I’ve never seen one in person, but tornadoes are the most common recurring object in my dreams. These visions are always more vivid and detailed than most, and because I almost always wake right away, tend to be remembered more thoroughly than most. Sometimes it’s just the one twister, turning up unpreempted in one of those rambling journey road-trips. Other times, I’ll be in the middle of some intense or difficult task, or perhaps a boring and repetitive one. Without warning, the supporting characters will get a look of dread and point to the window, or drop what they’re doing and sprint for the basement, leaving me to stare out the window at sometimes four or five (I’ve seen as many as ten) tornadoes bearing down on us with an unstoppable ferocity. Unstoppable, but beautiful; no matter what the level of peril, I’ll always take the time to stop and gape, marvelling at their form, always part of a larger composition which looks to have been set up by a master photographer.
Sometimes, I survive. Often it’ll be the case that I close my eyes in terror, cling to something while the wind whips, waiting to be impaled by the many swirling shards of wood or metal that always accompany the dream-tornadoes, and eventually the beast will pass. Other times, there’s no escape. One particularly memorable dream I was driving my old Volkswagon Beetle of my university days (named “Teddles”, just like this one if you’re interested) and was plucked off Brisbane’s gateway bridge by a particularly savage category three, then flung half a kilometre through the air. Getting a great view of the golf-course along the river through my windscreen as I plummeted toward it, there was no way out, and I made no attempt to get out, crushed like a c an.
You’d probably assume a lot of the imagery that pops up may have been implanted there via all the famous Hollywood tornado scenes you’ll be familiar with – Twister of course (“…we got cows!…”) along with countless others; the twin-twister (alien-infested) madness of Hancock, the tender comeuppance at the end of Take Shelter (spoiler alert… I mean, “whoops”…), and the rather more ominous conclusion to the Coen Brothers’ rather brilliant flick, A Serious Man. The thing is, a lot of the times when I’ve encountered scenes such as these, I get goosebumps, not just at the on-screen terror, but that I have often seen it all before. Particularly the seven tornadoes in “The Day After Tomorrow” – I can remember having a dream in my early teens which was eerily mimicked in that film, replacing the L.A. skyline with the suburban sprawl visible from my bedroom window high up on the hill.
The odd part is that I’m not at all phobic about tornadoes. Quite the contrary – I’d love to see one with my own eyes… from a distance. If anything, despite the occurrence of a dream tornado often bringing with it a mood of hopelessness, extreme dread, or a classic nightmare I’ll wake up from in cold shock, I’m fascinated by them and the human stories that come attached to their real-world counterparts. Like the famous POV phone-cam video filmed in a Joplin gas station in 2011… you never see the tornado itself, but the fear you take away from it is very real.
I had a tornado dream last night. Nothing special. I was at a party at a friend’s New York apartment, a quiet night in with a small bunch of people and wine. The tornado came down the street, visible right out the window. Cars were picked up, streetlights torn and tossed, and plenty of glass windows smashed by the usual flying shards of wood. Terrifying, but it passed, we laughed, we kept drinking. I remained quite calm.
Perhaps that’s what it’s all about? My brain feeding me an unstoppable terror just to see how I cope? Or perhaps it’s nothing more than a regular fear, the devil incarnate for a man of science. Regardless, I love them: being treated to a horror/action/adventure movie for free while I sleep sure beats dreaming about work…