Sitting in the Huey, three of us sat on the seat looking forward. To the left side there was a gunner and a crew chief on the right manning M-60 machine guns that hung from bungees. The side doors were fully open, giving us all a view of the thick foliage below. The noise of the turbine and the air rushing through the cabin was loud enough that no one was talking, trying to compete with the din. The gunner on my right suddenly rocked back so that his aviation helmet smacked against the wall violently before the guy flopped over forward, bent at the waist. His safety strap held him from falling but it didn’t matter. Blood was gushing from inside his helmet and getting caught in the air as a pink mist that washed over the interior of the aircraft, speckling us with red droplets of the guys blood. Someone screamed “incoming!” and then it was like everything reset. The same event repeated itself. And then again. And again.
I was dreaming and I told this to the guy next to me in the chopper. “Watch.” I said. “He’s going to get killed again.” And the scene repeated. “See? I told you. We’re in a dream.” The soldier nodded but didn’t speak. No one ever spoke in the dream except me. I had seen this dream so many times I knew it by heart, like a favorite movie scene. Sometimes I speak and other times I don’t. The wierd thing is, it’s not a memory. I never witnessed this set of events, except in my dream. Yet, as I have the dream, it’s like I’m remembering it. In reality, even though I don’t know the other guys in the helicopter, in the dream I do. When I wake up I’m always cold, even though I’m sweating like a pig. I never wake from it with a start, I always just become aware that I’m awake and have been dreaming. I don’t know why I dream of people I don’t know in a situation that never took place. I don’t know why I feel so unaffected, seeing the dream and waking from it isn’t a frightening kind of thing. Seeing it has the same emotional impact as looking out a window and seeing trees move in the wind.
I have other dreams. Some are more and some less grotesque. Some of them scare the crap out of me and others just happen. Sometimes the dreams are repeats of things I saw, but mostly they aren’t. They’re stories that my mind invents for reasons I don’t know or understand. In some of them, some of the most frightening ones, it’s not that I experience anything awful. It’s like there’s the threat of something awful. In the scariest ones, I never see or even know what it is that is so scary or threatening. Some of the bad dreams I have don’t have anything to do with the war. In a lot of those, something has me unable to act, and that’s part of what’s so terrible. Family or friends will get harmed or threatened by something and I can’t move. I waken from these dreams in a sort of paralysis. It takes a minute of two for me to be able to move my limbs and this itself is pretty damn spooky. When I wake from those and get control of myself I have to go look through the house to make sure everything’s okay.
It’s not like I have these lousy dreams all the time. There are times I will have a few days in a row where I get them, but then I might go weeks before I have another. Months, sometimes. So it’s not like I’m continually tortured or fearful of going to sleep. They’re just dreams that happen. Wierder yet, there are sometimes I have a dream and part of the dream is that it’s recurring. I dream that I have had the dream many times. Yet thinking about it awake again, I realize I’ve never had it before. What warped part of my psyche conjures this stuff up, and why does it do it?
When I was little I had bad dreams every now and then. Some of them are really funny in retrospect. A familiar theme was diving into a hole to get away from some unseen monster and pulling the hole in behind me. I would wait in the dark void, hearing the footsteps of the monster. I’d wake up shaken and crying, often finding my mom there telling me everything was okay. Or my dad, asking why the hell I had to wake everybody up over a stupid dream. A family story hs me dreaming of spiders and refusing to stop yelling until all of the lights were turned on and I could see there were no spiders anywhere. I think I was five or six when it happened.
We all have bad dreams, and I think I had no more or less than my share as a kid. Since the war the dreams happen with greater frequency –but like I said, it’s not every night or so common that it’s a problem. The thing is, I wonder why people have bad dreams at all. What possible purpose could they have? What sick bastard thing in us is so sadistic that it needs to scare the living crap out of us? I’ve never found any of the explanations or surmisings about dreams, good or bad, to be satisfying. Instead, those who try to explain them always sound like they’re making stuff up to protect their egos from having to say “Beats the hell out of me. I don’t know.”
Dreams for me, while they may be discomforting, aren’t a big problem. But there are others who suffer these same kinds of dreams, and worse, who are profoundly disabled by them. They are relentless in disturbing sleep and causing personal questions of value and purpose. While I experience my dreams and move along, I have tremendous empathy for those who are caught in the quagmire of horrendous chronic nighttime horrors. The dreams I do experience give me an idea of what it might be like to be plagued consistently by nightmares. I think I’d have a whole different attitude about my bad dreams if they happened to me over and over again, every single night.
My dreams weren’t begun by my going to war. But they were increased in number and took on a recognizable theme. All of us have some masochistic aspect that gives us all nightmares, but it’s amazing just how amplified that aspect of ourselves is after we got to war.