The fantastic stories he told emerged from the cellar of his childhood—resurrected and polished till they exuded the patina of his mind. Gabriel García Márquez often said that what Westerners called magic realism was actually commonplace events in his native Colombia.
Over and over he mined moments from those days of innocence: happiness, awe, despair, confusion and fear; and as he discovered when he physically returned to the homes of his youth, there were fake memories as well.
The buildings, their rooms, the incidents and impressions had often been faulty—redesigned by the magical machinery of the mind to reconcile events and episodes, so that they would make sense to his mental narrative.
Márquez is still my most beloved of writers. When he died in 2014, I wept inconsolably, knowing that it was because of him, from my teens, I believed that writing was the noblest act one could perform and that there was nothing else I could imagine myself doing.
He thought our early years carry the blueprint of character. Aside from our biological development, it is the period when we learn the most about life. The later years give us the capacity to analyse in practical terms what we had learnt intuitively when we still observed through the eyes of imagination.
I had written of food and dreams as portals to our past—adulthood distances us from the power of those impressions. In his memoir, he described the stoic nature of Luisa Santiaga.
“My mother thought herself free of those ghosts… but her dreams betrayed her.” Her memories returned, often unbidden, to haunt her.
It is why I believe we must take care of the youngsters in our midst. We can cause the kind of irrevocable damage that condemns lives to be spent under a shroud of bitterness and rage.
I had written somewhat tentatively about the way my dreams had taken a dark turn when my childhood was cut short. Someone suggested that I explore the transition to nightmares. I had not wanted to get into a public psychotherapy session with myself, hence my apprehension, but I tend to rationalise my personal exposés by reasoning that many people can identify with what I share.
My nightmares tend to be recurring themes. The snake-infested ones were clearly derived from the time my father and my younger brother threw the carcass of a rather large tiger rat snake my father had shot (splitting it into two) at the feet of my younger sister and me.
It was only a few months ago I realised my brother was also a culprit when he corrected me as I recounted the incident and my horror of snakes since.
The nightmares that have caused me the most terror are the ones where an innocuous moment turns ominously dark, literally. It is always with light switches not turning on. Everything suddenly goes pitch black, and no amount of frantic rushing around trying to turn on every possible switch changes anything except that my mind already knows that I am entering a horror movie of the Freddy Krueger kind.
In this darkness, I can sense an even denser darkness, a shapeless form, silent and heavy, nestling itself against me. I struggle, unable to breathe and sometimes I scream aloud, and force myself awake.
The house where I was born was completely torn down a few years ago. Just down my street and I did not even know it had been razed. It is now an enclosed overgrown plot, far smaller than my memory recalls.
Whenever I pass by I am struck by how that life has been so completely erased. I never imagined it would affect me so deeply but I wonder if that is why my apocalyptic dreams have taken root there.
Can I find the point at which I became an insomniac to avoid falling into this abyss of nightmares?
My practical side links the nightmares to my chronic migraines. I figure that if you are in physical pain, it would affect the quality of your sleep. Likewise, I have learned that eating too soon before going to bed (or too heavily) causes a maelstrom in the poor brain. Both elements apply to me.
The migraines began when I was about 13 or 14, around the same time my nightmares became such a feature of sleep that I became an insomniac—dreading the REM activities that would surely come.
While I can find some clues to rationalise the presence of nightmares, I really cannot explain why so many are recurrent ones.
Like the one I consistently had about being draped on my cousin’s bed where I spent many hours reading, and an awful, monstrous figure comes squelching its way into the bedroom, and I flee to the front steps, knowing, already knowing, that I can fly. And my legs are bicycling me up into the air and I remain aloft by peddling madly, knowing that there is an invisible solid plain from which I am bounding upward and forward and I find myself in some safe place.
I was going to say on balance it’s not all been nightmares, but I think it was more of the grim and ghoulish than the cheerful and funny.
Perhaps it is why in my waking moments, I am always alert to the beauty and bounty around us—a way of blocking out the darkness and the dread.