By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Some years ago I was surprised to learn that, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, my mother and her girlfriends — all military wives — had seriously talked about moving off the Air Force base we lived on and into a big house together. This was more than a daydream kicked about over coffee and cigarettes — these women, whose husbands (including my dad) were on full alert and sequestered at barracks for two weeks, really wanted to set up a sanctuary where everyone would presumably have a fun time waiting out the apocalypse. Last week I was startled again. My sister, Patricia, a 33-year-old mother of an 18-month-old son, told me that she and other mothers have been having nightmares triggered by the impending war. It struck me that my sister and her friends were probably experiencing the same kind of fears Iraqi mothers have been harboring for more than a decade. Here is what they told me:
"I have two boys, 5 and 3. In one dream both of them fell into some water — a bay, I think. I had to jump in but I could only save one and had to choose which one. So I saved the older one because he was closer. Then I went back in the water but the younger one had sunk to the bottom. I never had these types of dreams before, ever, but now I've had so many and they've been ongoing. I'm not religious but the dreams are Armageddon-type nightmares — a lot of fire and brimstone, with me having to save my kids and feeling hopeless. A couple have had crashing planes in them. The apocalyptic ones are definitely war-related." (Victoria, writer and waitress.)
"In one nightmare Sam [her husband] comes home from work early and I ask him why — it's only 6 a.m. and the baby's still sleeping. He tells me the Bomb has landed and a toxic gas has been released. I look out the window and everything is red, yellow and smoky. Then I realize I'm going to die. I go to the baby but fall down from the gas. My dilemma is, Do I wake the baby — because I want to hold him while we're both dying — or leave him in his crib, because maybe he'll have a pain-free death if he doesn't wake up.
"In another dream, I find out it's the end of the world — a nuclear bomb is on the way. I call up Mom and Dad and they tell me, 'Yeah, it's over.' Then it's clear that it's the end of Los Angeles and I'm going to die, but what's so heartbreaking is that I have to kill my baby before it happens, because I don't want him to suffer. I have to find a hypodermic needle and then find a 'suicide solution' and inject it into the baby. I cried for days after just thinking about that dream." (Patricia, homemaker.)
"I've had several where I have to protect my daughters, who are 5 and 7. In the scariest one, my children and I were hiding from some kind of Arab soldiers in a field. I had spread us out so that my youngest child was to my right and my oldest was to my left. There were thousands of men marching through the field looking for people. At some point they found my youngest daughter and pulled her up and two guys had her by the arms and were about to tear her apart. I realized that I had to shoot her and then figure out a way to somehow shoot my other daughter before I got shot. The dream never progresses to the point where I pull the trigger. I felt what it is like to completely give up hope. If the intention of September 11 was to make plain old people here understand what it's like to live in Palestine or a place like it, it succeeded." (Rezi, real estate agent.)
The "moms with nightmares," as Rezi calls her friends, are not alone.
"As a pediatrician, I can tell you that all my patients are concerned about the effects of the war on their children," said Dr. Paul Fleiss, who practices medicine in Los Feliz.
"Oh yes, I think moms are very frightened by the war," says Dr. Lois V. Nightingale, an Orange County clinical psychologist who specializes in postpartum depression. "I'm even seeing older moms with 18-year-old sons upset. They see a connection between their toddlers and their sons eventually going to war. I also have seen an awful lot of postpartum depression — more than any time in the 13 years I've been practicing."
Some of the cause, thinks Nightingale, who runs the Nightingale Center Healthcare Services in Yorba Linda, is part of a collective Jungian dream, although another part is found in the financial and existential uncertainty of these times.
"Life-and-death situations intensify the fears of mothers, who instinctually feel threatened by war," she says. "Moms have these fantasies of ways their children could die and they rehearse these possibilities through what-ifs — even if they have to picture themselves as the perpetrators."
As of this writing, the nightmare of the world's mothers remains a mere rehearsal, although that may have changed by the time you read this.