with six or seven stories. The first and second floors are huge and frightening; they need a lot of work. I can’t even go up the stairs beyond that. The prospect of doing so fills me with dread. The whole place feels haunted, filled with some kind of strange, old, nightmarish sickness.
There is a whole world inside me that I’ve repressed, pushed down, my entire life. The Amazing Therapist tells me that a possible reason I’ve never found serenity, despite my many years of therapy, is because I’ve been doing the wrong kind of therapy. She believes that the trauma that most profoundly affects my life occurred when I was very young, pre-verbal, and that the only way to successfully access and heal that trauma is to talk to the tiny girl who endured it, in her language – imagery and visualization, rather than talk therapy. I’ve got to go back there, in my mind, and do whatever work needs to be done. Clean out the bottom fish tank, swim around in it and prove that everything’s safe now. Climb the stairs – gulp – past the second floor, and look around. Get my tools and fix the house, floor by floor.
I’m not going to do it on my own. The Amazing Therapist insists that I at least start out in her office, where she can help guide me, and we can gauge together whether or not I’m ready for the work. I’m afraid of having another breakdown. I can’t ever let myself get to that point again. So it’s going to be careful business, this time around.
So what part of me is Oprah Winfrey?
God, I love my mind.