malaria nights

April 30, 2005

Once I read that having Malaria as a child leaves one plagued later in life by recurring dreams. Do my repeated bouts of the feverish illness explain my later childhood years of frightful nightmares? Perhaps. I am more inclined to suspect that my own dark and brooding dreams were due more so to a childhood marred by pain and to a nature prone to dwelling on the same.
Like the night I spent imagining my father’s gasping last breaths, other solitary mental images and nightmares of my young mind claim a strangely predominant position in my memories of childhood.
In the years following my father’s death, I spent nights fearing the image that would no doubt appear, unbidden, once my waking guard was weakened by the stealthy grip of sleep.
The dreams would always begin innocuously, with the exciting certainty that I was to be with Daddy again, that perhaps he was not really dead. Or that, even if he really was, I would at least get to spend the span of the dream with him again. But each time, once my dreaming awareness progressed beyond the initial excitement, my heart thudded with the sickening realization that this was not my Daddy. And sometimes with the even more sickening one that it was him.
Each night, you see, he was altered somehow, deformed beyond recognition. I only wished that I were not so certain that it was still him. There was some deep knowledge that it was him, but nothing remained of the Daddy I loved.
In one dream he appeared in the form of a tiny dwarf, with exaggerated features and the head of a grown man but features and mannerisms of a child. That night he approached me cheerfully, awkwardly but speedily coming to greet me. And I ran, horrified more by the prospect of encountering him than I had ever been cheered at the idea of a reunion.
Another night he was not changed so much physically as he was estranged emotionally. He was an adult, and I knew it was him even though I couldn’t place his features into any recognizable form. I was terrified that I had forgotten what he looked like, as I often was in my waking hours, when I would seek out photos to memorize, in case I was losing my own mental images of his face, of his form. At any rate, in this dream he simply passed by me, engaged by his companions, ignoring me. He even looked at me directly, as if he knew who I was, but did not care in the slightest.

There were more, along the same vein of a recognizably him but strangely altered Daddy. I grew accustomed to my vivid dream life—so accustomed that it never occurred to me that it was anything worth coming out of my own head. Now I wonder how common that is, for children. And I remain fascinated by, and still slightly frightened by, the lapsing into the untamed, unpredictable territories of the sleeping mind . . .

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