This flashback was one of the early offering on my blog in 2019.
It was a Friday evening in the summer. Four or five of us were sitting on the porch, drinking beer, smoking, watching the nighthawks diving for insects, and telling tales. David, my friend from grad school, was there, Tom, myself and Tom’s brother Jim.
David had told us about an awful recurring dream that many grad students have; You are writing an exam. The answers you write disappear as you finish writing them. Among agreeing laughs, we all admitted to having had that dream or one like it at one time or the other. This started the flow of conversation for the evening as we pulled out our catalog of recurring dreams.
Mine was actually a second-hand memory from my father. At age nine, my father gifted me with the story of how he had survived the sinking of a tanker. One of the few times he ever spoke to me regarding his wartime experiences in the Merchant Marine. The tale was so vivid that it left an indelible imprint on my memory that sometimes played back like a dream. That evening I shared that with my friends.
Then Tom spoke up: ” I remember when I was a little kid having a dream in which a freight train was coming down the tracks, coming right for me, and I couldn’t get away. The train just kept on coming. The train had a gigantic headlight, and it kept on getting bigger and bigger. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get away from it. Eventually, I’d wake up in a sweat and couldn’t get back to sleep. I still have that dream sometimes. My analyst used to say that it was about my anxieties over my life being out of control.”
We all commented on this being one hell of a scary dream that we’d prefer not to have. Through all this, Jim had remained silent. Then we heard a quiet:
“Tom? I’m sorry. That wasn’t a dream. When I was just a little kid, I always wondered where your eyes go when you sleep. So, I used to sneak into your room with Dad’s big flashlight after you were asleep. I’d hold your eyes open and shine the light on them. If you moved around too much, I’d sit on you. After a while, I lost interest in doing it, but I never dreamed that you were aware of what I was doing.
I’m really sorry.”
The silence on that porch was deep and undisturbed for a long while. Finally, out of the dark, we heard Tom exclaim: “you son of a…..”