In an episode of 30 Rock, Liz Lemon devises a list of chores or favours her boyfriend can carry out for her, and a corresponding list of points he gains for doing so. One of these is "Listening to me describe my dream." It's true: for some people, there are few things more boring than listening to someone else talk about their dream. I don't think this is because dreams are uninteresting, but they are nebulous and vague and these characteristics probably infect the stories we tell about them. But if you are one of those people: no need to continue reading.
I was six years old the first time I had this nightmare. It recurred about a dozen times over the sixteen years that followed, but it hasn't happened for almost five years now. In it, I was faced with two physical incarnations of my mother, both of whom claimed to be the real thing and decried the other as an impostor. Each would tell me how much they loved and cared for me. Unable to tell which one was true, I fled, my little dream-face covered in snot and tears. I found myself running through a network of caves and caverns which were not brown in colour but a purplish-blue, like in the computer games I played and at that age. There I found my maternal grandmother and ran into her arms. She asked me what was wrong but, before I could explain, my grandmother's clone emerged from the shadows making the same consoling noises. I screamed and tried to run, and then I awoke.
The most memorable recurrence of this dream happened when I was fourteen or fifteen. In it, I was walking to the kitchen of the family home, laid out in my dream exactly as it is in reality. On my approach, I could see my Mum talking across the table to someone who wasn't yet in my view. I remember thinking that it must be her friend Kate. When I entered to see The Double, I turned and ran for the front door of the house. I remember thinking, within the dream, "I'm having this nightmare again." I took the only route from the kitchen to the front door and was not overtaken, but there I was met with a(nother?) double who grabbed me. I awoke.
I haven't had this nightmare of Doubles since I was 21, but it was replaced by another recurring nightmare. I first experienced it two years ago, and maybe ten times since then. There is no narrative or plot: only an image which isn't always there. The image is of me, suspended and floating in a huge expanse of white space. The only change to occur is that the 'camera' may pan out until I am invisible, to reveal the boundless vastness of this space. The feeling that accompanies this vision is one of the most frightening and unpleasant I've ever felt. There is some sense of a task that needs to be completed, but which is so immense that to dedicate a lifetime to it would be to its completion as a mote of dust is to the Earth. The terror is sustained but has the illusion of change, like a shepard tone (which would make a fine soundtrack to the dream). Because there is no culmination, I don't wake up suddenly. When I do finally awake, the sheets are drenched with sweat and I'm drenched with the relief that it's over. I've never had this dream when when I fall asleep sober, or when I fall asleep with someone else. Sadly the same can't be said for all nightmares.
“Why does the mind do such things? Turn on us, rend us, dig the claws in. If you get hungry enough, they say, you start eating your own heart. Maybe it's much the same.” - Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
Image: London, 2007.
Words: Glasgow, 2012.