A Canadian by birth, Lily Iona MacKenzie has been teaching writing at the University of San Francisco and other Bay area colleges for over
20 years. She's published personal essays, articles, poetry, travel pieces, and short fiction in numerous publications in the U.S. and
Canada. Her agent is seeking a publisher for Lily's two completed novels and a third that's almost finished. Lily also has two poetry
manuscripts that are in search of a publisher. Keeping a dream journal, gardening, working out, and dabbling in the visual arts (sculpting
and painting) occupy her when she isnâ€™t writing or teaching. http://lilyionamackenzie.wordpress.com/about/
The Dream Catcher
I've never paid much attention to dreams, so it came as a surprise in menopause when I started to have a lot of them. They
flooded my nights. Big. Little. Ordinary. Extraordinary. I never knew what to expect, and I began to dread falling asleep,
exhausted in the morning from so much action. But I was exhilarated too, I have to admit, and intrigued.
I've wondered if this surge in dreams was connected to the dream catcher my husband Mitch and I picked up when we visited
Vancouver Island recently. We stopped at a store on the Kootenai Indian reserve, and there it was: a framed circular web that
had purple feathers dangling from it. There also was a tag attached that read, "The good in your dreams is captured in the web
of life. But the evil in your dreams escapes through the hole in the center of the web. Remember, though, the dream catcher
holds your future destiny!"
The idea that my future destiny could be foretold piqued my curiosity. Why would I need to know my destiny? It felt slightly
kooky, like consulting my horoscope or throwing the I Ching. Yet I was intrigued, and I wanted a keepsake from our trip. So I
bought a dream catcher and hung it above our bed.
Mitch laughed at me for being superstitious. A psychiatrist, he deifies Science. I said it didn't hurt to have a talisman or two
The increase in dream activity started soon after. I suppose I could tell them to Mitch, but I don't really want him poking around
in my head. I don't think it's good to mix one's personal and professional life anyway. To put it more plainly, I don't want my
husband to be my shrink.
I also don't want to let him in on my deepest thoughts and fantasies, no more than I want to know his.
I've said it.
Or, if you prefer, analyze the dream I had last night. It's left me feeling shook up all day, afraid it might be a portent.
The main character in the dream was an unfamiliar woman who was married to a psychiatrist. He turned up missing for a week.
She discovered him dead in their basement; he'd taken poison. But there was evidence he lived down there for several days,
watching her, before he actually died.
I woke up certain my dream was real and I'd find Mitch missing. I can't seem to shake the idea. I've been afraid to go down in
the basement, except it's California and we don't have one. Thank god for that! And thank god I don't have this kind of dream
often. I guess that's why it stayed with me. It's more like something you might read in the morning paper. Someone else's
tragedy. Not mine.
The idea that Mitch might be so curious about my comings and goings that he'd snoop on me seems bizarre. Yet that's what
he does with his patients: he spies on them, using the clues they give him to uncover their interior lives. In that context, it's
honorable. But in the dream, it wasn't. The very idea of this man hiding out in the basement to check up on his wife. He must
Clearly this dream catcher isn't working if it's letting in these disturbing dreams. The dream spirit must have fallen asleep
because it's only supposed to allow good ones. I suppose you could argue that this is a good dream. If you were a doctor
wanting to analyze your patient's fantasies, this could be a positive starting point. I can imagine Mitch saying something like
Yet I'm not a doctor, and I'm not all that interested in knowing what my deepest urges are. I tried analysis once at Mitch's
suggestion, but I didn't get very far. I found it terrifically boring to spend almost an hour four times a week free-associating. It
was a relief when the analyst said, "This isn't going anywhere. I may not be the right person for you to work with." That
seemed honorable. He could have kept me under his wing indefinitely and collected more fees.
You're probably wondering about Mitch and how we met. We took the same class in college, Psychology I of course, and fell
hopelessly in love. I know it's a clichÃ©, but he seemed like a Greek god, six foot two with blonde wavy hair and Mediterranean
blue eyes. I fell into those eyes and have been trying all these years to crawl back out. I still haven't made it. Once Mitch
entered my life, nothing else mattered. Not graduate school. Not a career. I was lost.
By now you get the idea. Mitch has a powerful presence: he absorbs everything around him. It's difficult to resist. Maybe he is
a god. The women certainly think so. Not that he's a womanizer, though he could be if he wanted to. Women have been after
him forever. It doesn't matter that he's married, that he wears a gold band on his left hand, that he doesn't flirt. The women
pursue him regardless.
Of course, as a doctor, he has a certain panache. But he's also handsome, even more so in late middle age. His hair, almost
white, contrasts with his tanned skin (he's an ardent tennis player and could have gone pro if he hadn't committed himself to
medicine). And he still has a lot of it -- hair that is (though he has lots of skin too). More than one woman has commented on
his great hair and has wanted to run her fingers through it. I've learned to laugh at these overtures, though when I was
younger, it drove me crazy. "Keep your hands off my man!"
I guess you'd say we have a good marriage. At least we're still together, more than you can say for most couples. We've had
rocky periods, it's true. What couple hasn't? But nothing so serious to threaten the bond between us.
I've never understood women who wanted to "find themselves" and felt they had to leave their relationship to do so. Ibsen's
The Doll's House left me puzzled and unsettled for days. Why on earth would Nora abandon a perfectly good man and a solid
marriage to strike out on her own?
Not a question I can answer. Or maybe I've just never felt enough enthusiasm for something to let it upset my whole life. I've
always chosen the easy way, "gone with the flow," as they used to say.
So when I read the book The Orchid Thief for my reading group, at first I didn't understand the writer's fascination with this
man John LaRoche or his intense passions. I didn't understand her wanting to track his fervor for rare orchids throughout the
Florida swamps. He's very different from me and most of the people I know, though I guess Mitch has a passion for what he
does. He puts an amazing amount of time into patients and reading psychiatric journals and keeping up with the latest drugs
and treatments. He can lose himself in research for hours.
It used to be a problem for us when I was younger. My sexual urges were stronger then, and I wanted to spend as much time
with him as I could. But his work engrossed him more than I did. Now I'm grateful he has interests that keep him busy. It
gives me the freedom I need to do what I want.
It isn't as if other things don't occupy my time. I have a full life, grown children (both boys). Everything I need. I belong to a
reading group. See the latest art shows. Take the occasional class -- drawing, watercolor, great books. I volunteer here and
there to feel useful, teaching poor children to read, supporting local political candidates, helping out in the church office with
mailings and other things.
I'm also grateful I no longer have the same strong libido. Thank god! It made me feel out of control at times, all the fantasies I
had of taking a lover. Nothing serious. Just someone to dally with. I somehow managed to stay faithful, but I was severely
tempted at times.
I might not be a free woman in the feminist sense, but I am free from the demands that other women's husbands place on
them. I come and go as I please, more unfettered than if I were one of those liberated women with a job and responsibilities. I
can sleep in if and when I want to (Mitch prefers to eat breakfast out at his favorite diner, "The Royal Moose"), I can draw or
paint or read when I please, and we each have so many evening meetings and other obligations during the week that we often
don't eat together except on weekends. Then we dine out or go to dinner parties. It's an easy, congenial, convenient life; I
have no complaints.
But I've run on, and you're probably wondering about the disturbing dream I told you about. What does it have to do with
Mitch and me? Well, I haven't forgotten about it. I just try not to think about it too much.
That night, Mitch and I meet for dinner at Sonny's Place. To make conversation, I tell him about The Orchid Thief. He's
interested in the writer's obsession with John LaRoche's fixation on orchids. "It sounds like more than just a journalist's usual
interest in her subject."
"I know," I say. "I think she has a crush on him."
"A crush?" He won't meet my eyes. He focuses all his attention on the calamari he's eating. I've never seen him so involved
with food before.
"What are the clues?" He wipes his mouth with a napkin and carefully folds and places it again on his lap.
"She seems as fatally obsessed with him as he is with orchids."
"Obsessions are tough to shake." He keeps shoveling the calamari into his mouth, glancing from side to side, appearing more
interested in observing the other diners than in our conversation.
I'm annoyed with his attempts to avoid me. "Hey, Mitch, I'm here, across the table. You having trouble with a patient?"
I've seen this abstracted behavior before when his work with someone has hit a snag. He glances at me, looking alarmed.
"You haven't said anything lately about the young woman who's been searching for her birth mother and father. You know who
He avoids my eyes again. "Oh she's progressing. The usual defenses... "
It isn't the words that tip me off. It's something else. His body language. He's curled over his food, as if protecting something
there, not wanting me to see it. I remember my short-lived analysis and the notion I might not be up to it. But here I am,
trying to analyze my husband's posture, read into it something that might not be there. Wild analysis, he would say.
I change the subject, but the feeling that he's hiding something from me persists. We leave the restaurant soon after, waving
goodbye to May the hostess who knows us well. Mitch drives us home, and neither of us says much. That in itself isn't
unusual. Often we talk a lot over dinner, so we don't have more to say until we can fill up again. But this particular dinner
conversation was difficult and spare.
I glance at him. His hands clutch the wheel, not lightly gripping it in his usual way, and he seems preoccupied.
"Penny for your thoughts," I say.
"Your thoughts? You seem so distant tonight."
"I had a dream last night that I haven't been able to shake all day."
We've stopped at a traffic light. He looks at me. "You? You never dream."
"That's all I do since we brought home that dream catcher."
He frowns. "That's magical thinking. Dream catchers don't have any power over us."
"The Natives think they do."
"That's just an undeveloped thinking function. They don't understand how the mind really works." He puts his foot on the
accelerator and speeds through the city streets, pulling into our driveway.
I don't see much point in pursuing this line of thought. I also don't want to let on I believe in such things, though I find rational
Western thinking overrated. There are other ways to apprehend the world, and the Natives might be onto something. So I ask
him, "What did you dream?"
Almost word for word his dream mirrors the one I had. I let out a little scream. "That's my dream!"
"Your dream? I don't get it."
"I don't either. How do you know my dream? Did I talk in my sleep again?"
"You had the same one? How bizarre."
"It is bizarre. Spooky"
We sit there staring at each other, shocked, our faces partially lit by the dashboard lights. It's true that over the years we've
begun to resemble each other. Our facial expressions can be similar. We finish each other's sentences. But to have the same
dream? I've never heard of it before.
I speak first. "What do you think it means?"
"It depends on our associations."
"No, that's not what interests me. I don't care what the dream itself means. I want to know what it means that we had the
same dream on the same night. Maybe at the same time. Have we crawled inside each other's heads?"
Mitch turns off the car. We get out and head for the front door. He opens it. Ushers me in. I take off my jacket, drop it on a
chair, and go directly to the bathroom. It's the room where I do my best thinking and feel safest. I can lock the door -- which I
can't do in any other room without calling attention to myself -- and be private. No one can spy on me.
The word spy reminds me of our mutual dream and the psychiatrist husband secretly watching his wife. I wonder how much I
feel watched without consciously realizing it. And what of Mitch? Does he feel watched by me too? Is that what married
couples do to each other without being aware of it? Watch? Spy? Look for clues to the person hidden inside, the one we
never get to know?
I decide to take a shower, hoping to wash off the residue of our conversation. I try not to think about the dream or John
LaRoche or orchids or anything. I just want to feel the hot spray hitting my skin, opening my pores, relaxing me. Then I want
to crawl in bed and sleep without dreaming.
No such luck. Mitch is lying there, staring at the ceiling. He has that 'we need to talk about something' look on his face. I don't
see what we have to discuss. It was just a dream. I say so.
"Is there something you're hiding from me?" he asks.
I slip into my granny gown. "Just my aging body." It's past my bedtime, and I'm not interested in pillow talk.
But Mitch seems to be. "It's pretty radical if both of us are having the same dream. I think it's compensating for the distance
between us. We both dream of a psychiatrist spying on his wife before committing suicide. Why would he be spying if he
weren't feeling she was hiding something from him? Why would he kill himself if he weren't desperately unhappy? We may be
really cut off from similar feelings inside ourselves. Shouldn't we pay attention?"
"To what?" I turn my head and catch sight of the dream catcher hanging over our headboard. I plan to get rid of it the next
day. I liked my life just fine until all these nighttime visitors intruded. "I think you're making a big deal out of nothing. I'm
happy. Aren't you?"
I turn on my side, my back to him, flick off the bed lamp, and begin to count sheep. It's always worked for me. I'm usually
asleep in minutes.
Not this time.
Mitch says, "I feel we're just going through the motions. We have our routines, but there's no passion in our lives. Do you
want to go to the grave like this? Putting in time?"
Surely he isn't talking about sexual passion. We're beyond that. No, it's something else.
His tone worries me. I never should have married a psychiatrist who can't leave well enough alone. Probing. Prodding.
I shouldn't have told him about John LaRoche.
I say, "Could we talk about this tomorrow? We'll both feel better after a good night's sleep."
"Tomorrow! This is serious."
"You act as if someone really did die."
"I think someone did," he says. "Or something."
I turn over and look at him. He's still wearing his bathrobe over his pajamas, sprawled on top of the covers. "You should get in
"Why? You'll be asleep soon. Do you know what I do after you fall asleep?" He has a pouty look around his mouth that I
recognize from his 4th grade photo.
"I assume you sleep too."
"You assume, but you don't know. You don't have a clue about me. Nor do you care. I'm a reliable meal ticket, a good father,
a decent husband. I fill my role adequately. But I don't exist for you as a person. After you fall asleep, I go into my study and
visit chat rooms. I google. I roam the worldwide web. That's what I'm reduced to!" He throws his hands in the air, the color in
his face deepening.
"Chat rooms. I can't imagine you doing that." I flick aside an imaginary piece of lint from the bedspread.
He glares at me. "That's the problem. You can't imagine anything. You're so caught up in your own world that mine doesn't
exist. I don't exist."
I feel he's being unnecessarily harsh and I tell him so.
"Harsh?" His dark eyebrows arch like crows in flight.
"You aren't exactly Mr. Available either. You're not going to just blame me for whatever ails you. Maybe you're having a mid-life
crisis." Feeling a sudden chill, I pull the covers up to my chin.
"Please! Don't trivialize what I'm feeling with pop psychology."
"Oh, it's not okay for me to suggest a diagnosis, but it's fine when Mr. Doctor pronounces that my mood swings are from
hormonal changes. Remember when I went through that rough patch awhile back? You had all the answers, but men don't
have such problems. Right?"
"Men don't go through the change of life."
"Maybe not the way women do, but you also have hormonal changes. I read, too, you know."
By now I'm wishing he had committed suicide like the psychiatrist in the dream. He's being a royal pain in the ass. Mr.
know-it-all. Mr. I've-got-all-the-answers Connell.
Mitch stands up and shakes off his silk bathrobe, letting it slither onto the floor. "This conversation -- if you can call it that --
isn't going anywhere. Let's get some sleep."
He sleeps, but not even my sheep help much. I drift between waking and sleeping, tossed from one dream to another until they
roll together into one weird narrative. I'm shoveling sand on a beach that reminds me of one we visited on Tobago. We
vacationed there to celebrate our 20th anniversary. The sand has a pinkish tone to it, the texture as fine as baby skin. I'm
trying to create a sculpture from the sand, but though I moisten it with water, the particles don't hold together and it
constantly crumbles. I'm about to go into the water when a huge wave rushes at me, knocking me unconscious.
I awaken, feeling as if I'm drowning, certain I have seawater in my mouth. This beautiful area where I felt such bliss with Mitch
now has turned threatening. Though awake, I can still hear the thundering waves beat on the shore, each one bigger than the
one before, the dream continuing in my conscious mind.
I look over at Mitch, wondering if he's having the same dream. In sleep he looks so young and vulnerable, not the authoritative
doctor who has all the answers. He flinches, his eyes moving under his eyelids. Clearly, he's dreaming too. I keep waiting for
him to wake as I had, fighting for breath, but he just turns onto his stomach and snores into the pillow.
Feeling abandoned and afraid to return to sleep, afraid I might really drown in the unconscious, I slip out of bed, put on my
bathrobe and slippers, and head for Mitch's study. I don't use computers all that much. I've never warmed up to them enough
to have my own machine. If I need to check something on the Internet, I use his Mac. At the moment, I'm only interested in a
mindless way to pass the time until daylight chases away the night's terrors. How does Mitch deal with his terrors, his fears and
anxieties? He keeps them well hidden, from me at least.
Usually I log on with my own name, but this time I use Mitch's. His password is no secret, so I don't feel I'm violating his
privacy. I don't intend to spy on him, but since I'm awake and he isn't, I imagine what it's like for him when I'm sleeping and
he's alone in his study, surfing the worldwide web.
I try to become Mitch Connell.
It's hard, though, because the thought of surfing makes me gag, the drowning sensation still very strong from my dream. I've
never been a terrific swimmer, especially not in the ocean. The sea's power terrifies me, the noise it makes, waves smashing the
shore and over time pulverizing rocks and anything else in their way.
Mitch's screensaver appears. A tropical setting of palm trees and ferns takes over, fading into a turquoise blue ocean as clear
as the Aegean, which in turn evaporates into an underwater view of fish seeking the surface. The gentle waves are nothing like
my dream. They sniff at the shore -- dignified, civilized, the sun glinting off them. After almost drowning, it's a relief to see this
idyllic scene -- the ocean as a source of pleasure, not just fear. I can feel myself settling down, the screen itself inviting me to
enter, a universe unto itself.
I click on Safari and search the menu bar for "history." I know that much, at least. My heart skips a beat or two. I'm entering
forbidden territory, snooping around the places he's visited recently. One entry that comes up several times is myspace.com. I
click on it and wait for the page to upload.
It opens to an image of a young black girl, 23 years old. She pouts her lips and gazes out at me through sleepy eyes. I scroll
down the page, reading the messages she's sent and received, afraid I'll find one from Mitch. Could he be posing as a much
younger man? Is he a pedophile? Except 23 isn't that young. Maybe she's a patient of his that he's researching.
Spying isn't so unusual. Everyone seems to be doing it. The President. The Congress. Me. Why not Mitch? Even googling's
a form of spying, looking up people's names and probing into their backgrounds.
Though I'm snug inside my fleece bathrobe, I feel chilled. But I can't stop now. I'm driven to understand my husband better,
against my will.
I return to Safari's history tab and look for other clues. There are more myspace web pages, all of young women, all under 25,
all trying to look sexy and enticing. Some even in their early- to mid-teens. Don't they have anything better to do than set up
websites that are close to porn? These can't be Mitch's patients. What exactly is he doing, visiting these pages in the dark of
night when I'm sleeping? When did he develop a passion for younger women, his John LaRoche moment. Are they Mitch's
version of rare orchids?
I sort through another girl's blog that Mitch has visited. She calls herself Pussy Galore. In the photo she's posted, she looks
no more than 13. I search for Mitch's name in the friends' comments, though surely he would choose an alias in case his
patients recognized him. What would he have to say to a woman this age? "Hiya, Pussy baby. Wanna get it on?" I can't
imagine Mitch saying that to anyone. Maybe he's experiencing a second childhood. My worst fear is discovering he has his
own page on myspace, his own blog under a pseudonym.
Blog is a new word for me, and I'm amazed at how personal the authors are, how willing to share the intimate details of their
lives. I suppose for a psychiatrist, this website could be like mining for gold: Mitch has found a vein of free associations that he
can excavate forever. Even for a novice like me there's something riveting about reading the longings and dreams of these
young women. They've opened themselves to total strangers, willing to let prying eyes sort through their photos and words --
I'm sad for them and for Mitch, for the loneliness and alienation that exists in our world. I'm sad they have to resort to
something as anonymous as the Internet. I'm sad they've replaced what we used to take for granted -- strolling at night in our
neighborhoods, chatting with neighbors, attending local dances and picnics -- with this virtual world. And I'm especially sad that
somehow my husband is part of it.
I shrug off my concerns. Mitch is probably researching these websites out of professional curiosity or sending messages to
those who seem troubled and in need of help. He wouldn't have any real interest in these girls. He's not that kind of man.
I move the mouse to the apple, scroll down and click on log out. I can see why the psychiatrist in our dream might have
committed suicide if he were driven to this kind of spying. It's dehumanizing. Life loses its luster, and we're left clinging to our
I return to bed, shrugging off my bathrobe, slipping between the sheets, ignoring the dream catcher. In the morning I'll find a
new home for it in the garbage and hope for quieter nights for both Mitch and myself. Meanwhile, it's reassuring to fall asleep to
the steady drone of his snoring, his body warmth nearby. He'll never know -- unless he dreams it -- that I've stumbled into his
space, and I found it forlorn.
Lily Iona MacKenzie