Call me Armand -- Armand Schnitzelbender. I play the tuba with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. For several years I have been experiencing severe nightmares almost nightly. Iíve been to several specialists Ė Doctors Weeks and Eastburn, and Dr. Burnside at the Neurology Institute -- and they were unable to find any physical cause. Dr. Burnside concluded that the cause of the nightmares must be psychological. He recommended several psychiatrists in the Baltimore area Ė yourself, a Dr. Doemling, and one or two others. I became Dr. Doemlingís patient, but I was never able to develop a sense of trust in him. Sometimes I feel that the world is full of paranoids and theyíre all plotting against me. After about a year of treatment it became apparent that my therapy was going nowhere and I stopped seeing him. Iíd like to try again with you if you think you can help me stop these nightmares.. Can you help me, doctor?
* * *
My nightmare starts off as any normal dream and then suddenly a feeling of terror overwhelms me. I feel myself deforming into some unspeakable monster. I know that I must scream to make it stop but I am unable to make a sound. Finally I manage to scream like a little girlie and wake up in a cold sweat with my heart pounding. The details of the dream fade quickly, but the feeling of terror lingers.
* * *
Last night I followed your suggestion and kept a pen and note pad at my bedside. When I awoke after the usual nightmare, I wrote down as much of the dream as I remembered. before the memory faded. The dream began with me seated at a table while my mother was preparing potato pancakes. She turned to me and asked, "Would you like some honey, honey?" At this point the table became very large with many people seated at it. They were laughing and applauding what they considered her witty remark, repeating it to one another: "Ö some honey, honey Ö honey, honey." Then the feeling of terror began and I screamed myself awake.
I felt no surprise that my mother was speaking English even though she had always spoken to me in German. The details of the dream have no significance for me, as far as I am aware. I eat my potato pancakes with applesauce, not honey. I donít mind using honey as a sweetener but I donít particularly seek it out. I donít know anyone called Honey. It all seems meaningless.
* * *
My worst memory? That would be the final year or so of The War, before I emigrated to America. I was a corporal in the German army, not by choice, serving on the Russian front. Our resistance was collapsing and we were being overrun. We soldiers didnít have much of a selection -- being killed or being captured. A few of us decided to take some control over our destinies. I became their leader, more or less by default. We deserted and took our chances on being caught by either the Russian or German army.
By all logic we should have frozen to death or starved. Yet somehow we survived, though I canít imagine how. Itís all a blur in my memory now.
* * *
Another nightmare. This time I was playing the tuba while Rosemary Clooney was singing Irving Berlinís Always, except that she substituted the word Honey for Always: Iíll be loving you, Honey; With a love thatís true, Honey Öand so on. Then came the terror and the screaming and the waking up.
As you requested, Iíve tried to remember more about our experiences after our little group deserted. I recall a particularly nasty blizzard soon after we crossed the border into Lithuania. Iíve never been much of a religious man but I found myself praying to whatever gods may be for food and shelter. That very day we came across the battle-scarred remains of an estate near Vilnius. We took refuge in the hunting lodge and scraped together whatever food we could find . Shortly thereafter, we killed a deer which had somehow managed to survive till then, and we feasted for several days. So it seems that my prayers had been answered Öfood and shelter had been provided.
* * *
The word Honey occurred again in my latest dream but I still donít know if it means anything. In last nightís dream I was trying unsuccessfully to look up Honey in the dictionary. Winnie the Pooh was carefully explaining to me that if you know how a word is spelled you donít have to look up its spelling, whereas if you donít know its spelling you wonít know where to find it. He was carrying a jar labeled HUNNY. After that came the usual terror sequence.
Iím beginning to remember the wartime events more clearly now. A number of children had taken shelter in the barn on the shelled estate. Itís odd how one forgets these things. We werenít able to understand their jabbering -- Lithuanian bears little resemblance to any other language. However, one of the boys was fluent also in Italian which I understood sufficiently for us to be able to communicate, after a fashion. I gathered that the estate had been the property of his father, a Count who had the misfortune of being in residence with his family and servants when the shelling occurred. All of the adults had been killed.
Itís all coming back to me now. The deer had been consumed and we were again without food. I tried praying again, and suddenly experienced an epiphany. My prayers had indeed been answered if I had the resolve to act. I had prayed for food and in response the children had been delivered to us. I led my group to the childrenís barn where we selected our first subject. For humanitarian reasons we selected a two-year-old who we felt was too young to be able to understand what was going to happen to her. It turned out that she was the baby sister of the lad with whom I had been talking. He fiercely resisted our taking her, but of course his struggles were hopeless. As we took her away she kept calling his name . . . Hanni she called, Hanni . . .I suppose his name was actually Hans or Heinrich, but to her he was her big brother Hanni. I felt pretty bad about having to slaughter her, but it was a matter of survival. At least we did it as quickly and humanely as possible. My recollection is still a bit spotty, but anyway, thatís how I remember it. All this is confidential, of course; doctor-patient privilege, and all that, ha, ha.
The psychiatrist sat quietly and idly fingered a letter opener as he listened to Armand. At one point the psychiatrist murmured, "Hans or Heinrich, or perhaps Hannibal?" His expression remained quite pleasant if one ignored the red glint in his eyes. "How nice for you to have your prayers answered so expeditiously." he remarked.
"So it was Hanni, not Honey, I was hearing in my dreams. I suppose that a part of me was feeling some guilt over this incident," said Armand, "and was causing my nightmares. But now that I can examine it rationally I realize that it was a regrettable but necessary act of survival. You understand that, donít you, doctor? We were all really victims of the war. You donít think Iíll be experiencing any more nightmares, do you?"
"Well," said the doctor, holding his letter opener as he approached Armand, "Perhaps just one more nightmare."