I was a child, just a child, when I started to worry about adult truths, when my bleeding heart began to beat for the tragedies of the world, and when I first started scrubbing my hands raw until they cracked and bled. 

I was a child, just a child, when I figured out it wasn’t a good idea for me to watch the late-night broadcast news, when I learned to escape inside books to recoil from worldly atrocities, and when I had my first anxiety attack.

I was a child, just a child, when sleep first eluded me, when insomnia grew stronger than my prayers, and when vivid nightmares recurred: of realizing I forgot to attend math class all semester long, of werewolves hiding behind curtains with their furry feet sticking out in wait, of enormous tsunami waves rolling in and washing the earth away. 

Empath [em-path] Empaths understand the mental or emotional states of others in a way that defies conventional science and psychology. Empaths have the ability to sense the feelings, thoughts, and energies of people, plants, animals, places, or objects. … Empaths often experience stress or illness if they are bombarded by too many negative emotions. (Source: American Empath Association)

Since the pandemic hit, I’ve had nightmares. I wake before the traumatic event resolves and ponder whether I should write these unnerving dreams down in a journal. I never commit to the process. I’d rather forget the sordid scenes my mind’s eye conjures up in the twilight. Lately, my subconscious seems to be fixated on ominous animal species and becoming stuck.

The most terrifying of my COVID-19 dreams felt more like a hallucination and starred a ferocious snake—an enormous, jewel-green eyed one of muscular form, thick and gargantuan, with elongated, razor-sharp fangs. The dream begins when I’m alone in my house and the ominous screams of a child stop me in my tracks. To the depths of my soul, I know the frightened, shrieking child is one of my own. 

Dashing out the front door, I hurdle my triad of rosebushes and break into a full sprint toward the torturous cry. The spooky shrill is heightening in decibels and desperation, calling out to me like a beacon, a siren alerting me to action. The reason for the desperate howl unfolds as I witness my oldest son wound tightly in the grips a colossal constrictor snake. He makes one failed attempt after another to wiggle free. 

Scared, stuck, struggling to breathe, he spies me and squeaks out, “MOM! HELP!” 

Body frozen, I am stuck in cement as I witness the horror of my son nearing his death. The demonic snake shimmies and shakes my firstborn as his tormenting eyes fixate on mine. I realize this reptile has emerged straight from the pit of hell to ruin me, and feel as if I’m dying alongside my son. Out of nowhere, a neighbor emerges with a gun, army-crawling toward the underbelly of the snake. With precision, he pulls back the trigger of his pistol and aims it at the serpent as I squeeze my eyes shut and pray. 

Shocked by the piercing of metal shot through his scaled reptilian form, the snake lurches in such painful hysterics he releases his life-ending hold on my son. Filled with uncontrollable rage, the constrictor now lunges toward me where I remain stranded, alone. He opens his jaws so wide I can see straight down to his empty stomach. Swiftly, this evil species takes my whole head inside his filthy mouth, sinks his poisonous teeth into my neck and the back of my skull, and attempts to swallow me whole. 

Before my fate is known, I am awake and screaming loudly. Drenched in sweat, heart-pounding, and panting in the dawn light hour, my husband rubs my back with care as tears stream down my face. I drink from the Kleen Kanteen on my bedside table before making my way to the bathroom to splash cool water over my face and lather soap between my hands. I scrub my palms repeatedly until my skin is shiny, pink, raw, exposed. 

If serpents have started appear more frequently in your dreams as of late, you’re not alone. “I have found snakes, and in particular, snake bites a very common dream symbol lately,” Loewenberg told the Cut, which she believes is due to the venomous nature of snakes. “These days, it seems the collective subconscious is giving this virus the form of a snake because it literally is poisonous and we all want to avoid getting bit by it,” she continued. (Source: The Cut)

It’s 5:00 AM on September 30th—the morning after the Presidential Debate—and I’m jolted awake from another terrible dream. This time, my husband and I are sitting, transfixed, watching a documentary about the rise and fall of the Great Lakes. The narrator informs us the video was captured over five decades of filming the same spot on Lake Michigan. My husband aims the remote at the screen to increase the volume. Instead of increased sound, the waters of Lake Michigan rise and spill forth from the edges of the T.V. rapidly filling the entire first floor of our home. 

“Turn it down! Turn it off! Make it stop!” I scream to my husband. 

“I can’t! It’s not working! It’s stuck!” my husband yells back. 

In a flash flood, we are lost to one another, underwater, gone. Desperately, I search for my husband in the murky water as my lungs fill with salt-free liquid. Before I succumb to my fate, I wake up, gasping for air. 

To dream that you are drowning indicates that you are feeling overwhelmed by emotions. … To dream that your house is flooded suggests that you are becoming overwhelmed by your emotions. (Source: Dream Moods http://www.dreammoods.com/ )

I’m at the kitchen sink, scouring pots and pans when my youngest daughter shares a recent dream. She and her schoolmates are eating lunch in their classroom, per COVID school policy. Two boys sit down beside her. 

 “What are you eating? she asks. 

“Peanut butter and jelly,” one boy replies. 

“You can’t eat here. I’m allergic to peanut butter and all nuts,” my daughter responds with urgency. 

 “She’s right. You can’t be near her. She has food allergies,” a teacher says.

In an act of defiance, the boy leans over and smears peanut butter all over my daughter. Instantly, red bumps form, the hives spread, the swelling begins. Nobody will help her, so she tries to convince herself she’ll be alright. Then, she is back home, wanting to hide. She knows if I see the allergic reaction I will administer the Epi-pen. She fears what’s coming but knows her life depends on that shot. 

Putting on a brave face, she states, “Then I woke up.”

I pull her into my arms and let the tears fall. Once she is calm and I am relatively calm, I return to the kitchen sink where I fiercely pump soap into my hands and silently recall, “Clean hands save lives, says the CDC.” Though, what cleanses the persistent fear?

Lather, scrub, rinse, repeat.