At least a few times a week for the last who knows how long, I have had the same dream that made my heart buck in my chest and my pillow dampen with sweat. It started off with me having to be somewhere. On the way, I'd lose my purse with my money, cell phone and even the address of where I was headed. When I tried to stop people for assistance, they didn't hear me or see me. The only ones who did were dead.
Once, I recognized Anna Karenina. I chased after her and told her that I lost my purse.
"Don't bother me," she said with a Russian accent, tears streaking her beautiful face. "I have to catch a train."
I hoped it wasn't her last.
I ran into Gogol once. He answered my plea for help with one of his own.
"Have you seen my overcoat?" he asked.
Often, I ran into my dead mother. She was wearing her feathered gendarme hat and her special occasion silk jungle print dress.
"Mom, help me get home," I said.
"I can't find my car," she said, and disappeared.
I wouldn't need yet another therapist to tell me what this nightmare means. My mother had dementia. She would call me crying that she had no shoes. When I got to her apartment, it was strewn with shoes, but she was out somewhere, wandering, lost. Every time I forget something, I shudder, sure it's the first sign of dementia. The other part of this dream, the Russian references, has to do with my father, who survived a pogrom in his Russian village when the Cossacks galloped in with their sabers and their cry of "Kill the Jews!" Five of my father's brothers were murdered in that pogrom. Each night of my childhood, he would shout out their names in his sleep. He lived in such fear of being sent back to Russia that in the census of 1940, he would only admit to coming from the Bronx, where he had settled when he first arrived. He kept cash beneath his mattress, in the rafters of our basement and in coffee cans hidden in the back of our linen closet in case we had to escape the country.
I went to therapy, hypnosis, meditated and recited affirmations, but still, I woke up with a ragged throat, fuzzy-brained, nerves misfiring. Wherever I went, even a friend's house, I'd keep my purse in my lap, sometimes with the shoulder strap tightly wound around my wrist. Because I was so exhausted from my nightmare, I really did lose things -- keys, important receipts, my cell phone and even a big Montel Williams Health Master, which I left in a shopping cart and drove away.
When I drove back, the Health Master was gone. With each item I lost, my dementia anxiety would get hold of me, becoming a daymare that haunted me like a ghost.
Five years ago, it was my husband who woke up in the middle of the night shaking and sweating. "Lion!" he shouted. "The lion."
I knew what he must have dreamt about. When he was 4 years old, his father, in compensation for the birth of my husband's younger brother, took my husband to the circus. He bought front row seats. Unfortunately, the lion chewed off the arm of the lion tamer and my husband began to have nightmares. He lost weight and went from being spunky to trembling and whiny. My in-laws took him to the renowned Alfred Adler, not because he was famous, but because he was the first psychiatrist listed in the yellow pages. Dr. Adler met my husband and assured his parents that it would pass, and it did, only to rear up when he was facing some business stresses. A few nights of this and it was over.