“Timmy is very much a dreamer.” That’s what Mrs. Wharton wrote on my fifth grade report card.
My grade school teachers were often angry with me for not answering them in class when they called on me. I was, as the report card said, daydreaming. In fact, I distinctly remember the one time I did answer a question in class. It was a very momentous event for me. My first grade teacher asked who the president was as everyone sat in silence. My household had been following the current scandal and I somehow knew the answer. I raised my hand thinking it must be a trick. How could nobody know
“Nixon?” I answered correctly
I vaguely knew that Nixon had been involved in some sort of break in, but also believed that he and Ed Sullivan were the same person as I thought they looked very similar. Crook, president and entertainer! How did he find the time?
Dreamy, mysterious images especially drew me in and fascinated me. It was during this time that the Zapruder film was often examined on news shows while men with big hair and leisure suits proposed conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination. The Zapruder film was a nightmare blurred by the chaos of the events it captured. I couldn’t look away. Likewise, the Patterson film was a hazy dreamscape I watched every chance I had. This was in the days way before YouTube. You saw the Patterson film once a year at most when a special would be shown about U.F.O.s, the Loch Ness Monster and of course, Bigfoot.
It wasn’t until seventh grade that I realized there were other dreamers in the world. It was then that a teacher gave me a book of short stories by Ray Bradbury and I knew there were kindred spirits out there. I’m not saying I’m a dreamer on his level, I’m just saying that after reading some of his stories, I knew there were people out there who got paid to write down their fantastic day dreams.
Nocturnal dreams have never brought me anything but haunted, empty confusion at best. Granted some are obvious, like dreaming about Ed Sullivan only to wake up and find that the story on your radio alarm clock is about Richard Nixon. But most of the time, dreams are a mess of undecipherable images and storylines. Much like an early David Lynch film.
Most of my dreams during the age of five to ten were pretty much about being able to fly mixed with trying to outrun monsters. Of course when monsters chased you in dreams, your legs felt as if they were stuck in molasses. Monsters pursued me so much in my dreams that I had, as early as age 6 or so, learned how to wake myself up. I vividly remember learning this in a dream where I was in fact Spider-Man and had been captured by the Lizard. (The Lizard is a human-sized alligator for those who don’t know). The Lizard threatened to bit my head offm so I somehow forced myself awake rather than suffer such an unimaginable horror. I made sure not to cry or complain about that dream for fear my parents would prevent me from seeing my favorite animated television show, Spider-Man. This was the 1960’s cartoon that eventually got taken off the air due to complaints it was too violent for children. Ah well. I still had the Zapruder film.
My family told me I would sleep walk into the living room some nights, interrupting Johnny Carson with my own unintelligible sleep-monologue before returning to bed. The only time I knew of my sleepwalking was the time I woke up on the front yard of my uncle’s house in Mississippi. What woke me was the large truck speeding down the road I was headed for. I never told my parents I could have been killed while sleep hitchhiking. I wasn’t sure how you explained something like that to your parents.
During junior high I would wake up every night around 3 am for reasons unknown to me. Or I would do a bit of sleep dressing as if it were time for school. Once I awoke from a dream where I had been trying to put my pants on for what seemed like a half hour only to find I was trying to put on my sheets. I went to school wearing my Hulk pajama top that morning due to being so tired. I should make it clear that I didn’t want Hulk pajamas, some family member saw that I read comics and seemed to think I would want to risk ridicule and alienation from friends by even owning such a thing. That was a rough day.
College was a mostly sleepless time and not noteworthy for me, dream-wise. But in the huge college library I stumbled on something I never saw before: The Warren Commission Report on the Kennedy assassination. It was huge and full of diagrams and what I believe were photos. I couldn’t help but flip through it with all the details and bullet trajectories of that blurry 8 mm film laid out for me. It was full of vivid nightmares. I saw it there on the shelf of the library most every time I visited, but I never touched it again.
Years later, while traveling in Europe, I mysteriously started having recurring dreams that there was a small animal in bed with me. During the night this seemed alarmingly real, but in the morning I knew it was just a silly dream. In a youth hostel in Britain I awoke thinking a rat was in bed with me. Waking my traveling companion in the bunk above to help me look for it, we searched for 15 minutes or so before I realized there was no rat.
During the nineties, Nixon died, making me feel old, and the Patterson film remained blurry and unresolved even though I accepted long ago that it was a fake. While taking creative writing classes, I began to keep a dream diary, noting a great number of dreams about working on houses or neighbors working on houses. In all of these, I would find someone had fallen from a ladder to his or her death or that they had been electrocuted working on the wiring. The meaning behind these house dreams are still particularly mysterious and vague to me.
My therapist at the time told me it was disturbing that I was seeing violent deaths in my dreams so often. “For you or for me?” I asked her.
Tim Hamilton is an artist who has adapted Treasure Island and, most recently, Fahrenheit 451 into graphic novels.