The Cemetery Dream

Patrick Zachmann/Magnum Photos

For a period of two or three years during the late 1980s or early 1990s—it’s difficult, now, to recall exactly when, but I know it was while I was a graduate student—I repeatedly dreamt the same terrifying dream. I was then in my late twenties or early thirties, and it had been a long time since I’d had any dreams that I could remember. (One in particular, an ecstatic, buoyant fantasy of sudden flight, used to recur, but that was when I was a small child—six or seven or so, not long after my mother’s mother died, young enough not to be afraid when, one night, I saw her ghost standing by the door of my room, white and smiling and talking to me softly, although I couldn’t make out the words.) But during that strange period when I was struggling to write my dissertation on sacrificial virgins in Greek tragedy—and struggling, too, with the secret thought that perhaps graduate school wasn’t for me, perhaps there was some other kind of writing I ought to be doing—the awful dream came regularly, insistently. Once a week sometimes, sometimes every other week, sometimes twice a week or more, it would (as I then thought) be waiting for me as soon as I dropped off, identical each time in every detail: the open gate, the familiar headstones, the sudden sunset, the missing graves, the dead I knew so well but who didn’t seem to know me any more, chasing me, the gun, the embarrassing horror-movie detail of the silver bullets.

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