Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
November 15, 2007 § 2 Comments
Last night just after we’d turned the lights out I used some stern resolve to pull myself out from under the blankets, across the icy floor. My ricepads needed re-reheating, and I suddenly had to pee. Just as I reached the bathroom door, Richard kindly offered to let me just use the bed “because we’ve still got the waterproof pad on, from Mum” and suddenly, looking into the dark, shadowy living room was a bit more frightening.
It;s the silly things that scare me most. When I was a kid I was terrified— sleeping-with-the-lights-on, I-can’t-go-to-the-bathroom-at-night-without-waking-my-Mom TERRIFIED— for months after seeing… wait for it… The Secret Garden. Yes, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale of love, determination and redemption. Truly the stuff of nightmares.
I’m not sure which production this was (most likely the 1987 Hallmark Hall of Fame production), but I do remember there was plenty to be frightened of at the beginning of the movie. An early scene, set in India, shows the young protagonist, Mary, entering her parents’ room to ask for a glass of water because all the servants had fled the cholera epidemic. She discovers her dying parents lying on the bed, unresponsive and moaning in pain. But that wasn’t what scared me. Not the fear of abandonment nor the deaths of my parents.
What scared me was the kind old relative who takes Mary in, and who happens to be a hunchback. He’s not a villain in the movie; in fact, he’s barely in it at all. But he walked so slowly, rocking back and forth, and speaking in a low, calm voice… why, you can see how that would scare anyone! A crippled old man! Walking with a stick!
And yet, the idea of him absolutely petrified me. I’d see him behind me whenever I was alone. In the hallway at school, while playing outside, and most especially just after bedtime, walking toward my bedroom door (through a wall, since my room was at the end of the hall). I screamed and screamed and cried and panicked myself into asthma attacks. I slept with the light on. I called for assistance. My brother slept on my floor to protect me. It still wasn’t enough. My mother lost patience and UNPLUGGED MY NIGHTLIGHT and told me the only thing I should be afraid of was her.
As these things usually do, it passed. And I rarely think about it anymore. I doubt my mother even remembers.
I suppose Richard’s mother had some superficial similarities to the old man. She was quite stooped from osteoporosis and she used a walker (when she was feeling docile). Though she had a sharp tongue, she was mostly kind, and I was certainly never afraid of her when she was alive. But the feeling of cold dread I got when looking into the living room last night was the very same that I got when I was a child, imagining I saw the shadow of the old man swaying toward my bedroom door.
So it seems my earliest, most dreadful fear was of old people. But I’m quite sure that the only lingering fear is the dark.