42: Hopes and Dreams

42: Hopes and Dreams

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Hopes and Dreams

New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.

~Lao Tzu

I bolted upright in bed, tugging at the sweat soaked T-shirt that clung to my heaving chest. Every hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I blinked and rubbed my tear stained eyes as I frantically reached out for my husband, who was snoozing beside me.

“Are you okay?” Todd asked groggily, placing his hand on my shoulder. “You were clearly having a nightmare.”

I touched my face. My cheeks were wet with tears.

“It was so strange,” I mumbled. “I dreamt that I was living back in Indiana . . . with my parents.”

Todd chuckled. “No wonder that freaked you out. I know how much you love living here.”

He was right. After Todd and I graduated from college, we got married and moved south so he could pursue a doctoral degree from Florida State University. I promptly fell in love with our new life in the Sunshine State — the palm trees, eternal warmth, and blue skies. The fire ants and cockroaches I could do without, but everything else was an utter dream. I loved my job. My friends. My neighbors. My church.

That’s partly why this dream had me so rattled. My trembling hand squeezed Todd’s, and I said, “It wasn’t just about living with Mom and Dad. I woke up with a profound sadness in my heart.” I hesitated. “I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. Something just felt ominous.”

“Well, you can relax,” Todd said. “It wasn’t real.”

“But it seemed so real,” I muttered breathlessly. “In the dream, I was lying in bed, sobbing uncontrollably.”

“Well, don’t worry,” Todd said, as he readjusted his pillow and rolled to face the other way. “We’re not going anywhere.”

“You promise?” I asked. I had never been so desperate for reassurance in all my life.

“Yes, I promise,” he said.

And just like that, the bizarre but vivid dream started to fade from my memory. Years passed, and I never had another one that affected me so deeply. In fact, most nights I slept like a baby and awoke feeling rested. It was the days that wore me out, especially as Todd progressed in the stressful doctoral program.

Graduate school took a toll on our marriage as Todd immersed himself in classes, study groups, dissertation work, and mega amounts of research. Thankfully, I managed to get pregnant after eight years of marriage. The pregnancy gave me something wonderful to focus on.

“I’m so excited to become a parent,” I told my mom one day. “But I must admit that I’m worried Todd won’t be a hands-on dad. How could he be? He’s never around.”

“I’m sure it’ll get better when he earns his degree,” Mom said. “He’ll have more time for you and the baby then.”

I hoped she was right. As it was now, communication between me and Todd was pretty much nonexistent. So was our joy.

Once our son was born, I was elated, but I was also sleep deprived and overwhelmed. Todd didn’t have time to help take care of the baby because he was so wrapped up in post-graduate responsibilities. We rarely spent time together as a family or as a couple, so we continued to grow farther apart. On top of it all, graduate school had transformed Todd into a hypercritical person. He had been taught to overanalyze everything he touched, and that bled into his family life.

When he came home at night, he snapped at me if the house wasn’t picked up or I’d folded the towels the wrong way. If I pulled too far into the garage or the yogurt was placed on the wrong shelf of the refrigerator, he let me know. As a result, every night when I heard the garage door go up, my body tensed, and my stomach knotted. What would I get into trouble for today? The constant turmoil in my heart was shriveling up my soul.

Every night for a solid eighteen months, I said the same prayer. “Please, Lord,” I asked. “Lead me to whatever path I’m meant to be on. Help me find my way back to happiness.”

I didn’t know when an answer would come. All I knew was that despite being married, I felt very much alone. I took my baby to the park, gym, library, zoo, or grocery store, but Todd never joined us. People at church assumed I was a single mother. Six months later, they were right.

Todd and I divorced, and I moved in with my parents. It was a whirlwind. I spent weeks packing, moving, filing paperwork, and job hunting, all while taking care of my son. I had little time to process the many changes in my life. Then, one Friday night, I collapsed into bed, dog-tired but wide awake.

A roar of anger shot through me, and I sat up in bed, hurling pillows across the room as hard and as fast as I could. I screamed and cried — that kind of ugly, guttural, uncontrollable cry that’s reserved for childbirth. In between sobs, I shouted, “I can’t believe this is my life!” The harsh words echoed on the bare walls and bounced back to me like a boomerang.

I felt like a loser. I had emancipated myself from my parents in my twenties when I built a career for myself in Florida — and a nice house, to boot. Now here I was, thirty-four years old and living back home with my parents and my kid — like some sort of lame high school dropout.

Exhausted and emotionally spent, I fell back onto the mattress, now devoid of pillows, and stared blankly at the ceiling through swollen, burning eyes. Finally, my heavy eyelids fluttered shut.

In the stillness, I could hear my shallow breath and feel my steady heartbeat. Then, as if I were struck by lightning, my eyes popped open, and I clutched my chest and gasped. My heart started racing as I realized that this was my dream from three years earlier — the one that frightened me so.

It was like déjàvu with a twist. I had dreamt about this very night, and now I was living it. This was the moment I so feared, but now that I was in the thick of this reality, it wasn’t so frightening. Suddenly, my panic vanished, and a sense of calm washed over me. The premonition proved that I could survive that which I feared the most and still come out on the other side.

I wasn’t a loser. I was a survivor. A strong one at that.

I walked across the room to gather my pillows. I tossed them back on the bed and crawled under the covers, eager to tap into my subconscious mind. Perhaps tonight’s dream would give me another glimpse into the future — a future filled with uncertainty, yes, but mostly hope.

~Christy Heitger-Ewing

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