Dreaming My Father’s Nightmares

When I was only three or four years old, my family lived in a small, cedar-shaked home close by to Lake Stickney in western Washington State. This house had an attic accessed by a set of stairs that swung down when you tugged on a cord dangling from the ceiling.

One day, Mom pulled the stairs down and let me play in the attic while she concentrated on her sewing.


Lake Stickney

I rubbed a circle in the dust of a little dormer window, and I could see across the narrow county road to the vine maple and cedar thickets beyond. (Photo credit: http://www.century21nhr.com/SearchResultsGM.aspx?freetext=Lynnwood+Territorial+views)

I had plenty of boxes up in the attic to make a playhouse for my dolls. In my rummaging around for objects that might amuse them, I found a plastic box full of fascinating objects; I didn’t know it then, but they were two purple hearts, a bronze star, a sharpshooter’s medal, various foreign coins, and a small, brass-studded German language Bible.

Military medals

Two purple hearts...

This was treasure that demanded an immediate explanation. I held the box carefully to my little chest as I negotiated the steep, slightly unbalanced stairs. Mom looked up from her sewing when I came into the room holding out the box.

Her eyes widened in shock, and she said with excited force, “Put those back where you found them! Don’t ever mention them to your father!”

The medal box, and Mom’s swift reaction to it was my first—and at age sixty, I have to now, most enduring—clue to the grim shadow thrown by my blond and sunny father.

Warren and Mickey Brown 1075

Mickey and Warren Brown 1975

In those youngest years of my life, I often had nightmares of being in a foreign country and having to enter a dark, low house built into the side of a hill full of hidden people. I was a grown man, I had a gun, and I was terrified.


I was a grown man, I had a gun, and I was terrified. (Photo credit: http://play.tm/gallery/6935/america-s-army-rise-of-a-soldier/image/5/)

These mysterious and frightening dreams held no content from media for no such thing existed in our household. Nor did the content come from my father’s stories of the war, for in my whole life with him, he only once mentioned the war. He told me he had learned to peel an orange in one continuous strip from a British soldier.

He said he learned how to peel an orange from a British soldier. (Photo credit: http://www.jupiterimages.com/Image/royaltyFree/88417261)

I believe now that my psychic bond with my father was so permeable that I either dreamed his nightmares or that his repressed memories entered my sleeping mind.

Warren Brwon, Lisle Brown, Sandy Brown Jensen

I am eight years old with my brother Lisle, my sister Toren and our dad in our childhood landscape, which seems now both immediate and yet so far away and so much like a dream...

The Lost Children of Chechnya

Nov. 11, 2010

Is there anything more inexplicable than our ability to dream anxious,

compelling narratives from what seem to be other times, other lives?

Map of Chechnya

This dream took place in, as far as I could tell, a mountainous region of Chechnya, about which I know almost nothing.

I brought three children, all boys, say ages 2, 5 and 8—very young boys; I brought them on foot up a mountain, across alpine meadows, tree-covered ridges. (Photo credit:http://photopicture.us/chronicles/exhibition_01.php)

Dariel Gorge

There was still some snow in the cold shadows of the forest. (Photo credit: http://maailmajapaikat2.wordpress.com/2010/07/15/darial-gorge/)

In a clearing high up, I found the cabin we’d been hiking toward, and we entered. It was a one room log cabin, but one side had been curtained off.

The priest lived there as a kind of hermit. I knew him as a humorous and kind man. I looked around, but he wasn’t at home; he came in from the woods shortly, as he was expecting us. (Photo credit: http://0.tqn.com/d/taoism/1/0/g/-/-/-/Old-Taoist-Priest-.JPG)

I’m not sure what we were doing there or how long I was to leave the boys in his care, but obviously not long. I was in charge of the boys’ safety; we were fleeing from some terrible danger.

I needed to leave the children for a short time, and I left, hiking downhill, across a meadow. A small plane circled, recognized me with a wing tilt, and landed on a narrow power line maintenance road (although there was no electric power available locally—I knew that—no communications.

I got in the plane for the short ride to a little town in the valley. The pilot started to taxi, and two more people ran out of the woods and got suddenly on board, and we took off irrevocably.


Bush plane in mountains

As it got darker, it got snowier, and we got further and further away. We weren’t going the short hop of my errand; this was a long and mountainous crossing to a distant town ... (Photo credit: http://forums.x-plane.org/index.php?showtopic=677)

One of the other passengers was my sister Cheryl, and the other an armed man; together, I knew we were all the protection the boys had on the mountain and somehow, through a too-quick and unconsidered decision, we were all on the same plane, flying away at dusk.

We flew down the mountain following the power line, often under it. As it got darker, it got snowier, and we got further and further away. We weren’t going the short hop of my errand; this was a long and mountainous crossing to a distant town with few lights and none of them electric.

"Mountain Village Gunib in Daghestan" Painting by artist Ivan Aivazovsky

"Mountain Village Gunib in Daghestan" Painting by artist Ivan Aivazovsky (Photo credit: http://myhomekavkaz.blogspot.com/)

We landed on a dark air strip and put up in a small, dark-paneled old hotel room, Cheryl and me together. I was pacing the room, beside myself with anxiety for the safety of the boys. I knew the hermit priest would take basic care of them,

Childrn of Chechnya

but they were my responsibility. I was consumed with panic; remote, stranded, unable to return, terrified, anxious.