Something about the weather that humid day back in '79, the way the air turned green and thick, how the rain came in sideways, flipping the leaves in a way leaves probably shouldn't flip, the way the adults around me looked--worried that some random-ass act of God would roll along and ruin their collective shit. The sheer weirdness of the atmosphere stuck with me, I guess.
For years afterwards, I'd have regular tornado dreams. They started out pretty standard: I'd be somewhere, doing something, and then I'd spot a tornado on the horizon and spend the rest of the dream trying to get to shelter or rescue friends or whatever.
The dreams were deeply frightening at first. They got progressively less so as I grew older. Finally, some time in high school, I had a dream where I was chopping wood in the basement and a six foot tall tornado appeared, flipped me around the room a bit and then left. About halfway through, I realized the absurdity of the situation and started to enjoy myself.
The thing is, I realized that tornado dreams were actually pretty damn fun. The challenge of finding shelter became something like the pleasure a lot of people now get anticipating the zombie apocalypse. I think it probably coincided with the first time I saw a tornado documentary on The Learning Channel, back when TLC would actually show things that weren't awful reality shows. Or maybe it's just that weather-watching is actually hella cool.
It's that willingness to adjust that always amuses me the most about nightmares. There's a part of my brain, I think, devoted entirely to the need to brood that switches over to nightmares once I lose consciousness at night. If I have some serious shit on my mind, once the lights go out, that shit simply translates to anxiety dreams.
One time I had a dream I was exploring a haunted house. It was seriously creepy shit: witches hanging from the ceiling, giant spiders, hard-to-locate creaks and groans. I was lost and the only thing I could see through the windows were endless lonely corn fields and a wind-torn empty night sky. My subconscious was having a field day.
I got to the end of the dream, just to the point where if this were a movie, you'd get shanked by the final monster. I knew the source of the haunting was in the next room and I steeled myself and went in.
Right about the time I crossed the door I must have woken up a little, because there was a jump scare, my adult-waking-brain said "fuck this, man" and I jumped the monster and started the beat the hell out of it.When I pulled back to catch my breath, I saw that the source of the haunting was...a giant sunflower with beautiful blue eyes and it was crying because I'd hurt it. It's like my brain said to me "look what you've done with your trying to get out of the nightmare...you big meanie. Is this what you wanted?"
Other times, I'll have the usual anxiety dream about missing the school bus, even though that hasn't been a going concern for over two decades for me. I'll wake up, think "crap, the school bus is coming, I'd better get prepared." Then I'll stop, realize that I actually drive places these days and let it go.
Then I'll drive to school, completely relaxed that I didn't have to worry about the bus. Dream over, right? Nope. I'll realize I can't find my locker. Crap. I'll resolve that, logically. Then my dream will inform me I have no idea what my combination was. I'll work my way around that, then realize I can't remember my class schedule.
At that point, I'll wake up a little, remember I'm not a high school student and then the dream will readjust, informing me that I'm teaching a class. I'll say "hell, no" and decide to leave for somewhere cooler. And promptly be unable to find my car.
That's how nightmares tend to work for me these days. No-pants dreams were a thing until I realized I don't care who sees me without pants on. Forgotten-until-the-last-minute exams, haunted houses, tornadoes, none of these things worry me much. It's been a constant arms race with my subconscious to find things to torture me with and it's largely given up over the last few years.
I rarely have nightmares any more. The only ones that ever get to me are the ones where I "wake up" and find that there's a very large spider on my pillow. And even those happen only rarely, because even the nightmare section of my brain realizes that that's dirty pool.