Another excerpt from my essay Lying Ghost Girl about a variety of weird things I’ve experienced. See the Weird Things That Happen category for more.
In the mid-1980s, I had a frightening and vivid dream. I had killed two women, for reasons that were not entirely clear but that I felt were for altruistic purposes. The bulk of the dream was spent attempting to elude the police, in a state of high anxiety and paranoia. At the end of the dream, I went to the airport to flee the country and escape to Russia. Just as I was about to finish checking in at the ticket counter, a loud buzzer went off and the police appeared. I woke up in a terror, heart pounding.
Two weeks later, wishing to fill in some of the classics I had missed reading in high school, I picked up Crime and Punishment. The more I read, the more agitated I became as I realized the book was an almost exact record of my dream.
What trick was this? I’m certain I had never read the book. Maybe, since it’s such a well-known novel, I had been exposed to the plot somewhere along the line. But I did not consciously know anything about it before I picked up the book. I did eventually recall that, in high school, approximately eight years earlier, I had helped a friend write a paper about Crime and Punishment for her English class, even though I’d never read the book myself. I remember this vividly. I can tell you where I was in the girl’s house when we worked on the paper. But on no conscious level can I recall anything about the plot except that the main character’s name began with the letter R.
It’s possible I stored a memory of the plot in my subconscious that day. Then, when I bought the book, it triggered my brain to bring up this very detailed memory of a book I’d never read. (In fact, I have never been certain whether I had the dream before or after I bought the book but to assume anything but after seems truly impossible.)
What has always been so remarkable to me about this was how perfectly the dream captured the sense of the novel, not just the plot, but also Raskolnikov’s paranoia. And I wonder, even if I had stored the discussion of the book from the paper-writing session, how could the friend who was having difficulty writing her own paper have understood the book to the extent that she could convey its substance to me so vividly?