Dreams and Nightmares

Editor’s Note: We would like to acknowledge that the content of this piece may be difficult for some readers. Content note: depictions of ICE raids, depictions of death.

I don’t dream about dragons or fantastic beasts. I don’t have nightmares about vampires or werewolves or ghosts. I taught myself not to.

Last night he came to me in a dream. His once round face was pale and gaunt. His skin was yellowed and covered in thick, red lesions. He was thinner than he was when I met him at 18. His once lustrous golden curls were brittle and broken.

He warned me not to touch him; so afraid he was of his own blood.

I held him and caressed him. I poured every ounce of love I had into the body that had so failed him.

As a child, I used to have vivid, detailed nightmares about all manner of terrifying creatures—murderous monsters that would chase me through castles and strange, alien worlds. I spent nights crying myself back to sleep on the floor of my mother’s bedroom.

I learned to shut these things out, to force my rational mind to recognize that I was dreaming and to wake myself up. Since then, I’ve never had fantastic or unrealistic dreams. I still wake up at the first hint that something unreal might occur.

Last week I awoke to a deafening pounding on my front door. They can’t know that she’s here, I thought. As I scrambled out of bed, she met me in the hallway wearing a visceral fear that I will never know on her face. I’ve never even seen her worried.

“I’ll handle them, just go hide,” I whispered. “They don’t know that you’re here.”

She nodded, her wild curls falling over her brown shoulders, her dark eyes glistening with tears. I crept to the window to see three ICE officers crowding my front porch.

I faked a vibrato I did not feel, “Who’s there?”

“ICE. Open up!” A booming voice returned.

I leaned against the wall to keep my shaking legs from collapsing. “Do you have a warrant?”

No response except the continuous pounding of his fist against the door.

“Do you have a warrant!?” I yelled louder.

“Yes. Let us in!” Called a second voice.

“Slide it under the door.”

“No, just open up.”

“Slide the warrant under the door!” I commanded again. Then, “I’m calling my lawyer!”

The scrape of metal against wood jarred me to my core as they rammed the door open with the butt of a rifle.

I woke up, tears streaming down my face. I was empty, gutted by sheer terror and violation. And my inability to protect my best friend.

The consequence of my younger anti-nightmare training is that my dreams are boring and predictable with realistic timelines and dull, quotidian activities.

But my nightmares are likewise appallingly realistic.

I wake up tangled in sweat-drenched sheets after watching car accidents or murders I am powerless to prevent. In my dreams I attend funerals that are so accurately detailed that when I wake, I believe they truly happened. I cry, mourning the loved ones I lost during the night, and am flooded with relief when I finally realize I was only dreaming.

Thankfully, these nightmares are few and far between. Or, at least, they used to be.

I saw your body on the cold cement. Your blood slowly pooling into the gutter. Your dress was a little ripped, scuffed in a way you would never permit.

You, a pillar of strength and dignity, were killed for the crime of your own existence.

Your makeup was flawless, as always. Your teal eyeshadow and luxurious lashes were perfectly applied. The highlighter on your cheeks glimmered in the light of the street lamps above.

It looked like you were resting—exhausted from a day of catcalls and harassment as you went about your grocery shopping, your errands, your life—as though you just decided to lie down on the sidewalk and take a nap. You could have been sleeping if it weren’t for the blood.

I’m not a superstitious person. I’ve never put much stock into interpreting my dreams. I know that they are just my brain’s way of organizing my subconscious thoughts.

Yet the fact that I am having these dreams, these nightmares, all the time says something astounding about the current state of affairs.

Each night, my queer brothers are dying, once again, from AIDS, unable to access the preventative and ongoing healthcare they need for preexisting conditions.

Each day, my undocumented sisters are making safety plans, continually having “the talk” with their children and younger siblings who are citizens, who will be left behind and alone if they are deported.

And my trans siblings continue to be mercilessly murdered.

Since childhood, my dreams have never once been far-fetched. Everything about each of these dreams is possible, is probable, is happening daily.

These nightmares do not wake me, and try as I might, I cannot awaken from the nightmare in which we are currently living.

E.L. Axford is an angry, Roller Derby DykeTM who would prefer to keep her identity a mystery before her online persona gets her real-world persona into more trouble than she can handle. When she’s not angry (which is rarely) she enjoys drinking loose-leaf tea.

Dear Heather, (Or, A Mental Healthcare Manifesto In Response to Ignorance)

Dear Heather,

We the people with mental illnesses are all natural variations of humankind1, whom some have chosen to deem abnormal/unstable and in need of care. Historically, the mental healthcare system – the very system that claims to care for us – has caused us significant harm.

The field of psychology is an inexact science with a flawed, even sadistic, past and present. So inexact and sadistic in fact, that gays and lesbians were (and quite frankly still are) subjected to “conversion therapy,” and being transgender and the ordinary experiences of transgender folk was (and still are) considered mental illnesses, among many misguided treatments and diagnoses.

I’m sure you are aware of these inexplicable transgressions within your field.

We the people with mental illnesses are simultaneously told that our mental illnesses do not define us, yet here we are, with these diagnostic labels receiving treatment. For many of us, these diagnoses and experiences of hospitalizations become facets of our continuously transforming identities. These identities related to mental illness intersect with our preexisting notions of self and those aspects of our being that have yet to be uncovered, formed, or accepted.

My intersectional identities (at this moment) are as follows: gay, bigender/nonbinary, Jew(ish) and sexual assault survivor.

So why, you may ask, am I linking history and identity? Well, if you’ve truly acknowledged history and done the research, then it is apparent that the forces of white supremacy and the various forms of prejudice (including but not limited to racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia) mainly and historically produced and/or upheld by white people are at the root of the struggles marginalized communities face. In fact, these forces are responsible for constructing the identities that non-white, non-cishet people are forced to function and navigate the world within.

I believe it is your responsibility to create a safe environment for those who are unsafe in this world, a world that has prioritized and valued the experiences and feelings of white, cishet men and women over any and all other experiences. For those who fit into this category like yourself2, it is pertinent that you recognize your own privilege when providing much needed mental healthcare to the various and intersecting marginalized communities, who (because of racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) are more likely to be mentally ill. It might seem like an impossible task to undo and undermine the dangerously constricting falsities imposed by those who came before us, but it may just be the most necessary and worthwhile of pursuits.

As a queer, trans person who just so happens to be mentally ill, I believe that you and every other mental healthcare professional ought to correct the wrongs of those before you and make a diligent effort to prioritize the mental health of marginalized communities. Unfortunately, when it comes to some of our interactions and discussions, you have not only perpetuated these wrongs, but have defended and made excuses for your decision to do so.

Therefore, I find it crucial to reinforce the following:

  • People with PTSD shouldn’t be called paranoid.
  • Transgender and nonbinary people should not be questioned or compared to cisgender people.
  • LGBTQAI people should not be stereotyped as being predatorial.

I know nothing of your upbringing or life experiences but I do know this – you have chosen a profession that falls in line with a grand and endless humanistic pursuit.

Never stop reminding yourself of that.

All the best,

Annette Covrigaru

  1. As are all people, of course.
  2. Please do feel free to confront me and correct me on your identities if I’m mistaken, as one regretful mistake I made when discussing the topic of privilege with Scott was assuming he was heterosexual.

Annette Covrigaru is a gay/bigender American-Israeli writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. They were a Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voices nonfiction fellow and writer-in-residence in 2014 and 2017, respectively. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kaaterskill Basin Review, TQ Review, Stitch, Emerge and Cosmonauts Avenue. Annette is currently completing a master’s degree in Holocaust Studies through the University of Haifa. See more on Annette’s website.