I’ve had nightmares about vampires all my life. Now I know why
Joss Whedon’s vampires have been a metaphor in my subconscious for nearly 20 years and I only just realised what for
Vampires have evolved as their genre has been been the relentless subject of textual intervention. From the hunchbacked Nosferatu to the glitter-ball heartthrobs in Twilight, what used to terrorise millions is now the crush of “tweens” worldwide.
My internalisation of this ancient monster took place at the same time it did for most people in my generation; when a sassy high schooler called Buffy took to our screens in the late 90s, a heroine that would redefine both the vampire legend and it’s place in pop culture forever. Through the seasons, vampires started out as a very real threat to the inhabitants of Sunnydale. A few seasons in, vampires are nothing more than stake-fodder, as Buffy and her friends contend with much more frightening – and frighteningly-mundane – monsters, such as addiction and grief, in addition to maniacal gods and the essence of evil itself.
As long as I can remember, I have been able to control my dreams, a discipline called dreamweaving in some circles. Even if I cannot control the entire narrative – which ironically is just a product of my brain – I can play an active role in my fantasy. Sometimes, I’m able to know that I’m in a dream altogether, and wake myself up, or actually resume control of my physical body by shouting for help to be woken up by the person sleeping next to me.
However, most of the time, my subconscious produces an entirely different rule set for me to participate in my dream with; a diegesis akin to that of The Matrix or even Alice in Wonderland. In my dreams, even if I don’t know I’m dreaming, I can fly, shoot lightning bolts from my hands and freeze things, much like a hybrid of The X-Men’s Ice Man and Storm.
In my dreams, I’m usually struggling against the undead, who are nothing more than glorified piñatas for my lightning strikes. They are not handsome or broody as Stephanie Meyer would have you believe; they are mindless, rabid and two-dimensional, not at all dissimilar from the Uruk-hai orcs that embattled Gondor in Lord of The Rings.
At university, during my creative writing and media degree, we explored why Bram Stoker, Anne Rice and a whole host of other writers were seduced by vampires. Even while we sat in workshops and discussed the historical and cultural symbology of the vampire legend to different cultures, I still never understood why I have dreamt about them my entire life.
In my dreams, much like in Buffy, they are nothing more than fodder to be discarded by swiftly dealt lightning bolts from my hands. They are only dangerous when they get up close, close enough to see how ugly they are, faces glazed over with all-consuming rage and hunger that cannot be reasoned with. All the better to make an homage to Dark Willow, and incinerate them from several feet away.
Today I came home from work and finally understood, after about 20 years of dreaming about hordes of glorified lightning rods with fangs, what they represent in my subconscious.
This afternoon my manager told me she has breast cancer. She caught it early and already has treatment lined up. This didn’t mean that she didn’t cry while telling our team. This didn’t mean, that even though I know the news could have been worse, I didn’t cry while she told us. I cried because she cried, because she is my friend and confidante as well as my manager, who has been a rock for me through my depression. I cried because I fucking hate cancer, because her future is uncertain. And I feel like swearing and raging and throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t deserve this, who does, but not her. Not her. Nothing reduces my psychi to that of a toddler than things I cannot control. I can control my dreams. I cannot control cancer. Cancer isn’t evil. It isn’t intelligent. It cannot be reasoned with.
So after coming home from work, after wondering what I can say, what I can do to make things better (nothing, Shaun, there is nothing you can do), I did what I usually do after a day at work and fell asleep. It’s a bad habit but I seem to always need it. I don’t dream as much as I used to as a teenager, or even in my early twenties, and when I do, vampires and other things that go bump in the night are rarely present these days.
But tonight, there was a legion of them, coming for me and my sister in the pitch black darkness. We were on a trail across the Nevada Dessert, with no artificial lighting to guide the way. I used lightning flashes as flares, to spot their silhouettes as the hordes advanced on our position, blasting them away as they came too close. But soon there were too many, coming at us from all sides. I used my frost to make glacier-thick walls to stave off their pincer movement…
I do not remember how the dream ended. I am not sure if this is when I woke in tears, or if I’ve since forgotten because I keep trying to grasp at this dream. But the meaning is obvious to me. I cannot simply hurl a lightning bolt at cancer. Nor can I smash it apart with a sledgehammer or fire a bazooka at it. I feel like a child for saying this, for being this idealistic, but I wish I could. I wish I could tear cancer apart with my bare hands, because at least I’d be doing something for my friend, help her kill this fucking thing that has her scared and upset.
So now I know why vampires feature so heavily as the antagonists in my dreams. Buffy taught me that there are much scarier things in life than vampires. That vampires are easier to kill than cancer, or any of life’s other obstacles.
I don’t know how to end this post, because I don’t know what happens next. And I keep going between feeling powerless to help, and selfish for feeling so upset about the entire thing when my manager seems to be coping with this way more rationally and level-headed than I am (another reason why she is such a fantastic mentor and friend).
I just know that maybe I’m gonna have to take a leaf out of Xander’s book. No super power from my dreams is going to help her. But I can be there for her. In whatever capacity she needs. Even if she doesn’t need anything from me or our team. I can’t kill it for her. I can’t magic it away. But I can offer hugs, counsel and comic relief. I just hope that’s enough.