I woke while drifting into oncoming traffic. My girlfriend hadn’t noticed. She was busy Instagramming a bag of Lay’s Biscuits and Gravy potato chips on her knees, or rather Instagramming her knees, for which the bag of chips was just the latest excuse. I had been asleep at the wheel long enough to have dreamed about the late local news team in Denver, Colorado. While in the street recording a promo bumper of the whole team grinning in sport coats, I dreamt the team had happened upon a breaking news story of their own. They heard crying coming from a blue mailbox on the street corner. Inside was swaddled newborn sucking on a postage stamp. In my dream there was an address written in block letters on the baby’s blankets, and in my dream, I felt a desire that it be addressed to me.
I weighed the pros and cons of telling my girlfriend this dream. While I did, I fell back asleep.
When I awoke again, I was dragging a chain link fence through one backyard after another, plowing through doghouses and tricycles, taking on nightgowns and bras pinned to clotheslines, flicking them away cleanly with my wipers. I had been asleep long enough to have another dream. I dreamt I was at the end of a single file line of very tired soldiers wading through a swamp. With both hands, the soldiers ahead of me held M1 Carbines above their heads as they walked. In the dream I held over my head a clear plastic dispenser filled with hand sanitizer.
Now my girlfriend was screaming for death to take her quickly. We bounced through a field and rolled into a culvert upside down. I asked my girlfriend if she was okay. I was made aware that I had asked it in that tone of voice she doesn’t like, which made it easy to go back to sleep.
The sound of potato chips being eaten woke me a third time. My girlfriend was hanging upside down from her seatbelt staring at me while eating. She had to clear away her skirt from her face before each bite.
“Can I tell you about the dream I had just now?” I asked.
“Are we going to die?” she answered. I watched her wrap her mouth around two chips at once and I began laughing. She made a sour face, which only made me laugh harder. Eventually she started laughing as well, and blasted chip spittle all over the both of us. The tension lifted, and we knew we would survive.
This third dream made sense of the first two. While it was dense, twisted and opaque, I knew that by retelling it while it was still fresh in my mind, the pieces would come together and give me ownership of a way forward, and that it would begin to heal us both.
“Tell me your dream after you taste this,” she said. “Here. What do you think? You know—for the blog post.”
I smelled the chip. It smelled nothing like biscuits and gravy. It reminded me of what my hand smelled like after spending ten minutes fishing a nail out of the garbage disposal. I tasted the chip. Underneath the sadness, it tasted like a Lay’s Potato chip. I tasted another and another. And then it caught up to me like a flurry of battling cat claws inside my mouth—an onslaught of fleeting chemical scratches. What is sausage gravy? It is spices and flour and water. My mouth felt parched, raw, with hints of asphalt and jet fuel. My tongue felt like the surface of an aircraft carrier.
“So, this dream,” I said. We heard sirens in the distance. “So this dream,” I said again. My thoughts turned to the ambulance, which would be here soon. I anticipated being laid out on a stretcher, if only for a chance to close my eyes and finally rest. “So this dream,” I said a third time, but by then had forgotten it entirely.