The Dream Doctor

by Terran J. Boylan


"Good evening, fellow dreamers. My name is Doctor Jeffrey Thomas and I am... The Dream Doctor. For the next hour I'll be your guide on a journey into the unknown. This is a live call-in show and I hope some of you out there in our viewing area will give me a call tonight at 555-8062 as we work together to probe the mysteries of the unconscious mind."

It's the same patter I give every week, but what the hell. If something works, keep using it, that's my motto. The format of my show hasn't changed substantially in the last five years. I change the set occasionally to keep things interesting for my audience. This year I'm going for a minimalist look: No plants, no coffee table, no props. Just a black leather chair, a dark red curtain in the background, and me.

Lori's sweet young face pokes out from behind the camera. When we met earlier this evening she told me she's a senior in communications at the university. She's a real doll, a sweet little twenty-two or twenty-three year old peach. She wears glasses, not contacts, probably so people will take her more seriously. I suspect Tim - the kid who's directing tonight - has a thing for her. I caught a nasty look from him while I was talking - well, flirting - with her.

Lori puts one hand up to her headset and then gestures with her index finger, waving it in a cute, vague way. Public access television being what it is, whoever runs camera one also gets assigned responsibilities as floor manager. At this point in the show it's easy to guess what she means.

"Well, it looks like we have our first caller of the evening. Remember, here on 'Dream Connection' we use first names only. So, what's your first name, caller?"

"Hi, Doctor Jeffrey? My name's Ronnie." It's a young woman. Considering my normal audience, she's probably a college freshman or sophomore. Good.

"Thanks for calling in, Ronnie. Your voice sounds familiar. Have you called before?"

"No, this is my first time," she says. I love it when they say that. "I had this weird dream the other day and I was wondering what it meant."

"Well, that's what I'm here for. Tell me about your dream, Ronnie."

"Okay. In my dream I was at a big amusement park with my boyfriend. It was summer and we were both all hot and sweaty from being outside all day. He was wearing a white T-shirt with big yellow armpit stains and he generally looked pretty gross. We were standing in line to ride on this big wooden roller coaster."

Ronnie clears her throat and I can hear someone else in the background.

"Ronnie? Are you still there?"

Ronnie's voice comes back on the line. "I'm sorry, Doctor Jeffrey. My roommate was giving me a hard time. Where was I?"

"You were telling us about the roller coaster."

"Oh, yeah. Well, when I looked up, I could see these people who were riding on it. There was this one place where the track had been damaged, and every time one of the cars got to that spot, they'd fly off and the people on the ride kept falling to their death. I seemed to be the only one in line who noticed what was happening. What do you think that means?"

It's a pretty obvious dream, as dreams go, but I play my role. I look into the camera with my "concerned" look and ask, "Tell me, Ronnie, what were you feeling as you watched those people as they flew off the track?"

There's a brief pause on the line, and then she speaks. "Well, I don't know. I didn't want to get on the ride, but Bob was all excited about it.  I just wanted to get out of that park, but I felt kind of stuck, like something really bad would happen if I stepped out of line. I knew if I did, Bob would get really angry at me and get on my case."

At this point I nod seriously, as if she's provided some key piece of information. Actually, as soon as she mentioned the roller coaster and the fact that her boyfriend was "hot and sweaty" I could tell where it was going. "Well, Ronnie, it sounds to me like this is what's called an 'anxiety dream.' Remember, your dreams are just a way that your subconscious has of passing messages to your conscious mind. Although I don't know all the details -- and there's always a chance I could be wrong -- I think perhaps your dream was trying to tell you something about your relationship with your boyfriend. Maybe he's been pressuring you to do things that you're not sure you really want to do. What do you think, Ronnie? Do you think I'm on the right track?"

There's another pause, and then her voice comes back on the line. "Yeah, maybe. I guess you've given me something to think about. Thanks."

I look straight into camera one and give Ronnie a big, sincere smile.  "No, thank you, Ronnie. Call back again."

***

At the close of the show, the light on camera two goes off for the last time and Tim's voice comes over the intercom in the studio. "That's it, everybody. We're off the air."

I stand up and unpin the lavaliere microphone from my sports coat. Walking into the control room, I give Tim a hard time about letting "Ed" on the air again. I tell him it's a good thing I recognized Ed's voice and cut him off early, before he started talking about his Florence Henderson sex dreams again. Tim apologizes for not recognizing the name from the call-sheet and says he'll start keeping an index card in the control room with a "freak list" on it. I tell him not to take it too hard, that it's a risk we run by doing a live call-in show. After all, you're bound to attract a few weirdos like that. In response, Tim just acts all moon-doggy and nods his head like a four year old who's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and has been let off with just a warning.

I walk back out into the studio. Lori and the rest of the crew are busy wrapping up the audio cables and locking down the cameras. Lori's wearing a dark green sweater I suspect she knit by hand. It's a little bulky and makes me wonder what her body looks like under it. Her tight jeans give me a good idea. When I walk over to her she looks up at me. It's a look some of my female students used to give me when they followed me to my office after class, a look of innocence mixed with admiration. It's a look that also tells me that fifteen minutes from now we'll be sitting in a corner booth in my favorite bar and I'll be buying Lori a drink.

***

Lori empties her second gin and tonic. She's been giving me some background information for the last forty-five minutes. I take note of the fact that she's been drinking at a moderate pace. She's not a lush, but she's not milking her drinks either. My experience tells me this means she's probably a little timid in bed but not completely cold. A brief image of Lori without her glasses and with her hair cascading down her naked back flashes across my mind.

"I'll be graduating in the spring," she says. "I've been accepted into the master's program at Duke."

I look at her like I'm impressed and say, "I think that's just great, Lori. You really seem to have your whole future mapped out. Duke is a fine university, with an excellent new media program. As a matter of fact, I have a friend - a former colleague -- who's on the faculty at Duke and he's told me the program is terrific. I'm sure you'll really enjoy it there." Lori smiles at this bit of "inside information." Women are so wonderful at her age, so fresh and full of youthful enthusiasm.

As I take a drink, I watch the expression on Lori's face change, softening just a bit. She shifts in the booth, and when she leans forward to sip her drink, her arms remain on the table instead of dropping back into her lap as they have been. Her body speaks to me in a language I know well. Her defenses are lowering a little, and the slight squint and studied glance tells me she's got something on her mind. We've established a moderate level of intimacy and now she wants to get a little more personal. She's either going to talk about a dream she's had or ask to hear my life story. I hope it's a dream. I really don't want to end up talking about: A) my ex-wife and why she left me or B) why I'm no longer a university professor.

"You're going to think I'm crazy, but I was wondering if you could help me out with something..." she begins carefully. Her eyes, which have been staring at her drink for the past few seconds, lift up to my own, as if asking for permission. It's a dream. Thank God.

"Go ahead, Lori," I encourage her, moving my hand forward. I carefully leave a few inches of tabletop between my fingertips and hers.

"There's a dream I've had off and on since I was a kid. I hate asking this, but seeing as how you're kind of an expert and all..." Once again she looks to me for permission to continue, her light blue eyes as innocent as a schoolgirl's.

"Please, don't worry about it," I say. "Just tell me about your dream.   Then let's see what we can make out of it."

"All right," she says. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath to calm herself down. "It's always more or less the same. In my dream I'm lying in bed. It's late at night and I'm looking around the room. I'm a little disoriented because it's not really my room - I mean the one I have now - It's kind of a cross between my bedroom now and the one I had when I was a little girl."

"Interesting..." I say, wondering where this is going.

She continues. "I'm just lying there in the dark under a huge white fluffy down comforter. As I listen to the sounds of the house, I slowly come to realize that there's an odd noise coming from the foot of the bed. It's a grinding noise, kind of like the sound an electric can opener makes. I look down toward my feet in the direction the sound is coming from, trying to figure out what it is. At this point in the dream I realize I'm not wearing any underpants."

Having volunteered this detail, she looks at me again. I let her know by a thoughtful look of professional concern that she can trust me. Then I gently but firmly take her hand in my own.

"Suddenly I see this robotic hand coming up from somewhere on the floor.  It's really long and it has a claw on the end, kind of like the ones you see in those machines where you can win small stuffed toys. The long arm moves slowly toward me and the metal claw tugs at the comforter, trying to pull it off. I don't want it to pull it away because I'll be exposed and get into trouble. You see, in my dream I know I'm going to be punished if my mom finds out I'm not wearing my underpants when I'm sleeping."

The imagery is pretty commonplace, but I nod and show a focused interest, as if I've never heard anything like it before.

"At this point in the dream I usually shriek and jump up, grabbing the comforter and wrapping it around my body like a bath towel. Then the robot gets really angry. The metallic scraping sound becomes louder and the robot stands up at the end of the bed so I can see just how big and scary it is. It's got all kinds of red flashing lights and rusted gears and the head is a big oversized human skull. Some kind of dark yellowish oil is dripping down its chest. As soon as its body coils up and springs at me I scramble to run out of the room." Lori's voice has sped up a little and I can tell by the fact her eyes seem to be focused on something far away that she's visualizing the robot in her mind's eye. She blinks and snaps herself out of it.

"I try to run, but the comforter makes me clumsy. I feel like I'm moving in slow motion, and my muscles just won't work right. I'm more scared than I've ever been in my life. I go into the bathroom and try to hide behind the toilet - in my dream I'm small enough to fit back there - but the corner of the comforter sticks out and the robot sees it and finds me. I'm trapped, with no way left to escape. It reaches out to grab me. Then I wake up...." Lori's eyes have grown wide and reflect a very real fear.

I begin to speak, but she continues before I can say anything.

"But I haven't told you the most horrible part yet," she says. I look at her, genuinely curious. After all, most dreams end when the dreamer wakes.

"Even when I'm no longer asleep, I can still see the robot! It's like I wake up in my own room, but the robot has followed me into reality. I usually just lie there shaking and scared until it fades away."

"How long does it take before it's gone?" I ask.

"It's not there for very long, just a few seconds. But I can really see it there, just as clearly as I can see you."

"What do you do then?"

"Then I turn on the lights and try to go back to sleep, but usually I can't and I end up staying awake for the rest of the night, too afraid to sleep."

I look at Lori's face. I can see a troubled weariness in her eyes.  This recurring dream of hers is obviously something that's been bothering her for a long time. Most of the imagery is obvious to me but I need a little time to figure out what I want to say.

"Lori, thank you for sharing that with me. I know it took a lot of courage.  I want to respond to your dream, but right now I hope you'll excuse me. I'm afraid the drinks have caught up with me and now I need to use the restroom. I'll be back in just a minute." I pull a ten from my wallet and set it on the table. "Could you order another round while I'm gone?" She nods.

I walk past the waitresses station and back to the men's room. Standing before the urinal, I think about what I'm going to tell her.

The details of Lori's dream, especially her emotional reactions and the connections she made make it almost too easy for me. At one point in her life, probably pre-adolescence, she was a victim of some kind of sexual abuse, almost certainly by a relative. Based on the comment about her mother's anger, I suspect her father was the culprit and that her mother knew and blamed Lori for what happened. I'd be willing to bet that Lori doesn't remember any of it happening, either. She shows every indication that she's blocked it all out, burying it pretty damn deep.

My problem, of course, is that I really don't want to tell Lori any of this. What I really want to do is to satisfy her curiosity about the dream and get her to invite me back to her apartment. If I tell her what I think the dream really means, the last thing in the world she's going to be interested in tonight is sex. Instead, she'll end up icing over and/or crying, which won't be any fun for anybody. Besides, I don't know for a fact that I'm right. Even with my years of experience interpreting dreams, I'm not a psychiatrist and I don't pretend to be one. There's a small chance I could be wrong, after all.

When I get back to the table, two fresh drinks are waiting and so is Lori. She's calmed down enough to get a bowl of popcorn from the bar, but she's clearly waiting to hear my analysis.

"Lori, what you had was actually a fairly common dream," I begin. "In this modern age of VCRs and microwave ovens, a lot of people -- especially sensitive women such as yourself - develop what amounts to an allergic reaction to the technology in their daily lives. This recurring dream you've been having is just your mind's way of metabolizing those psychological toxins."

Lori has a puzzled expression on her face. This isn't what she was expecting to hear at all. She looks like she's going to say something, but then she stops herself. Good, I think. She's keeping her mind open and buying it, even if it doesn't feel right.

"Many people who spend a lot of time with computers suffer from information overload. In your case, you see the impact and influence that new technology has had on our daily lives. You can see the benefits, but you also see the terrible price we pay. The result is a cold, gray world that is full of shifting values, a world in which important human emotions have been devalued in favor of labor-saving devices. Through your dreams, your strong mind is fighting this influence. You feel like a victim of all this new technology. You feel naked and exposed by it. And so in your dream you run and try to get away from it."

I can see by the look on her face that Lori is clearly digesting what I've just said. It almost makes sense to her. My demeanor and the logical, assertive tone of voice I've been using helps her to believe.

"What I suggest you do in the future is this: The next time you have one of these dreams, don't run. Remember, it's only a dream and you have the power in your dreams to be strong. You can fight back, and you should. You're a strong woman, Lori. And you have the strength within you to confront your anxieties and fight them."

I pause for a moment, then shift the direction of my approach just slightly. "I'm really not surprised, you know. I certainly don't know you that well, but I know people. I can tell that there's a... humanity... that you have, an awareness of your senses and your emotions that's a real part of who you are. You don't want to lose that, do you?"

Lori shakes her head slightly. I doubt she's not even aware she's doing it. This is the response I've been looking for. The line's been cast and now is the time for the hook.

"Tell me, Lori, wouldn't you agree that the times you feel most alive are the times you spend interacting with people, doing real, physical things?"

Lori nods.

***

It's about three in the morning and I'm lying in Lori's bed. Lori's asleep beside me. My hand rests on her naked thigh. Her body is beautiful and sexy, and I knew as soon as I got her to take her sweater off I was going to be in for a real treat. Her breasts were larger than I imagined they'd be, which was a nice surprise. She also has just enough muscle tone in her long legs to make things interesting. I'd guess she's a runner or more likely a swimmer.

It wasn't the best sex I've ever had - that was with a professional -- but it was still pretty damn good. I could tell Lori was having a good time too. I always make sure of that. Hell, it may very well have been the best sex she's ever had. I've been around the block a time or two and have learned a lot of ways to please women in bed. There is, after all, no substitute for an experienced, considerate lover.

Being perfectly honest with myself, I'm no longer the young man I once was. I still keep myself reasonably fit, but at my age certain inevitable changes occur. Of course, the most important sex organ has always been and will always be the brain. What I'm best at, really, is the art of seduction. Regardless of what I do physically, I know that so much of my success with a woman depends on female psychology. There's a need women have to be warmed up and turned on well before the actual sex begins. Women Lori's age are suckers for older men and a quality of seduction that can only come from lots of experience and practice.

I look over at her soft, innocent face as she sleeps. Her lipstick has been kissed away and her hair has taken on a wild, alley cat quality, the result of the passion we've shared. Her sleep appears to be a little troubled and her brow is knotted.

In the dim light from the street lamp outside the bedroom window, I wonder again about my own sense of morality. For the most part I consider my karma to be fairly clean. To my way of thinking, I live a relatively good life. Perhaps it's not as moral as some, but it's certainly more moral than most. I truly care about people and through my television show I can make a difference in their lives. On more than one occasion I've been told I have a positive energy that makes people feel better about themselves. I try to do what I can.

My thoughts are interrupted as I feel a twitch from Lori's body. Suddenly she sits bolt upright in the bed. Her lips are moving, but no sound comes out of her mouth. She's looking around the room and when she looks at me she stops. I can see that her eyes have a staring quality to them. She doesn't recognize me, and she's agitated, almost frightened.

"Lori, what's wrong?" I say.

She doesn't hear me. She keeps staring at me with an emptiness in her eyes. Then, very quickly, her face grows hard. "Damn you!" she says, in a low, controlled voice that doesn't sound like her own. "I'm not afraid of you any more." Her body tenses.

Her fist comes from nowhere. I feel an explosion of pain across the bridge of my nose and know she's hit me. My surprise lasts long enough for her to punch me again, this time splitting my upper lip. I reach out to grab her arms, but she's flailing now and it's hard to get a good hold. She throws back the bedspread and reveals her tight, muscular body. She's a very flexible young woman. She twists her body around and her right leg folds back. Then she kicks forward quickly, her foot connecting with my jaw.

I jump back and throw myself off the bed and onto the floor. Naked and vulnerable, I scramble madly in the direction of the hall to get away. I figure if I can get to the bathroom and lock the door she'll have time to awaken from the night terror she's experiencing. As I reach the doorway I feel the sharp corner of something very heavy connect with the right side of my head.

***

It's nine o'clock in the morning by the time I get back to my apartment. I check the mail, but the only thing I find is the May issue of Popular Psychology and a recall notice for my Oldsmobile.

The apartment is a mess, and I make a mental note to clean it later.  Walking into my bedroom, I take off my sports coat and hang it on the closet door. I hope the dry cleaner can get the blood stains out of it. Fourteen stitches, I think to myself. I strip down to my boxer shorts and climb into bed. I tell myself I need to get some sleep. In a few hours I'll have to get up and go to my part time job at the circulation desk at the public library.  At the exact moment I settle in and get comfortable, the amateur musician in the apartment above me starts playing his drums.

I think about Lori. She felt pretty awful about everything and really wanted to drive me to the emergency room. I thanked her for the offer but told her I would just as soon drive myself. Somehow I really didn't feel quite up to being a comfort to her right then. I know this has probably been an emotionally scarring experience for her. It hasn't exactly been the best night I've ever had either.

Lying in bed, watching the light on the ceiling sway gently from the vibrations of the drumbeats, I can't help but wonder if this is a proper life for a man who just turned sixty.

THE END

Copyright (C) 1999 Terran Boylan.