What was the lady in the burqa doing in my dining room? Who was that bearded guy with her? Why were they circling closer and closer? What in God's name was going on?
Oh, probably just the same thing that's been going on in your bed too these past few nights: a nice, juicy nightmare about terrorism.
This one was served with all the fixin's: an escape route thwarted, a scream that came out a croak and a cast of characters as politically incorrect as Amos 'n' Ahmed. There was even that old standby, the evil cabbie. Welcome back, gang! Haven't seen you since September!
But now, thanks to Vice President Cheney's decision to tell us that something unspeakably awful is going to happen someday, somewhere and don't say he didn't warn us (this time, anyway), the old goose bumps are back in force. And Tuesday's terror alerts didn't help either.
The only thing different is that now they're accompanied by the urge to shriek: "For God's sake, all you understaffed, underfunded, undertrained, clue-missing, finger-pointing bureaucrats who are supposed to be keeping us safe: Get your act together!"
A colleague of mine has reactivated her dormant disaster scenarios about who will raise her kids if she's blown up in Grand Central Terminal. And my buddy Jim was angry that no one checked his bag as he entered Central Park on Sunday. "There's a large gathering of people here!" he huffed. Shouldn't someone be examining everyone's backpacks?
Of course, we all know that if life is going to be anything near normal, we can't check the backpacks of everyone walking down the street, and we can't avoid the subways, bridges and tunnels that cause our teeth to grit. We can't keep away from crowds and cafes and high-profile targets unless we move to Montana which, by the way, is itself filled with homegrown, bomb-making nuts.
That's why most of us happily slipped into chipper denial just a couple months after 9-11. It's not that we didn't realize we've been infiltrated by an enemy that would cheerfully nuke a nursery school. We did. We do! But thinking about such insanity was driving us insane, especially since there's not a lot we can do to stay safe.
So we buried most of our fears and tried to re-seed with garden-variety worries until along came Cheney, telling us what we already knew and wanted to forget. The old fear started sprouting again. And now it's growing like a beanstalk, at least in our sleep.
After all, what is terrorism but a nightmare made real: our lives and loved ones threatened by a monster in hot pursuit. "We're innocent!" we cry, but the killer doesn't care. How to escape?
Well last night, I woke up. I only pray that it's always that easy.
Lenore Skenazy's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.