It starts somewhere in the middle. She’s being chased by Cookie Monster. No, not Cookie Monster, but something blue and vaguely fuzzy and Cookie Monster-like. Anyway, it’s strange. But wait. The whole getting-chased-by-this-Cookie Monster-like creature thing came later. What happened before that was she was grabbing lunch with her friend Stacy, but it was actually her high school friend Kim, who she knew from the theater but hasn’t seen in, like, seven years or thought of in five because Kim’s not even on Facebook so why would she? Anyway, they were at this shop and it morphed into this weird maze-like thing but with candles and maybe fondue? It’s unclear how the Cookie Monster got there. That’s the weird part.
I can describe my wife’s dreams — or her descriptions of them anyway — because she’s very vocal about her subconscious. She’ll spend a good 15 minutes giving me a guided tour of her misfiring cortex over coffee. None of it ever makes sense and it’s rarely as sexy as I would hope. Yet, I listen. Why? Because I love her and it’s an intimate thing. I’m sort of possessive of her dreams even though, let’s face it, no one really wants to hear anyone else talk about that shit.
Dreams are, by nature, surreal. Weird shit happens. The laws of physics don’t apply. Neither does traditional narrative structure. People appear and disappear. What were, at one point, dinosaurs transform into the dentist you had as a kid. It’s all pretty hard to understand and basically impossible to explain. “My mom was there but then the Styrofoam container of scallion pancakes she was eating ran away and we were in my study abroad dorm in Prague,” my wife might say. “What do you think that means?”
Not much. Probably something though. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that people want to talk about these things. My wife, who is people, seems particularly bent on it. And that’s okay. It’s my job to be there for it whether we’re digging into nightmares or meandering sex-fantasies involving the casts of mid-2000s USA dramas (Characters welcome!). These are, after all, deeply personal mental artifacts. These are, after all, a way in which we are laid bare.
Again, because they make no sense, dreams make lousy stories. And most people don’t want to listen to them. That’s fine, but it’s not cool to dismiss the world in which your spouse spends hours a day. It’s important to have a sense of that and perhaps even more important to take advantage of the dreamy occasion to refine your listening skills. Listening to someone’s dreams (and by listening, I mean really listening — no interrupting, no spacing out and saying ‘uh huh’, no phubbing) is an act of generosity. Because all a dreamer really wants after a confusing or creepy or juicy or funny slice of the subconscious is just tell someone about it.
It’s a nice thing to do even when it’s not fun. But it can get fun.
Now, being the listener is easier said than done. In the beginning, I hated listening to my wife retell her dreams (this is an occasional thing, she’s not some Mercury-is-in-retrograde-lets-see-how-our-dreams-play-into-that-obsessive). They had characters I knew nothing about and she felt the need to supply additional context that made the already rambling stories that much more rambly. She went on tangents. She became a storytelling ouroboros.
One particular morning, as she tried to explain a particularly moving dream she had, I ignored her, instead, mindlessly swiping through something on my phone instead. As I looked up, instead of simply being annoyed, she was wounded. Whatever she was saying meant something to her. She needed to tell me and I needed to listen. I was more careful after that. Gradually, I got to know the cast of characters. I got to know the themes. I still couldn’t tell you what the dreams mean, but I understand them in the context of my wife.
Have I grown to love being the sounding board for my wife’s subconscious? If I’m to be honest, no. I’d rather not speak to anyone or anything that’s not our Alexa before I’ve had a cup of coffee. But I want my wife to know that I care about what’s going on inside of her even when there aren’t big thought involved. There doesn’t need to be a conclusion or a narrative bow-tieing. This is more of a long-term project. Will it pay off? I don’t know. I don’t think Cookie Monster has a deep significance. That said, you never know.