‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’
– The second Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, 1938
As a student in a U of I Cinema Studies class, I wrote a paper several years ago about how the massive, forbidding estate of Manderley – imbued with sinister, passive-aggressive shadows of the former lady of the house – became the central character in the film Rebecca. The attention paid to cultivating its mysterious persona in each shot is enough to make even a cinema studies novice realize that none of the human actors in the film – or even in the book – merit top billing. Manderley is the real star, on both celluloid and the page.
How can this be? How can a place become such a living, breathing presence? Read the book, watch the film, do both, and you’ll see how: it’s all about legacy.
Last night, I dreamt I went to 6619 again.
I can’t recall what I was doing in the dream prior to my visit home – something about being in a Wal-Mart superstore twelve minutes to midnight (a modern twist on Cinderella, or an alternate beginning to the film Where the Heart Is?) – but suddenly I was driving, the road, foggy, dim, but familiar. Painfully so.
I couldn’t turn around, but kept driving. Landmarks leading me home began to materialize, and I began to panic. I have tried hard to keep the thought of home safely at bay, behind glass, to be revisited and appreciated from a safe emotional distance. On my terms. The act of driving home, albeit in a dream state, shattered those safeguards.
Construction crews and the cars and trucks of workers were scattered on either side of the road. I remember closing my eyes, not caring – actually wishing – my car would hit one of the parked ones head-on, so I wouldn’t have to see what destruction was being wreaked upon my home. But I drove on, and sometimes through obstacles, unscathed.
Presently my car disappeared, as did the road, so that I was stranded some yards away from my house, which no longer resembled the home I have countless pictures of, but in my dreaming heart of hearts, I knew it was still home.
I had to go back. Had to.
I picked my way back through the woods and snuck in. Finding a door unlocked, I listened for the sounds of any of the workers nearby. Everything was silent. Something my parents had told me echoed through my mind: after the papers are signed, if we were found on the premises, even if the new owners hadn’t moved in yet, we would be trespassing.
I found myself in my mom’s office. My heart lurched when I saw some of our things were still there – books, canvas totes filled with items that shouldn’t have been left behind, clothes, a chair, all these things forgotten in our haste.
Indiscriminately, I grabbed what I could, a deus ex machina rescuer to these abandoned mementos, and made my escape through a small, secret door near the floor of the office. Halfway out, I saw the light switch on the wall, and panicked, wondering if I had flicked it up or down. In truth, whether or not I had was a moot point, as there didn’t seem to be any electricity flowing in the house. Still, I lost valuable time to my OCD, making sure I left everything as I had found it…contradictory of course, seeing as I was stealing away with items from the room under my arm.
When I tried to return to the door to finally make my escape, I heard footsteps, and quickly slipped into the woods. It was only after I’d put some distance between myself and the house, that I realized, with a very real sinking feeling – chilling, isnt’ it, how the most visceral of feelings are felt even more acutely when sleeping? – that I had left something behind.
Apparently I had taken my purse with me, and put it down in favor of carrying something else from the room. Dream logic at its best. I had to go back to retrieve it.
Once I was back inside, I found, inexplicably, that my escape route had disappeared, so I had to scurry undetected through the house.
This, was impossible.
There was a large crowd of people, more than had ever been in the house before, sitting at makeshift tables in the dining room. And I could tell, by the way their eyes followed me about the room, that they knew I didn’t belong. They could smell my unease. Fighting my way through the maze of tables and chairs reminded me of the claustrophobic feeling one gets at weddings, when you try and worm your way past other guests who have their chairs out too far; you stand on your tiptoes to shimmy past, take one regular step, then repeat the dance again with a half twist, to get past more people you don’t recognize.
The eyes that watched me now were hungry. Malevolent. They whispered about me as I squeaked my apologies for disrupting their meal. Yet deep down I knew, that if for a second I acted as if I didn’t belong, they would be on me.
This isn’t your house! Trespasser! You don’t belong here!
Finally, I made it outside. Once again that sinking feeling pulled my stomach to the gravel – not only had I forgotten my purse again, but gone as well were the items I had attempted to save. I couldn’t go back again. I broke into a run down the road, but when I looked over my shoulder, a young girl was awkwardly running after me, carrying my things. I stopped.
“Thank you,” I whispered to her when she caught up with me. I tried to laugh off my forgetfulness, offered a lame excuse in exchange for her kindness.
“Do you like beaches?”
I stared at her as she fell in step with me, and in my peripheral vision I noticed others following us. My mind raced. She was fishing, I knew, for a clue to my identity. No doubt everyone at the house knew that the sellers of the house were moving to Florida. (Again, dream logic.)
“Uh, sure, yeah.”
“There are beaches in Florida.”
I said nothing.
“I know who you are.”
Once again, I laughed uneasily. “Do you?” When I had fought my way through the crowded room seconds before, I felt not only the cold eyes of everyone on me, but I felt their thoughts, probing ceaselessly, Who are you?…what’s your name…say your name… (No doubt the effects of having read 60 pages of The Shining before bed last night.)
“Your name is Pam.”
The girl’s face was radiant with triumph, so much so that that fear gripped me again, even though her confidence was misplaced, her guess a name once-removed.
“Um…no, it’s not. I don’t even know a Pam,” I said. But she wasn’t listening. I felt guilty, like Peter, when he denied Jesus before the cock crowed on the eve of his crucifixion.
I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve been mulling it over most of the morning.
What the hell does that all mean/symbolize, if anything?
I can only imagine. And if I’m honest, I’m sure that if I sit here at my keyboard long enough, “dig deep enough”, I’ll be able to infuse it with some Nobel Prize-worthy meaning and symbolism. I have been spending most of my adult life writing analytical essays, after all.
My best shot is this: I have been suppressing feelings of grief, and the dream is a warning (though perhaps “warning” is far too strong a word…) or a figurative calling of my bluff. I cannot stop feeling something, just because I know to do so would be distracting and painful. This is the opposite of who I am; everyone who knows me can attest to how apropos my self-described “exposed nerve” status really is. I feel everything, more intensely and for deeper and longer, than the next person. How I know this is a discussion post for another time, and it is neither egotistical nor the fabrications of an isolated mind to claim it. It is merely fact.
Perhaps there is a degree of embarrassment permeating the dream; how can I be experiencing a feeling usually reserved for the loss of a loved one or friend, for a house?
Last night I dreamt of Manderley again.
While the second Mrs. De Winter never felt comfortable enough in the estate to call it home, it had an undeniable, irreversible effect on her, her husband, and everyone around them. An argument can be made that I’m mourning much, much more than the detachment from a place, but rather a state of being that everyone all over the world strives for, especially in times of hardship:
That feeling of being home.