How much do you deserve?
Harbour and Room (1932) by Paul Nash
In the early days of my marriage, I dreamt about property often. I was always looking for a place with some friends, never with my husband. My friends and I would tour big Victorian apartments and huge old houses with high ceilings and extra rooms. In real life and also in my dreams, we couldn’t really afford such grandeur, but there was some fluke: This house was owned by a strange old person who didn’t know the value of money. Jackpot! Oddly enough, we would sign the lease first and then check the place out, to see what it was like.
Right after I picked out my room — good light, nice windows, lots of space — I’d discover a door that led to a second room. A bonus room, just for me! My desk will go here, and this will be my library area. Sometimes there were two or three bonus rooms, linked by a series of doors instead of a hallway, just so it was clear that all of that space should belong to one person, namely me. In some versions of the dream, I’d have to convince my roommates to let me have the room that led to other rooms and was therefore actually a whole wing of the house.
My property dreams shifted after my husband and I moved to the suburbs of LA. (And no, LA is not all suburbs, there are invisible lines of delineation between urban neighborhoods and suburban neighborhoods, but sadly, you don’t know where they are until you cross them and move in and then things start to suck a little.) When we moved here, we discovered that the suburbs were more relaxed and also somehow more stressful, more friendly but also somehow not friendly at all. But mostly, the suburbs were boring. When the kids were small that was nice, but soon it became less nice, which is probably why my dreams filled up with crowded city streets and towering buildings. In every dream, I was moving to New York alone. I’d found the perfect apartment in a cartoon-map version of Manhattan where all of the neighborhoods were jumbled together nonsensically. Everywhere I went, the streets were packed with attractive people, talking about interesting things, and there wasn’t a Panera in sight. I was never married in that dream. Maybe I was divorced (unclear) but if I was, I seemed to have no regrets. I was starting a new life. I could wander the streets and look at the attractive people, guilt-free.
In other dreams, I’d be moving back to San Francisco, but it was more like a cartoon-map hybrid of San Francisco and San Diego, with everything in town on one big hill that slides down toward a crystal blue bay, so clear you can see straight to the sand on the bottom. Cartoon San Frandiego dreams were always a little bit melancholy, though. My dreamscape embodied the worst of both cities: The pretty-but-scentless alienation of San Francisco and the carefree, sun-bleached callousness of San Diego. Feeling lonely, I’d trudge up the absurdly steep streets looking for a little room with a view, trying hard not to stumble and roll down into the sea below. Sometimes I’d have to sit down for a minute, just to keep from losing my footing. That’s when I’d look out at the blue water and wish that I could afford a place right by the bay. That was how I used to feel in real life, when I moved from North Carolina to the Marina in San Francisco, into an apartment a few blocks from the water that had a clear view of The Gap and nothing else.
Last night’s property dream was more of a nightmare. For the first time in my dream, I had three people to please: two daughters and a husband. This is probably a good sign re: the state of my mental health, but it made the dream more stressful, because as we are moving our things into our new house, I discover that it is much smaller and uglier than I thought. I was sure that there was a yard to the side of the house, but the actual yard is more like a square of concrete surrounded by high walls made of cement blocks. When I go to the front of the house, I discover that my daughters have opened the curtains to reveal two large windows with a view of a four-lane street with cars rushing by at eye level. Soon, there are people walking by, too, looking in at me and my daughters. “We’ll have to keep these closed,” I say as I pull the curtains tight. “No big deal.”
Parenting is just saying “no big deal” about things that are secretly a very big deal to you. Nevertheless, I am starting to lose my cool now. I return to the side yard, hoping that it’s grown bigger (this happens in dreams sometimes!), but our ‘yard’ is still just a small concrete square. So I stand there, trying to figure out if I can paint the walls a better color and put a chair and some plants here and there. But when I look up to see how much sunlight the concrete square will get, I notice that next door to us, there is an enormous brown Brutalist building. It’s small on the bottom but huge on top — big and square with tiny little windows like a prison. The building is teetering precariously on its tiny base, and it’s also blocking our sun! None of my favorite plants will grow here, and the slightest earthquake will topple the building and we will all be crushed!
Maybe that’s just a trick of perspective, I think. I am sometimes a person who gets anxious about nothing. My unconscious mind is demonstrating some stunning self-awareness now, but don’t get envious of how evolved I am just yet, because there are twists ahead! Sure that I’m needlessly panicking, I go outside to get a better view. This is when I spot what look like two enormous jet engine turbine fans on the lawn between the big building and the street. The fans are attached to the bottoms of two strange white rockets. The rockets are aimed roughly skyward but at a 45-degree angle so they’re likely to take out a few trees on the way up, not to mention blast flames directly at our house.
A neighbor is walking by, so I ask him about the rockets. “Oh sure, that’s The Center for Space Exploration,” he says in a tone that indicates I should know this already.
“Don’t things around here burn to a crisp when those rockets take off?” I ask.
“Only once in a while,” he says, in a tone that suggests I am getting hysterical about nothing.
“Are those propulsion fans always pointed at my house like that or do they move?”
“They’re always like that” he says, looking annoyed at how stupid I am, and then walks away.
I take a deep breath. “There are laws for this,” I think. Yep, that’s right. Even in my addled dream mind, I am certain that there are special laws to protect unwise white people who didn’t tour their property before signing their mortgage papers. So I pull out my phone and begin to type in BUYER’S REMORSE LAWS CALIFORNIA. (I think the fact that I figured California in particular would protect me is an especially nice touch.) I only get to the U in “BUYER’S” and then my phone erases everything. I can’t see very well so it’s hard to type it out again. Then it disappears. This happens four or five times, and then I am squeezing the phone very hard and the plastic (Is this a flip phone?!!) starts to splinter, and suddenly Bill is right there next to me, so I hiss at him, “I am going to crush this phone, I am so fucking mad I want to crush this phone right now.”
Bill wisely remains silent. I put the phone down. It looks broken. Presumably no one else in the family owns a smart flip phone, because I start to cry. I’m crying because I can’t look up the extremely kind and sensitive laws of my state, laws that will surely get me out of this (this might be the whitest I’ve ever been in a dream), but I’m also crying because this whole thing was my idea. I’m the asshole who wanted us to move into a tiny house on a launch pad next to a freeway. Why did I do this to my children? Maybe now Bill will divorce me and take our daughters somewhere nice and leave me in the bad house to be burned to a crisp by Elon Musk’s careless rocket engines! Is that a metaphor for getting stoned? Is this just a dream about wanting to get very high and having nowhere good to do it?
I wake up in the middle of a silent sob, my brain reaching desperately for reality like a woobie: You did not sell your nice house and buy a shitty house by accident! You are in your nice house right now, half-asleep!
Anyway. I guess this means my brain has finally figured out that I’m married. My brain realizes I have kids now, too. That took a long time. This means I’m finally a real mother, but it also means I’m officially a bourgeois suburban nightmare person. After years of effortful mental resistance, I’ve succumbed. Now my deepest anxieties revolve around property ownership and mother hen-style trivialities. I should probably join some boards and committees and start writing angry emails and petitions to keep people from building Brutalist structures next door that block my sunshine. I should probably start attending city council meetings and speaking up to prevent people from aiming their flaming rocket boosters at my children’s bedrooms.
Then again, maybe once that giant hunk of space trash crashes down later today and people stop animating human bodies being shredded by turbine fans, I can calm the fuck down and go back to dreaming about New York again.
Does everyone dream about property, or just the greedy people? Tell me in the comments. Also, let me know if your brain creates alternative maps and geographical redesigns of places you know well. If you’re struggling and want a subscription, write to askmolly at protonmail. Thanks for reading, and good luck dodging flaming space trash out there!