My Father’s Nightmares

Photo by Dyaa Eldin via

My father doesn’t dream. I don’t mean dream in the metaphorical “I’m a practical man and dreams are for lazy, glassy-eyed dummies” sort of way. Though, now that I think about it, I doubt my father dreams in that way either.
But this is what he announced to us us on the way home from the airport on Sunday afternoon. I had just picked up my parents, aunt and uncle from LAX and for some reason, found myself in the backseat, sitting next to my aunt who had happily taken the middle seat even though she’d been in the middle seat on an airplane for the past twelve hours. My father is the only person I know who prefers to drive himself after a long flight.

“I never dream,” my father said, “and of course the one time I do it has to be on an airplane, in a confined space. Damned dogs.”

He said it half jokingly, but he kept on rolling his shoulders back, trying to shake something off. The dogs had definitely gotten to him. I turned to look at my mother, who smiled with the glint she gets in her eye when she’s about to do an impression of my dad.

“So your father doesn’t dream,” she said.

“Nope. Never,” my father said, “That’s your mom’s thing. She’s the one that gets these ridiculous nightmares about people chasing her and then I have to save her by waking her up.”

“Yes,” my mother said, “So two days before the flight we visited some relatives.”

“Damn dogs,” my father said again. My father dislikes animals, especially the kind who like to jump up on people and hump their legs.

“And they had these giant dogs. Well, your father doesn’t like dogs, but these dogs sure did like him. I never saw your dad run so fast.”

She made a crazy face – it’s the same face for anyone, regardless of whom she’s imitating, but I imagined my father’s expression and burst out laughing.

“Damn those dogs and their dog mothers too,” he said sullenly from behind the wheel.

He attempted to change lanes without signaling and nearly collided with a small, helpless Civic.

“Bah!” I yelled, “Watch the road!”

He swerved back and my mother laughed, “Those dogs are haunting him. They came to visit him on the airplane.”

Apparently at 37,000 feet in the air my father dreamed for the first time in a long time. Our relative’s dogs came after him like slobbering ghosts and began to chase him, and because he was caught in that half-sleep one often experiences in uncomfortable positions, my father, sensing danger, began to run. Literally. Well, whatever sort of running could be done in a small seat in the middle of an airplane cabin. He began to thrash about wildly in until my mother, sensing turbulence, came to slowly. I would bet that in a past life my mother was a tortoise or a stone sculpture, capable of sleeping serenely, unnaturally, in an upright position. But now her sleep was disrupted. If the plane was going down, she should wake my father, but of course he was the source of all the movement she was feeling. She shook him awake.

“What’s wrong with you?”

My father came to. I imagined him shivering slightly underneath the airplane’s thin blankets. The cheap airplane pillow crushed beneath his shoulder, to where it had slipped from his head. He would have woken up, disoriented and been both relieved that it was just a dream and disappointed that there were still several hours left in flight. But that’s life, no?

“The dogs,” he said loudly, then, realizing that he’d dreamed it all, he shook his head. My mother laughed. Her tough macho husband – the man who always gave her an impatient look whenever he had to wake her up from her silly nightmares was now muttering about dogs they’d left behind on an island some nine hours ago.

“I should have just let them bite him before waking him up,” my mother said. She imitated my father’s flailing movements in a confined space. It was a very good performance and my aunt and I laughed as my father drove. My uncle Louis slept soundly in shotgun. He must have been a turtle in a past life.

“But, I had to wake him up,” my mother said, “He always wakes me up from my nightmares right in time and the bad guys never get me.”

“So,” she looked at her husband fondly, as though she learned something about him – some small vulnerability that she wasn’t supposed to know, but now that she did, it was okay, “How could I let the dogs get him?”

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