I remember being woken in the pitch depths of night at my grandparents’ house by a sound both frightening and oddly familiar, followed by the noises of my grandfather soothing and reassuring my grandmother that it was only a dream, before returning to his room, unfazed by the disturbance.
When I still lived with my parents, I would occasionally hear my mother call out in sleep, an occurrence that held no surprise for me as she worried about so many things while awake that untroubled sleep for her seemed to be the exception rather than the norm.
And in my nearly-seventeen-year relationship with Nick, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken him with my unconscious wailing, emitted at the point when I decide I can’t go any further and surrender to the terror my mind has created in sleep; the only sound I’m able to make despite trying to scream as loud as I possibly can. Only once did I succeed, when I was more awake than asleep, and I’m still not sure which of us I scared the most.
Now my nights are punctuated infrequently by my own daughters’ fears; one manifests itself with persistent screams that jolt me into heart-hammering wakefulness and that only cease once someone is by her side, listening to every detail of that night’s shadows; the other by contrast materialises with ghostly silence at my bedside, refusing to reveal any information and requiring only a cuddle in bed followed by an escort back to her room.
In my case, I’ve gradually come to the realisation that it isn’t late consumption of cheese that triggers the bad dreams, rather the mundane act of sleeping on my back; a situation for the most part easily avoided as it’s not a position I find conducive to sleep, possibly for that very reason. But I suspect I will always be susceptible to them from time to time, as I have been for as long as I can remember.
Of all genetic inheritances, I don’t suppose nightmares are a well-documented one, but it seems to be a legacy I’ve managed to keep alive on the female side of my family; it will be interesting to see if my daughters in their turn do the same.