When I was in the third grade, I had the scariest/freakiest dream of my life, and the memory of it is still with me, as if it was a movie I’d just watched.
We went to Catholic school, and during Lent had to go to service in the middle of the day, once a week. Any Catholic will tell you that Lent services are bleak and very quiet – not something we looked forward to. For some reason, a few weeks in a row, I sat in the same spot, which happened to be directly in front of an Old Italian Lady. She was quintissential OIL – lacy head scarf, short, hunched over, dowdy old dress and shoes – I’m even remembering a hairy wart, but that could just be subconscious embellishment for the sake of the story. She used to sit through the service and whisper/pray to herself the entire time. It drove me crazy, and I dreaded OIL every week. She was also kind of scary to look at – at least if you’re eight.
Anyway, the dream was one of those where the proverbial “Everyone” was in our house. In my eight-year old mind, this was everybody in my life – teachers, schoolmates, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. I think they all lived there with us. The kids were all upstairs and examining “clues” they had just found – not quite sure exactly what they were, but it was evidence that something sinister was in the house. Then, my Dad, sister and I were walking down the street. We saw one of our neighbors walking towards us, a thirty-ish man. I went to run to say hello and my dad called me back to him. I turned to face my dad, and when I turned back to the neighbor, he had morphed into OIL. The three of us went back to the house.
Once we were there, I realized the house was empty and I was by myself. I was calling out for people, but no one answered. Then I saw the shadow of OIL, as if she was lurking around the corner in our dining room. I was terrified but started walking towards her anyway. When I was almost there, I put my hand out – and realized it was not a shadow at all, but a cardboard cutout/standee of a shadow; it fell over as I touched it. It was at that point that I realized: she was right behind me. I awoke with a scream. I stayed awake the rest of the night and (clearly) have not forgotten it since. I never did see OIL in church again.
Imagine my astonishment when years later, in college, we studied the artist Georgio di Chirico in my Dada & Surrealism course. First, I felt an affinity with the artist because he was of Sicilian hertiage (like me!) and seemed to have a thing for “melancholy” (also like me!). But when I saw his painting “Melancholy and Mystery of a Street,” I was struck speechless (see image below). It was my dream! Kind of creepy, right?
I wonder if OIL was some sort of witch. Or if I was somehow tied to di Chrico in a past life. Or, if this connection was the product of an over-imaginitive, weirded-out eight-year old with a distaste for whispering old ladies – and a very big coincidence. It’s the kind of thing that reminds me how subjective art can be. Many might look at this painting and see a study of shadows and perspective; some might look and not see anything special at all. But I will always look at it and see a window into my childhood, almost as if the artist froze a moment in time from my subconscious.