Larry Has a Nightmare

It is common practice amongst members of the Ho family to take a long siesta after a heavy weekend lunch. Though to be specific, this applies only to those of us in Taiwan. I have, over the years, lost the ability to truly fall asleep at any other time except the night time. For me, napping is really just lying down and closing my eyes, wondering if there is something else I should or could be doing. There always is.

My aunt, uncle, and cousins have no such problem. Among the lucky few equipped with nervous systems immune to stimulants, they can guzzle cups of coffee and tea after any meal and then slide effortlessly into the world’s most delicious and enviable slumber. If, like me, you find yourself tired after a heavy meal but, like me, you find it hard to fall asleep, watching your relatives snore in blissful disregard for the living can be maddening. It is usually around this time – the sixth floor afternoon hush – that I find myself haunting the cool dark hallway, gliding from door to door like an embittered Sandman incapable of infiltrating dreams. Instead I sullenly stalk the halls, a glowering shadow.  
Behind door number one, I see my aunt’s pale white legs wrapped around a body pillow, chubby feet and round toes point towards my uncle’s straight-as-a-board figure. His expression is an enigma – I can’t decide if he is enjoying the nap or does it out of necessity, but in sleep he is all business, hands placed conservatively over his chest with a slight furrow over his brow. Important decisions being made. Next is Karen’s room, where when napping she refuses to stay on her side of the bed. Blankets are twisted around her limbs, hair wrapped around her neck, but she doesn’t seem to mind, so numb is she with sleep. And lastly, there is Larry.

Larry, the crown jewel, kept behind his invariably closed door, encased in the cool darkness required by a man for whom sleeping is sport. Other people sleep. Larry sleeps. Larry slips into a coma, just a few steps away from death. If sleeping were sprinting, Larry would be Usain Bolt. But even Bolt has his preferred racing conditions.  

There is a particular pillow (not too soft. Preferably, and I find this odd, Karen’s pillow); a certain kind of blanket (nothing too scratchy. It irritates his legs), and, contrary to what protective qualities his thick and constantly swollen eyelids might provide, a negligible amount of light (shades completely drawn, just the glowing sliver beneath the door, thanks). There is also room temperature, which he prefers to keep around 25 degrees Celcius, rendering anyone who shares a room with him to long bouts of shivering. But meet all these conditions and he is the world’s most peaceful sleeper. Open that door, second on the right, and be greeted by pitch blackness and instant calm. Hear only the faint, rhythmic purring of a man who has not only entered REM but surpassed it and found a womblike dreamscape you and I will know only twice: before birth and at death…which is also to say, we will never know it.  
When I first arrived in Taipei the AC unit in Larry’s room was broken, which meant he slept for three days on the floor of Karen’s bedroom atop a stack of two thin mattresses and a thick comforter. These conditions were wildly below Larry’s standards, and as a result he tossed and turned each night like a humpback whale who’d just learned that there was no more plankton left in the sea. Princess Larry, we called him during those nights, could not find a comfortable position upon the unforgiving ground, and rather than grin and bear it, he took us down with him, commencing a one-man cacophony of snores. He snored with such ferocity I woke many times during the night, thinking someone had driven a Harley right into the bedroom. 
Except it was just Larry. 
A few days later however, the unit was fixed and the Princess returned to his tower where all his conditions were met. Peace reigned and he slept once again like a lady. 
This afternoon however, it must have been something he ate. We had lunched at an old family haunt, a buffet my grandfather used to like taking us to so he could eat like a ninety-year old bird and tell the rest of us to gorge ourselves. Larry was the first to start and last to stop, and while I’m no doctor, I’m certain that much…content in one’s gastrointestinal tract does not make for restful slumber. 
I walked home in the rain to offset some of chocolate ice cream and by the time I came back, the house was, as expected, silent. They’d all gone to sleep and I thought I might try too, though it was fruitless as always. I began to read instead. An hour later, my aunt, uncle and Karen all rose from the dead and commenced their afternoon activities. Larry’s door stayed closed. The rain continued throughout the afternoon until the sun, despite never having made an official appearance, disappeared altogether and it was night. Finally, from Karen’s room where I sat reading a magazine, I heard Larry’s door open and his wide, hairy feet padding my way. The door swung open. I looked up from a model’s face to see Larry’s, which looked quite haggard. Puffy and splotchy. Despite his heavy slumbering, Larry never looks well-rested, but this afternoon his exhaustion was extreme, as though instead of sleeping he’d been, very quietly, wrestling with an ogre the whole time. 
“You’re finally up,” I said.
“I slept badly,” he said, stomping petulantly to the window and looking out. Did the ogre escape? 
“I’m very sorry,” I said, though I wasn’t. 
“I had a nightmare,” Larry said, then considered, “Nightmares.” 
“I had a nightmare about having a nightmare. And I couldn’t wake up.” 
I sat up, tossing my magazine aside. What could Larry, who aside from the world-sleeping championship also holds the title for most boring man alive, possibly have a nightmare about? And a nightmare within a nightmare. I was fascinated. 
“Let me get this straight,” I said, “In your nightmare, you were having a nightmare, and you couldn’t wake up.” 
He nodded sullenly, his lips in a princess pout. 
“In your dream you couldn’t wake up.” 
He nodded again. 
“A dream within a dream,” I mused, “That’s some “Inception” stuff right there.” 
Larry cracked a smile, “Yes, and the scariest thing was, once I woke up in my dream, I still couldn’t wake up. I was stuck. It was terrible.” 
“What did you dream about? In the nightmare you had within the nightmare.” 
Larry walked over to the window and looked out, then down, searching for something. He turned to me, his face grave, “Have you ever seen that movie, ‘Silent Hill?'” 
I wanted to shake my head; even his nightmares were lame, but I stopped myself. I empathized. I’d seen the preview for “Silent Hill” which is based on a terrifying videogame I’d played just once at my friend’s house and had decided not to put myself through that kind of stress. The movie wouldn’t be enjoyable for me. Looked too scary. But I never dream about scary movies. Yet for Larry it made sense. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was watching TV or playing video games or doing something else on his phone and laptop. His waking hours were spent in a different kind of coma; it followed that his dreams and nightmares take on the same digital tinge. 
I flipped my computer open and began to write.

“You’ve given me some great content,” I said. 

“Just like that?” Larry asked. 
“Just like that.”
He nodded thoughtfully, though his eyes were getting heavy again. 
“You’re really very good at that,” he said.  
I smiled and began to type, knowing I was nowhere near as good at writing as Larry was at sleeping, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. With that, he opened the door and left for my aunt’s now vacant bed. 

Nightmares: Back to School Edition

I don’t think I’m ready to go back to school. It’s a good thing there are several months between now and September, when school – graduate school – begins, ample time hopefully, for me to turn the nightmares into not nightmares.

Last night I watched the last episode of Sherlock: Season 1and went to bed around 12:30AM, early by young people (especially on Friday night) standards. I woke up this morning at 9AM, feeling far from rested despite the 8.5 hours of slumber, .5 hours more than my body needs. When my eyes opened I was surprised to be in my room, in bed and, when my brain sorted itself after a few moments, without any real responsibility than to get up and make myself some oatmeal.

My nightmare was utterly vivid and upon waking I still felt the lingering sense of panic that had carried over from my dreams. The burden of fear still rested quite squarely on my stiff shoulders. I blinked and wondered what was causing my unease, when images from the nightmare began to replay themselves. They say you must try and recall your dreams in the first five minutes after waking or else they may be lost forever, and I did just that. But I regret doing so. I could have done with forgetting.

I am back on my middle school campus, a place I’ve not visited since…middle school. There is a pentagon-shaped building in the middle where we had our English classes (I had the great fortune of being taught by a sweaty obese woman I’ll call Frau Krau, who broke into sweat each time she walked across the room. “Is it hot?” she would say, a raspy lisped voice emitting from her thin, neon pink lips, “I’m so hot!” Of course she was hot; she weighed nearly 400 pounds. The rest of us chattered as she cranked up the air conditioning). Now, I have a science class in this building, taught inexplicably, by the Slavic Lit Professor I adored (and to some degree still do) back in college. What the heck is he doing teaching middle school science? It doesn’t matter, I am rushing to his class but for some reason am terribly late. There is an exam being administered and I miss it. By the time I arrive everyone has turned in their Scantrons (there’s a kind of paper I hope never to see again!) and the Professor is beginning a new lecture.

Rene Magritte The Schoolmaster, 1954        Oil on canvas, Geneva, Private Collection

I gulp. If the students notice me, they don’t show it and keep their eyes ahead on the blackboard. My professor has changed neither his style of dress (shabby) or his method of teaching (excited, lots of questions posed to blank-faced students) from his Berkeley days and is talking animatedly about neutrons. The blackboard is fuzzy; either I don’t understand the subject matter or I’m so anxious I can’t read it. The classroom air feels warm because – I look around – it’s completely packed. Every desk is occupied. The students seem solemn, they are taking notes. They look like they all did well on the exam. I want desperately to take a seat and pull out a fresh piece of paper and do the good student thing. But the exam! I stand awkwardly in the back of the room like a creepy auditor and wait for the Professor to reach a pause. Finally he assigns an in-class assignment and when the students (oddly robotic) have lowered their heads in unison, I shuffle towards him, embarrassed. He looks up as though pleasantly surprised that I have stood up (though of course I never even sat down), and listens patiently when I meekly ask if I can take the test now.

“Well, uh, let’s see.” He thinks about it. I search his face. He seems only mildly surprised that I missed the exam and asks no questions. So I ask myself. What was I doing? But my dream self does not know, she knows only that she is late and that the exam is quite important.

From a jumble of papers on his desk the Professor pulls out a Scantron and hands it to me.

“Here,” he says, then turns again to dig for the exam itself. My Professor remains even in dreams, remarkably unorganized. The bell rings as he continues his search. A stack of papers falls to the ground and I look around. Oddly, none of the students seem to notice. Silently, they stand and pack their things up. The professor seems to have lost the exam. Good God man, I want to cry, sweat forming on my brow, wasn’t the exam administered less than twenty-minutes ago?

“Ah,” he says finally, holding up a wrinkled sheet of paper, “Here you go.” And in a generous act of academic kindness, tells me to take the exam at home.

“You know what to do,” he says, implying that I will take it without cheating, “Just bring it back to me tomorrow.”

In the dream I am a cheater. I take the exam and fold it over the Scantron, thinking sadly, “What a trusting man.”


It is the next morning. Delays, delays. I am driving some car and trying to make a U-turn. For some reason I’ve driven straight past the school, but my car’s being difficult. I’m aware of a giant shadow cast over from the left and of the open road to the right, not unlike the 15 North through Baker. Whatever is casting the shadow, I can’t tell, but I concentrate on making the turn. I do not think about science or my professor, only that I want to make it to class on time because I was already late yesterday. Finally the wheel gives way and I lurch onto the road heading in the other direction, back to school. I park at a filled but silent lot. Grabbing my books I see the wrinkled exam and the crisp, untouched Scantron. I’ve forgotten to take the exam. 

Rene Magritte The Companions of Fear, 1942 Oil on canvas Brussels, B. Friedlander-Salik, V. Dwek-Salik Collection 

What follows is the cliche’d sinking feeling made heavier still by shame. The shame of knowing my professor had not only trusted me but also given me special treatment, allowed me to take the test at home. What the hell was I doing the night before that I could completely forget to do it? But again, my dream self has no recollection of the night before, only that she woke up late and then had a difficult drive to school. She doesn’t pay attention, doesn’t do her homework, is perpetually unprepared.

In this dream there are no real consequences, only the feeling that I might profoundly disappoint someone I respect and admire. I lay in bed for a while, trying not to give too much weight to this dream and its symbols. Or perhaps this time, what I see is what I get. A professor is a professor is a professor. An exam is an exam is an exam. But still, I’m affected. I was bothered in the dream. I am bothered now.

I clutch the exam and the Scantron and walk with heavy feat towards the pentagon. I stand at the gates of the pentagon and gaze through the open door of my science classroom. The more punctual students have taken their seats and are already copying down the day’s lessons, absorbing the Professor’s words. He’s wearing another one of his ugly threadbare sweatshirts and waves a piece of chalk in the air, trying to describe something. From where I stand, it could be anything – Nabokov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens – but it’s science. Stuff that’s going to be on the next test. If he looks up and out, he’d see me standing on the opposite end, the blank Scantron in my hand and despairing expression on my face, but he’s happily doing what he does best. He sees nothing but the good, punctual students before him.

And almost evilly, the dream doesn’t stop there. My subconscious allows me a few more steps, and I take them. I walk towards the open door, clutching the Scantron tighter and tighter as my brain winds up with variations of the lie I’m about to tell. What will I say? How will I deliver it? How can I win him back because surely, there’s no excuse for not completing a take-home exam already a day late. What was I doing the night before? What was I doing? I step into the classroom and this time, the Professor, seeing me, smiles.

I wake.

My Mother’s Nightmares


My father left the other day for a two week trip to Asia, not for business, but for fun with retired friends. He is the leader/tour guide, meticulously planning their itinerary from departure to return, in charge of booking all plane tickets and hotels and even drafting a list of must-eat restaurants in each destination: Taipei, Macau, Shanghai, and some province I’m not sure of.   Continue reading “My Mother’s Nightmares”