What You Cannot See

Do you ever have dreams in which you are suddenly woken up and the remnants are still clear in your mind? They have not had time to fade, possibly, and the valid points of reference are still there in sharp relief. Somewhat painfully so.

That happened this morning when Charlie’s coughing abruptly woke me up. I have trained myself to wake up when he’s having these coughing bouts in case he needs medication.

Apparently I was in the midst of a dream that both clarified things in my mind and troubled me at the same time.

It was about my first husband, who was 13 years my senior. I met him when he was my psychology teacher in college. At that time my daughter was 2 years old.

Her biological father had let me down in the worst of ways, had walked away when I needed him most. And I felt that I brought a child into the world that would suffer the lack of a father as I did. And I just couldn’t let that happen.

I told myself I loved him, and possibly I did. But I was also on a mission to find an educated man (I had known too many ignorant men) who would dote on her.

It just so happened he had been married before, and during that time they had adopted a little boy just about my daughter’s age. He was blond and blue-eyed, just like her.

Then out of the blue a biological father stepped forward and said he did not sign off on the adoption and wanted his rights reinstated. And poof, the boy was snatched from them. It traumatized both of them and eventually broke up the marriage.

So I suppose seeing my daughter awoke those painful memories, and he immediately took to doting on her. This of course sealed the deal for me. I’d found her a proper father.

And the icing on the cake was that his mother had no grandchildren and doted on her too.

We married and about a year later had a second daughter.

I quickly found that I didn’t really want him in the way a woman should want a husband.

In the dream, somehow I too was his daughter, oddly so. And I looked like my daughter. It was as though I was living in her skin. Right through her.

I had acted out and done him wrong a number of times, testing him. To see if he would leave of course, which a father is not supposed to do. And eventually he did. He wanted a wife, not another child. And I guess that was what I’d become in many ways.

I fought him vociferously to keep him from leaving us. While at the same time, I no longer really wanted him. But someone leaving was someone leaving. And I’d been left too many times in my early years when I most needed continuity of care.

This was all fleshed out in the dream, starkly so. Kind of thrown in my face where I could no longer deny it.

Someone wise once told me that if you miss crucial stepping stones in your childhood development, you don’t merely pass them by. In some ways you stay stuck at that point. You do not pass go and collect two hundred dollars.

Years pass and a part of you is still in that phase of development, waiting to have that need met.

I suppose I got stuck there, because the refrain played out time and time again down the line. Popped right back up like a stubborn weed that you cannot rid yourself of.

I wonder if, at six weeks of age, when my parents left, if my brain had memory? If I knew the sound of their voices? And then, was I aware that the voices disappeared?

I wonder if this need to be fathered stayed in me, germinating like a seed?

I was a bit disturbed by the lucidity of this dream. Because it must mean that I did not have the right intentions. Well, I suppose I did for the sake of my daughter. But I was also trying to fill a need in me.

My brain has done a pretty good job of protecting me during my lifetime. It has at times poked through the membranes of my conscious memory and jerked me to a safe quiet place where I could exist without triggered memories forming.

If you Google “can you see without light”, you will read that there are no creatures that can see without at least some light. That in order for an image to be seen, light must be sensed by the eye’s retina, which then chemically converts light into electrical impulses.

Then the brain interprets the images. In the complete absence of light, this cannot happen.

Maybe that not-quite-awake feeling when the remnants of a dream are still unfolding is like losing the light. Your brain interrupts consciousness, and then the whole thing unravels like a ball of yarn.

And though the vestiges of what you recall might be bothersome, the light of that dream will fade. As all things do when exposed to the passing of time.


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  1. This is so interesting. I have no idea if your 6 week old self knew she was being abandoned but certainly as you aged you realized it. You have made a great life for yourself and raised two wonderful daughters through much hardship so you should be proud of that.

  2. Hi Brenda. You’ve done an excellent job at presenting a complex account in a simple way that doesn’t get bogged down with the details. Yes, I do have wake up with snippets of dreams in my head and I sometimes wonder why am I dreaming about that issue again. Just this morning, my husband and I woke up and he said, “I was having a bad dream.” I said, “So was I!” He had been dreaming about how his adult son keeps such an emotional and geographical distance from family members. I was dreaming about how unhealthy my adult daughter was before she died. We know about these issues, but we hadn’t expected to be focused on them as we started this new day. But we know we will indeed be thinking of these issues as the day progresses. Dreams have a way of hanging around on the edges of our minds all day!

    Whenever you write about your dreams, or give an account of your past, I always can find something that relates to an experience in my own life. In this account, I can identify with your efforts to find a new father figure for your daughter. After my divorce from my first husband, I really wanted to find a new father figure for my two children. Their dad was involved in their life, he saw them regularly, but he is an emotionally distant person and I wished so much I could find someone to be more comfortable with loving my children. But all the men I dated proved to be real losers who didn’t want a thing to do with my kids, so thank goodness I didn’t marry one of them. I finally had to tell myself, “Your kids have a dad already, so just accept it and quit dating these idiots.” When I finally did meet my second husband, a lot of years had gone by and my kids and his son weren’t little anymore, so, none of us looked at the situation as them getting a new dad or new mom. We’ve all gotten along, thank goodness — we’ve had a lot of issues to deal with, but problems between kids and step-parents hasn’t been one of them.

    The other thing you brought up that I found to be relatable is when you talk about testing your ex-husband. I think that my second husband and I both were tested by our first spouses. I just never thought of it as testing until I read this post. So, it’s been really helpful to read your explanation of your behavior with your ex-husband, because it definitely gives me a new way to look at things that we experienced with our first spouses. We know that they had behaviors that were not a bit helpful to the relationships, and we know they had grown up in dysfunctional households. But, it hasn’t occurred to us to think that they were testing us to see if we would abandon them as they might have felt abandoned. I think that there could be something to it. Our first spouses grew up in much more prosperous circumstances than we did, but they both had at least one parent that was abusive, and a lot of other nuttiness went on. So maybe they did feel abandoned emotionally by these parents. It definitely is a new way to look at what we went through with them. Neither of our ex-spouses has had a successful long-term relationship with anyone else since we were with them, and meanwhile my second husband and I have been together for 20 years, 14 of it being marriage. So, I guess our ex-spouses never found anyone that they felt like they could trust, perhaps. Anyway, I do appreciate it that you were so open about your past as a way for readers to understand you more, and to perhaps understand our own lives better as well. Thank you.

  3. This is one of your best posts ever, reflective and insightful. You are wise and have so much to share with other women.

  4. I had a very disturbing dream this morning right before I woke up. It brought back some painful things, but it also helped to clarify something. I try not to dwell on dreams, but let them sift through my mind and then move on. xo Laura

  5. Have I experienced some similar type dreams, as to the mind working out problems in sleep and if awakened, then can remember? Yes I have. Maybe it is not uncommon among those of us who had difficult childhoods especially…

  6. Acknowledging one’s own imperfections is, maybe, the most difficult thing a person can ever do, but a necessary step to growing both personally and spiritually. Dreams often help us do that, when we have the courage to face what they’re trying to tell us. It’s not always easy! You have been very brave, facing truths about your past. Some people can never do it, some people can, but at different stages of their life. Personally, I think that as we get older, we do acquire a certain amount of wisdom that comes with experience, whether they were good experiences or not. And we begin to face things and be really – sometimes maybe scarily – truthful with ourselves, a necessary step to let go of the past and to grow into the future. Perhaps you triggered this process in yourself in creating your “zen” space and opening up to more experimentation and freedom in adapting “boho” to your own wants and needs. All good things!

  7. When in doubt try this: Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference. Thank you for sharing your deepest hurts with us. We are all connected by our suffering and our joys. It’s called compassion and love. . I wish you more joy.

    1. Dreams can be so powerful-sometimes in impetus to move forward with something we have been avoiding. I know you had some traumatic years but it has also helped form the person you are today…and that’s not so bad, is it?

  8. You know Brenda sometimes dreams aren’t about the actual thing we are witnessing in our sleep. Sometimes they are messages about something so different than what the images or the story it is telling. I think it could be letting your subconscious come up and let a burden being buried there go. Very interesting dream and I love always to read your great writing.
    Happy Sunday.

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