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Nightmare In Bucharest

Most moms of young kids I’ve known can be divided into two groups: baby moms and toddler moms. Toddler moms find the baby days the most stressful, because you can’t talk to a baby and figure out what it wants. Baby moms are the exact opposite.

I was definitely a baby mom. I stayed home with both my daughters for the first year (possible because of Elterngeld—thanks German government!). To me, they were both like very intense pets you constantly pamper and carry around with you. Figuring out what they needed and wanted was usually just a question of trial and error: You’re not hungry? Maybe you’re tired. You’re not tired? Maybe you’re bored. You’re not bored? Maybe you’re….oh, who knows. Sometimes they were probably just overwhelmed and pissed off at the world, which seemed fair enough.

But the toddler years, those were tough: not being able to go into a shop without them tearing everything off the shelves; turning my back for all of five seconds, during which time they somehow managed to start juggling knives and/or try very hard to jam their grubby little fingers into electrical sockets.

My older daughter had “street candy radar.” She always found the most disgusting pieces in some crack in the cobblestones, covered in ants and someone else’s spit. “Ooo, candy,” she’d say, and pop it in her mouth, and sometimes I wasn’t fast enough to stop her. My younger daughter took things one step further: she was convinced cigarette butts were candy. Welcome to the joys of urban parenting.

Although I enjoyed the baby days, I wasn’t really prepared for the crazy intensity of motherhood. Here’s this little creature, and it depends entirely on you; it will literally die if you don’t take care of it. At times, this felt terrifying.

My daughters are 10 and 8 now and of course they still depend on me, but it’s not the same. But the terror is still there, I’ve just mostly managed to push it down into the subconcious.

Yesterday, I edited an old short story called Men with Knives, which I wrote when my second daughter was still a baby. Men with Knives surreally addresses the ultimate horror story for any parent: abduction and murder. But really, the greater threat to our children is far more ordinary: drowning, disease, car and bike accidents, falling off balconies and out of trees. These things could happen to us too, except maybe falling out of trees, unless you’re a different kind of parent than I am. But when you have kids, dying yourself doesn’t seem half as terrifying as your children dying—at least it doesn’t to me.

In the end, I think Men with Knives is really a horror story about my terror that I do not have absolute control, that I can’t guarantee my kids will always be safe and out of harm’s way.

I will now push that thought back into the depths of the subconcious, because I can’t handle it.

But it’s still there, and sometimes it wells up, like it did in a recent nightmare.

The nightmare was initially triggered by something the father of a friend told me about a village on the Baltic Sea called Ahrenshoop. My husband and I love Ahrenshoop; we spend a week or two there nearly every summer, although there’s always a fair chance it will rain most of the time.

A few months ago, we thought about renting an apartment there this summer. The place is popular, and you usually have to book at least eight months in advance, but it never hurts to look. Ahrenshoop is on the pricey side, but we found an agency that offers holiday apartments at a cheaper rate. The places are often a little tacky—two summers ago we had one that literally looked like a miniature version of the palace of Saddam Hussein—but if the weather is good, we spend most of the day on the beach. And if it’s not good, I learned I can still easily lose myself in a good book, even in faux despot grandeur.

But when we looked online, we couldn’t find the website of the affordable agency.

That’s strange. Maybe it’s down for maintenance?

Not so.

My friend’s father told me a very rich man, who owns one of the major soccer teams in Germany, recently bought up about half of Ahrenshoop, and has since started closing restaurants and poshing up the place even more.

So many places I’ve loved have been gutted by wealth and gentrification, closing them off to all but the smallest sliver of the population, aka Mr and Mrs Moneybags. It broke my heart to hear Ahrenshoop will likely be added to the list.

In the dream, my husband and I went to another place we love, Burg Stavenow, (I mention it here). But it was no longer “our” Burg Stavenow, it was a soulless, upscale hotel. My husband went to talk to the owner to find out if we could even afford to stay there, and my daughters and I went outside to wait for him in the car.

The next part of the dream is a little unclear, although I think my daughters were fighting, or distracting me in some other way, which meant I didn’t notice my older daughter had started driving the car until we were on a major throughfare in Bucharest, Romania.

Here’s the order of my thoughts after this happened:

How did we get so fast to Bucharest from Germany?

Oh my god, my ten-year-old is driving a car!

And I don’t have my phone or wallet,

and I don’t know Bucharest,

and even if I did, I have no sense of direction!

Me: Turn around! Turn around! Turn around!

But there was nowhere to make a u-turn.

My daughter drove a while longer and my panic stayed, but I also started thinking about other things, like:

Hmm, Bucharest actually looks a lot like Karl-Marx-Allee. (FYI, I looked online today and Bucharest actually does look a lot like Karl-Marx-Allee, although I guess that’s not very surprising.)

We always go west or north for vacation, but never east. Why is that? Bucharest looks really nice.

Romanian is a romance language, related closely to French, not at all Slavic which seems strange. Then again, Finnish is related to Turkish. How did that happen?

Apparently, even in nightmares my mind goes off on tangents.

Eventually, we drove into a residential neighborhood, where snow was lying on the ground (the beginning of the dream was in summer.) I helped my daughter to park, then got out of the car.

Me: Stay here and lock the doors. I’m going into that house and look for help.

I went through the gate and broke into the house, a small, nondescript bungalow. When I got inside, I realized all I wanted to do was wash my hands. The dream had seemed incredibly real until this point, but now my critical observer interrupted.

Critical observer: Wash your hands? Oh come on, that’s just ridiculous!

But wash my hands I did. When I finished, the people who lived in the house came to the bathroom, a woman and a man in their early 60s. The woman spoke excellent English.

My critical observer was back behind the curtain, so I was suprised how friendly they were; after all, I had broken into their house. I told them about my predicament and the woman said, No problem. My husband knows where Burg Stavenow is. He’ll take you and your daughters there.

Oh, thank god.

They led me out of the house, but we ended up on a busy shopping street in summer, not a residential street in winter.

My daughters and the car were nowhere to be found.

I told them this and the woman said, Oh dear. Going back is always difficult. But we can try.

She led me through all these winding staircases filled with Romanian and foreign junkies in various states of decay.

My daughters were out in the cold, terrified and alone, not knowing where I was, and Bucharest was more dangerous than I thought.

The higher we climbed, the greater my panic grew, until I finally realized: It’s too late. The man and the woman aren’t nice at all. They’re the leaders in a child pornography ring, and they have my daughters now.

I’ll never see them again.

I don’t remember my dreams very often anymore, but when I was in my teens and 20s I dreamt incredibly detailed sagas almost every night. At some point, I taught myself lucid dreaming.

This skill came back at this point in my dream, because the nightmare had grown too horrible. Here are the endings I went through in order:

I find my daughters and they are alone and naked in a room and I rescue them.

(But no, this can’t be the end. Such an experience would scar them too deeply.)

I take them with me into the house and they are scared and they have to walk with me through the junkie maze and we still don’t know what will happen.

(But no, this can’t be the end. It’s still too terrifying.)

My daughters are with me and the man and the woman tell me they are going to take them but I say, Take me instead. They agree, and my daughters go back to my husband and I become a sex slave and I never see my family again.

(This is better, because at least they’re safe. But it still can’t be the end.)

I’ll never know if I managed to fix things in the dream and do away with the danger because the alarm clock rang and I had to get up and help my daughters get ready for school.




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