I have several recurring dreams — er, nightmares. Except for the one in which I’m forced to urinate in front of a bunch of strangers (don’t ask), each of them revolves around a different house.
The first house resembles my family’s house in the small yet bourgeois-y town of Griffin, Georgia. The house was beautiful: a charming blue A-frame with a loft overlooking the living room, a grand kitchen with goldenrod walls, a large master bedroom with two walk-in closets, a powder room, and lots of natural light throughout. It was a luxurious home for sure, the epitome of the upper middle-class homes — before the Great Recession, anyway.
My room had a split-level baseboard and wallpaper with wrenches and hammers. I endured that design atrocity for years and made many attempts to distract from the boyish wallpaper with posters of my favorite movies and teen heartthrobs. We finally made over the room with an oceanic look, using a literal sea sponge to dab white swirls onto the stunning blue walls. Not long after that, we had to move.
I dream about this house often. It stays the same in my memory, but in my nightmares, it hosts a terrifying array of monsters. Not the fanged type, but rather the monsters that were born in me when I lived in that house.
During my time in that beautiful house, I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and chronic depression. I’ll never forget gazing up at my bedroom’s vaulted ceiling and feeling like the world was collapsing on me. Years before, I’d tossed one of those roll-down-the-wall sticky toys up too high, and it stuck to the ceiling. We were never able to get it down. It stayed there, mocking me.
In my dreams, the house appears whenever my mental illness rears its hideous head yet again. Sometimes, it’s the site of a pandemic or alien invasion, and when I wake, I remember telling my mother that I felt infected by my OCD or that an alien had wormed its way into my body.
I also dream about my uncle’s lavish houses. He won the lottery jackpot years ago and rode its coattails for years. He set up a tax-haven house in Florida and a summer home in rural New York State. As my family slid down the ever-widening gap between the middle and upper classes, my uncle gladly embraced the bootstrap mentality as a reason for his “success.” If only we could all work harder to be like someone who scratched a bit of gold paint off a bit of paper.
His grandiose homes frequently appear in my nightmares, especially one of his custom-built homes with a huge kitchen. As I dream, it becomes a funhouse, distorting and stretching beyond accessibility. The grand staircase lengthens into one of comical proportions, as new rooms and levels appear with alarming speed. The kitchen becomes too big to use, with five or six different stoves, sinks, and fridges. In my nightmares, I’m struggling to manage the kitchen and am met with spoiling or burning food wherever I go.
My uncle’s houses became the venue of the nightmares in which I work through my own pressures. I work 80 hours a week and I have three degrees — why am I not wealthy enough to have a house with a five-sink kitchen? These nightmares affirm the futility of my hard work.
The third house is a place that I’ve never been in real life, but it’s so well defined by this point that it may as well be. I return to this place in my dreams as I ponder my mortality. The house is the grandest of all my “dream” homes…it has multiple stories, and many of its expansive rooms have multiple levels. The grand staircase is studded with cubbies and small rooms. The bathrooms are enormous and interlinked, with multiple showers. I often discover new rooms filled with forgotten things. The house is frankly ridiculous: Even the royals don’t have mansions like this.
My visits to this home are terrifying. They may start off as a good dream, in which I discover a forgotten ballet room or extra bedroom that I needed. But then the pressure comes down on me: Yet another room to clean, set up, maintain. And often, it fades away as I lose it in the ever-expanding maze of rooms.
This last house represents my life. With each year that passes, a new room appears — then is obliterated by some outside force. My subconscious seems determined to remind me of my failures with each of these dreams in which I helplessly watch my rooms fade as fast as new ones appear. Rather than growing into a place of wonder, the house becomes one of despair.
With each growing room, I’m stuck in a new place.
I’m 34, and my life hasn’t gone how I planned. I guess that’s a luxury that exceeds even the most lavish houses, to have your life follow your goals. No curveballs, no surprises: just the itinerary you planned.
That won’t be me. I have no idea what my life will hold even a year from now. That’s why my “dream home” keeps growing without check.
I’m reminded of Edward Bloom in Big Fish, who knew only how he was going to die, but nothing that was in store for his life. The knowledge of where he going was how he crafted his journey. Most of us don’t know the end goal, and so we flail and scream into the void, unable to appreciate what we have until it’s gone.
It’s interesting that we call our aspirations “dreams,” when dreams themselves have nothing to offer besides reflection. Our dreams cannot predict the future — in fact, they’re quite stuck in the past. My wildest imaginings either take me back to the places I’ve been or show me a terrifying vision.
That’s why I hate dreaming, in either sense of the word. I’ve learned to toss my plans out the window and say “Carpe diem to hell with it.” At the same time, I think my dreams — er, nightmares — are telling me something. Perhaps I don’t know how my journey will end. But I can guess. And like Edward Bloom, I can craft something that just might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But first, I have to wake up.
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