Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Evolution of a Dream

So I decided to do Finslippy's "The Practice of Writing." The seventh prompt was about the ways that fear manifests itself when one sits down to write. "What childhood nightmare do you remember?"

In 1977, or possibly 1978, when I was 5 or 6 years old, I saw King Kong. Looking back on it now, it was a silly movie with unconvincing special effects, but then, I watched in wide-eyed wonder and dread. The foreboding of the empty native village; the anticipation of the trembling trees as the yet-unseen monster approached; the shuddering revulsion as the snake’s jaws are torn apart; the horror of being crushed by that massive foot; the terror of falling from great heights; each of these things affected me deeply. I had to keep watching, but I didn’t want to see.

From then on, I had a recurring nightmare that I, my brother, and my childhood neighbor Tommy were chased relentlessly through a city landscape by that giant ape. Everywhere we hid, he found us. Wherever we fled, he pursued. In the end, there was nowhere left for us to go but into the sea, swimming farther and farther from shore, hoping only to get to deep enough waters that he would no longer be able to stand. I swam on hopelessly, knowing that I would drown.

The last time I remember dreaming of King Kong was in my early 20’s. That means for something like 16 or 17 years, that movie haunted me, with ever-decreasing frequency. At first, I’d dream it regularly, and I’d wake each time sweating, heart pounding. Later, it would come to me only once or twice a year, and I’d wake bemused, thinking, "Oh, there’s that silly dream again. Strange. "

As a teen, I finally saw the movie again, and its magic mutated into something else entirely. The ape was clearly a guy in a suit. Charles Grodin was cartoonish. The snake was completely ridiculous. The relationship between the ape and Jessica Lange was laughable, and even disturbing. Instead of terror and wonder, I watched in a kind of hormonal haze, hoping at each moment that the wet, white dress would slip just a little farther down, until finally it all but disintegrates as she runs into the arms of Jeff Bridges and we’re treated to a side view of her bare breast pressed into his chest. Now, we both leered, Kong and I. And thus the terrors of childhood transformed into the fantasies of adolescence.

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