BY NADIA GERASSIMENKO
It’s an honor for us humans to be able to dream, to see and feel our dreams as if they’re real, to partake in them actively or observe them from an anthropologist’s objective point of view. Dreams can assist us in getting closure from our past traumas through dialogue with a former companion or a beloved relative who passed away. Dreams can also help us envision our future or tap into our imagination to create beautiful art in real life. Dreams can be as bizarre and far-fetched and slap-stick. In our dreams, anything goes, because no one is glaring at us with a judgmental eye.
But dreams can also be nightmarish. They go beyond the peculiar and the unbelievable—they’re uncanny in the most terrifying sense of the word. They cause our deepest wounds to gush out. They make us wake up in cold sweat, dreading to ever go back to sleep again. They shake us up to our core. Because as much as they’re not real, they still mirror our deepest fears. I have a few that haunt me to this day. Perhaps some a little less, while others a little more. All I know is that—upon waking—I sure am glad it was all just a nightmare. Or am I still dreaming?
Walking up and down the stairs
When I was a little girl and lived in Kazakhstan with my parents, we resided on the first floor of a five-story building. I remember wanting to go up the stairs until the last floor, but I could only make it to third floor. And then I started panicking, I had to come down to calm down. I remember the same panicky feeling when I wanted to go up the Clock Tower in the Old Port of Montreal with a few friends. We wanted to see the view from above. It was a 192-step structure. I almost made it to the finish line when I saw a final spiral staircase that led to the observatory. I started going up and, halfway, I couldn’t go on any further. I began freaking out between my friends, and my shoe fell out. I told them I would wait for them outside. I don’t think I ever ran down the stairs so fast. I don’t think ever felt so relieved, being able to feel the concrete ground under my feet.
I often had dreams of me walking up and down the stairs as a child, but the feeling of terror was even more exaggerated. The stairway looked never-ending and I couldn’t even see the bottom. Sometimes it would be breaking after I trod on it or was about to step forward, revealing a bottomless abyss beneath me. I’m not really afraid of walking up the stairs, but I am afraid of heights. Looking down and imagining my fall, I can’t help but feel vertiginous and scared stiff. But every so often, I try to get out of my comfort zone, let the fear sink in, and then release it. I was able to go up the Empire State Building and look at New York City’s grandeur. And I’m not as afraid to ride the Ferris wheel anymore. As long as I’m not suspended at the highest point forever.
Losing all of my teeth
It’s curious to know that I’m not afraid to lose my hair or a limb as much as I’m afraid of losing all my teeth. It must be because teeth are so important to our health and survival. Our digestive system starts in our mouth after all. And it’s partially why our predecessors lived twice—maybe even thrice—as less as us. So when I dream of my teeth loosening, falling out, and my bloodied mouth without a tooth in sight and inside, I feel utterly horrified not to mention mortified. I become a toothless freak show. What’s more frightening: A jaw full of long sharp choppers or a nervy Cheshire cat grin with no teeth? Maybe both are potential material for a horror movie.
Bugs in my dark-lit room
The only bug I can accept to temporarily keep in my house is a ladybug. A graceful and harmless little red black-dotted insect. Just don’t replicate here, okay? I noticed, upon having immigrated to New Jersey from Montreal, the more south you go, the bigger, more apparent, more repulsive, more infested, and more persistent insects become. Before my husband and I decided to move out of our previous old and unkempt apartment complex, I awoke in horror one day to not a few flies but at least 50 of them that kept re-spawning every time I would free or kill one. It took us a few days to finally get rid of them. I couldn’t eat much—I was so disgusted and disgruntled. After having rid of those flies, we took notice of fruit flies also dancing around our house, refusing to get out. “Hell no, we won’t go!” They’d be annoying me while I’d prepare a meal or try to eat; while I’d take a nap in the living room; while I’d wash my face and brush my teeth in the bathroom. They also loved my cat’s litter and food.
No matter how hard I cleaned the apartment, they never went away. Peace was found temporarily from dusk until dawn. Or in winter, while they were hibernating. In the meantime, I was occasionally seeing gigantic centipedes. No matter how many times I saw and killed them by now, I’ll never get used to the horrendous sight of them. It always puzzles me why most people here are so nonchalant about insects. Maybe I’m too much of a person who appreciates and values comfort over wilderness. I just abhor insects, and no wonder I have nightmares about them haunting me in what is supposed to be my safe haven—my room. In my dark-lit room, they slither and jump around the floor, the walls, the ceiling, taunting and terrifying me as they get closer and closer to me with each instant. Fortunately, I don’t dream about them on a regular basis. And it’s been almost half a year since we’ve moved to a quaint apartment above our landlord’s house. We still have insects coming in practically every day, but they always know when to leave the party.
A nightmare within a nightmare
It happens every so often for me to dream of a particular situation, such as me in bed sleeping, then waking up only to realize that I’m still asleep and stuck in my dreamscape. I could go through so many strata of my dreaming state before I finally wake up for good. Even then, I’m still unsure whether I’ve awoken. The uncanny part about such dreams is that they situate the sleeping one in such a mundane setting, doing routine things. But the atmosphere feels like that of Silent Hill—misty and eerie. And you could faintly hear Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Circle starting out as melodious ambient song, but quickly escalating to something absurdly dreadful, adding to the inner quiet madness.
A force trying to kill me
My younger self used to wonder if people who died in their dreams actually died in real life. It was indeed a morbid thought, but I couldn’t help it—I just wanted to know if The Nightmare on Elm Street Effect was a gruesome possibility. It’s not. At least, I hope not. I also wondered if people who were dying in their nightmares have actually witnessed the finality of their death before waking up or before a reel of another dream took over. I’ve never died in my dreams as of yet, but I experienced a powerful “force” trying to kill me whether through suffocation or by throwing me around. Still do sometimes. It’s usually a faceless limbless shadowy energy that can easily and vigorously push me around. I see it. I feel it. But I just can’t move to free myself of its grasp. And although I scream for help, it all comes out mute. As I try to open my lids that feel like they’ve been sown together, I can almost see my real room, my real life coming into view. And then they close again. It takes me a good ten attempts to finally wake up as the force is killing me. And when I do, I gasp. My body remains motionless, and I’m completely petrified for a while.
Not a dream per se, but I had went through what felt like a nightmare for me in my life a few years back. To make story short, I began having health issues that kept progressively increasing in detriment. For all I know, I could have been sick ages ago, but only acknowledged that something wasn’t quite right when it really got bad. When I had to go to ER almost every week, sometimes more than once a week. When I had to beg the doctors to prescribe me something to numb my pain, so I can finally sleep. The most nightmarish thing about it all was not knowing what was going on. I saw so many doctors and left them with more questions than answers. In the meantime, I had codeine as my friend of misery.
I made a little artwork at the time that I called Morphine Dreams. It was a spur of the moment kind of inspiration and chaotically fast art-making (I found some images in magazines to cut out and to glue onto a sheet of paper, made and cut out the “tentacles” myself, and paint-brushed the background on Photoshop). It’s nothing spectacular really, but it sums up all I had felt at that particular moment: Daze, confusion, sadness mixed with inertia, haze, and drowsiness. And blues and blacks and purples.
It’s better nowadays, because I was finally able to get to the bottom of it. The pain is still there. Perhaps it hurts just as much as it did back then, but it’s not petrifying me anymore. I still have the image, which immortalized my suffering of that day, reminding me how bad it was and how far I’ve come.
Editor's Note: A version of this appeared on our old site.
Nadia Gerassimenko is a Media Relations Manager for Yeti Culture, Freelancer in editorial services, and Assistant Editor at Luna Luna Magazine by day, a moonchild and poet by night. Nadia self-published her first poetry collection Moonchild Dreams (2015) and hopes to republish it traditionally. She's currently working on her second chapbook a chair, a monologue. Visit her at tepidautumn.net or tweet her at @tepidautumn.