the tiger dream.

I have a recurring dream.

In it, a wild beast begins attacking a crowd of people around me. Instead of running, I toss myself into its path, stretching out a trembling hand and saying softly, calmly, ‘it’s okay.’ The beast, usually a tiger or lion, paces and pauses, its eyes locked with mine, breathing short and unsettled. ‘It’s okay.’

Sometimes, I wake up here. When I do, I find my body is tense, as though physically matching my mental effort to calm the beast. I drink in a deep breath and exhale.

Other times, in the midst of my gentle chiding, the beast lunges at me, fangs bared, bringing my body to the ground instantly. This waking is more startled, more afraid.

Some elements of the dream change every time: the setting, the ‘storyline’ leading me to this moment, the company I keep, the clarity of the ending. But each iteration, when it comes, has its constants: a wild and furious animal, a gut feeling that I can bring it to calm, and the terrible, eternal silence of waiting to see what happens.

Sometimes, I am mesmerized by the fact that we dream. In the dark, we surrender ourselves to rest, and our brains start carving out storylines on autopilot.

As a child, I was told we dream about the last thing we think about, and so I would try to drift off thinking about something specific. The Power Rangers, or The Fox and the Hound. I remember waking up at, six or seven, in the middle of a good dream, and trying desperately to resume. (It never worked.)

Then, at 25, I experienced my first true heartbreak. For months, my first boyfriend worked his way into my dreams, showing up and making me sad all over again. On those mornings, I stood in the shower longer, hoping the warm water might rinse the grief off of my limbs.

Once, I dreamed about getting together with an ex-boyfriend again. In the dream, I was so happy, but I felt a pang of sadness, too: When are you going to leave again? I tried to press on, happy, but my dream ex-boyfriend eventually changed temperatures. He yelled at me, ‘See, this is why I left, why are you like this?’ I woke up, startled and sad, and then picked up my phone, breaking a long silence:

Hey, I had a dream about you. I know you weren’t there, but it told me a lot about how I think of you. Can I call you to tell you about it?

He said yes, and so I called. I told him about the dream, and he told me he didn’t feel that way, that he didn’t want me to think of him that way. The conversation we shared was bare, kind, and healing. The kind of conversation I wasn’t sure we’d ever have.

This is, of course, a rarity. Most of my dreams aren’t so meaningful, and many I do not remember at all. But often I am curious what they might reveal about me. What am I carrying, in my day-to-day wanderings, that manifests in this nighttime storyline?

From what emotional soil, tended by me in my waking hours, does a wild and furious beast grow?

At a young age, my grandmother told me I was a ‘peacemaker.’ I’d never thought of myself this way, and so I reacted with surprise, but she went on to explain she had observed it many times: When we, as kids, broke into an argument or a fight, I often stepped up to resolve it. I wanted to be friends.

Sometimes, I think I find myself trusting inherently in this quality. If I were to find someone standing on a ledge, for example, I would immediately begin trying to build a bridge to them. When I am at odds with someone, when emotions are high and communication is off the rails, I can feel myself click into a mode: ‘Hey.’

This doesn’t always work out, though. I can’t sustain a bridge between two people, and I can’t always be the one building bridges. A relationship cannot be sustained on this alone.

Is this the tiger tearing through my dreams? Am I at odds with my own peace-bringing, and should I learn to let go of this? I don’t have a clear answer, just an idea of a quality that has brought my life more flowers than scars.

I think of my friends, the people I’ve chosen to keep in my life, and realize there’s a quality they all share: When I am furious, when I am lost and bewildered, they are there standing, arm outstretched, ‘it’s okay.’

And then, I discover, it is.


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