Book of Dreams
by Kareem Tayyar
At eight years old I place the two baseball bobblehead dolls I own—Kirk Gibson, Daryl Strawberry—against my windowsill. Should someone attempt to enter my window as I sleep, I figure the sound the dolls would make upon being knocked over will give me time to run.
It is August, 1984. Born in the USA was released two months prior. Purple Rain too. The woman who lives downstairs blasts “When Doves Cry” at all hours while snorting cocaine and fighting off the poltergeist she insists is squatting in her apartment.
Something I should have already mentioned: Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as the “Night Stalker,” has spent the previous ten months haunting Southern California like a modern-day Grendel, and that summer I’m certain he will, sooner or later, find his way to Fountain Valley, and to me.
The names of serial killers pass like the identities of Marvel Comics villains among the kids in my neighborhood: “the Highway Murderer”; “the Midtown Slasher”; “the Cannibal”; “the Grim Sleeper.”
Kareem Tayyar’s collection The Revolution of Heavenly Bodies & Other Stories will be released by J.New Books in May, 2022. His work has appeared in a variety of literary journals, including Poetry Magazine, Prairie Schooner, the Santa Monica Review, and The Writer’s Almanac. His novel, The Prince of Orange County, received the 2020 Eric Hoffer Prize for Young Adult Fiction, and he was a recipient of a 2019 Wurlitzer Poetry Fellowship.
On our walks to the basketball court, or to Mile Square Park, or to the local 7-Eleven, we detail exactly what we’d do to these men should they attempt to harm our families, just as we boast about the superhuman levels of physical strength we already possess, or the unmatched intelligence that no one—especially our teachers—seems to realize we harbor.
Do I die in my dreams in those years? Sometimes.
Hell doesn’t frighten me when Father Doyle mentions it during Mass. Purgatory seems like something one can escape the way Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewy escape from that futuristic trash compactor in Star Wars.
But the Belly of the Whale?
That’s something else entirely.
Films that give me nightmares during childhood:
Willow; The Fly; The Beastmaster. The latter two make perfect sense—Body Horror has always freaked me out—but my fear of Willow still perplexes me, since it’s basically the type of run-of-the-mill, Tolkien-lite fantasy film Hollywood has been making for decades. But whatever the case, I dream for weeks afterwards that I have taken over the role of Mad Martigan from Val Kilmer, and I’m trapped in a crow’s cage from which I cannot escape.
By the time I’m nine the dentist says the enamel on my teeth has already begun to wear from the amount of grinding I do at night.
I begin to crack my knuckles; to count the number of times I lock the front door; to speak in my sleep.
What do I say?
I’m not sure; I’ve never asked.
At eleven I dream that America decides to reinvade Vietnam. I wake up to locate Saigon on the small globe that sits on my dresser. After staring at it for a few minutes and running my fingers along its slim rivers, I slowly rotate the sphere until I find Canada.
When the video for “Welcome to the Jungle” debuts, I have to look away whenever it shows Axl Rose writhing in pain while being strapped to an electric chair.
In my neighborhood there’s a rumor among my friends that a local man survived the electric chair three times, and that, after the third time, the police were forced to let him go.
Which is why whenever I see the man in the neighborhood I always cross the street.
Which is probably why I dream about being condemned to the electric chair often in those years.
Later I will learn that the man did two tours as a marine in Vietnam.
So I guess he did survive the electric chair, after all.
My parents won’t let me see Platoon because they know how it will affect me. I’m sensitive to images of film violence, which means they know that the sight of Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, and Tom Berenger moving through elephant grass just inside the Cambodian border would haunt me for weeks, if not months.
When, two years later, I watch it on video at a friend’s house, I dream for several nights afterwards about dying in a helicopter crash, or being shot in the back by someone I thought was my friend.
I feel like I should mention that I had a happy childhood.
The first person I ever know to commit suicide does so during my freshman year of high school. He left a note for his family, walked down to the beach, and put the barrel of a gun into his mouth.
I see him often in dreams, even now. It is always nighttime, and I’m standing at the edge of the sea—the silhouette of the Huntington Beach Pier like the tail of a wooden dragon to the south—and he emerges from the water to greet me.
“Where have you been?” I ask.
“Catalina,” he says. “Some other places too.”
“I’m glad you’re back.”
“Back? I never left.”
I always wake up before I can ask him what he means.
A former high school basketball teammate of mine took his own life several years ago, a little over a year after his brother did the same. At his funeral they played some of his favorite Beatles songs.
Now, whenever I hear a Beatles song in my sleep, I think it means he’s having trouble sleeping too.
The song I most often hear during these dreams?
“Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Especially this verse, which, even after all these years of listening, I still don’t fully understand:
Always, no, sometimes, think it’s me
But you know I know when it’s a dream
I think I know, I mean—yes
But it’s all wrong
That is, I think I disagree.
The true meaning of this verse, I guess, is just one more secret that John Lennon took with him to his grave.
I’m never unable to run, or speak, in dreams.
But I often find myself in places I don’t recognize, surrounded by people I don’t know but who seem to know me.
The first girl I ever kissed (we were five, I think) was also the third girl I ever kissed (we were eleven, I am certain).
She overdosed on a bottle of aspirin when she was twenty-one years old.
I ran into her in the parking lot of a local restaurant on Brookhurst a few nights before she did it. She was sitting behind the wheel of her car and looking at our high school yearbook.
When, several minutes later, and unable to get her out of my mind, I drove back to see if she was alright, she’d already left the parking lot.
But in my dreams she’s still there when I return to check on her.
Nothing much happens after that.
We sit there looking at the yearbook, and at the stars. Sometimes we kiss; other times we just talk about our previous kisses.
The night they caught Richard Ramirez I was home alone, watching television. The news said he’d been beaten by locals to within an inch of his life.
I went into my room and put the bobbleheads back into my closet.
I don’t remember what I dreamed that night.
The two-story house where Vinh lived with his father and brother was located across the street from our apartment. The living room was filled with photographs of his mother, a nightclub singer in Arkansas who’d been murdered several years earlier.
Once, after a few of us had spent the afternoon playing pickup basketball and returned to Vinh’s house to raid the refrigerator, we listened to one of her cassette tapes. I couldn’t tell what the songs were about; they were all in Vietnamese.
I met her once, in a dream, many years ago.
I’d been driving across the country, and pulled off the interstate for a drink in the first bar I found.
She was in the middle of her set, but when she’d finished, she walked over to meet me.
I bought her a drink; she told me to say hello to her son.
“I haven’t seen him in years,” I said.
“That makes two of us,” she answered.
About that high school hoops buddy of mine who died? His girlfriend honored the first anniversary of his death by taking her own life.
I’ve never dreamed about her.
Sometimes I compose long playlists before going to bed in the hopes that the beauty of the songs will somehow find their way into my dreams, thus making them happier than they usually are.
Does it work?
Not really. But I haven’t given up hope.
Is this all a long-winded way of explaining why I daydream as often as I do?
Anyway it’s getting late, and no one wants to hear about someone else’s dreams.
Anyway it’s getting late, and no one wants to hear about someone else’s dreams.