Three years have passed. Not in The Sandman, but here between these meditations. Within only a few installments of finishing the central series, I couldn’t go on. I read chapter two of The Wake and could think of nothing to say. Characters from all the books were coming back, congregating, ready to pay respects. I wasn’t ready.
What has changed? Everything. Nothing. Years have passed. Can I think of something to say now? Perhaps. Is it worth saying? I don’t know. (But then, I never know.)
The second chapter of The Wake is transitional. It assembles the cast and crew. (It’s good that I’m returning with it and not with a more eventful chapter, because I should probably say some words before we resume, and a more ostentatiously complicated narrative would tempt me to tangle with its knots.)
For all their many flaws, the first set of Sandman Meditations preserve a continuous reading. Picking up now after three years away will create a different kind of text, because I am a somewhat different person, as we all are somewhat different people three years down the line. I thought about re-reading all the previous issues of the comic so that The Wake would resonate more fully, but I decided not to, because then I would want to go back and rewrite all the old Meditations, to fix the misapprehensions, misprisions, and mistakes. Were this a series of essays about a different comic, I would reread and recalibrate. But this is Sandman, and a certain haze of memory isn’t a terrible thing here. It lends the stories and images a new vastness, a new depth that results from the effort to remember how all the dots connect. Now, with the early issues especially quite hazy in my mind, I must dream my way back through it all.
A figure seems familiar but you can’t quite fix on how … words evoke a feeling of something previous but not an exact reference … ideas and emotions bubble up the stairs of the subconscious and shine for a moment in the light of now before evaporating. An hour or two after reading, you remember a bit more, and a bit more, and a bit more…
It all must be assembled, re-assembled, re-membered…
Everybody’s here the narration tells us on the first page of this chapter.
But no, they aren’t. Three years have passed between these readings, and we have all lost people in that time, all had to think of death, if not Death. I felt a special melancholy on reading Chapter Two because a friend with whom I’d had many conversations about comics and The Sandman and these meditations died only a few weeks ago. David Beronä was a scholar and a fan, author of the volume Wordless Books and numerous articles on early 20th century graphic narratives. He was the head librarian at the university where I was working part-time when I started this series, and unlike me he’d grown up with comics and read them all his life. He was friends with other scholars and creators, and he encouraged new and young talent by lecturing at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. For all his scholarly tendencies, he never lost his child-like wonder with the way images and stories could work together. We had planned to have lunch together eighteen months ago, to catch up after both being too busy to chat much, and I got a quick note suddenly that we’d have to put it off, he wasn’t feeling well. A few days later, he couldn’t speak or write. Doctors diagnosed a brain tumor. Treatment brought some of his speech and writing back, but never to where it was before. He couldn’t return to work. He and his wife moved away to be closer to family. David said it was okay, there was a good comics shop nearby. He returned to an old love: painting. He walked through woods. He spent time with people he loved. Friends, including some folks whose names are legendary, sent him books and comics. But the tumor was aggressive. And now David is gone.
Everybody’s here. No, not quite.
We hold wakes, funerals, and memorials to pay tribute. It’s like the end of Death of a Salesman, a play I must admit I don’t much like, but the ending always gets me: Attention must be paid.
Have we paid attention? Have we seen each other, heard each other? Can we stand at a memorial and testify to what we witnessed, these lives other than our own, lives sometimes gone in seconds, lives so often over before it seems just?
Lives bring other lives together, and a moment like a wake demonstrates that. Strangers unite through the knowledge of the dead. Chapter Two shows that vividly, and shows again how lives and stories are similar: they both have plots and subplots, character arcs that intersect with other character arcs, moments of epiphany, of echo, of escape. Worlds collide, and we are each worlds amidst worlds.
The end of Chapter Two offers a vision of expansion, even infinity: the Endless come to find Matthew, they tell him they are all now in the heart of the Dreaming, and Matthew says he thought the castle was the heart of the Dreaming. But where Fiddler’s Green was, it turns out, is also the heart of the Dreaming. Two hearts? More than that: “Many, many more than that.”
In some ways, perhaps, that is what remembrance allows: many, many more than one heart. One life, even a life so far beyond mortality as to be Endless, is a node in a network of hearts. We are each the heart of our own dreaming, and by living we welcome other hearts to see our dreams, and by remembering the dead we keep their hearts alive alongside ours.
A friend of mine’s mother, now deceased, used to say, “I don’t mind being forgotten, but it’s nice to be remembered.”
It is, indeed. And nice, too, to remember.
Matthew Cheney has published fiction and nonfiction in a variety of venues, including One Story, Weird Tales, Locus, Rain Taxi, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and elsewhere. A collection, Blood: Stories will be published by Black Lawrence Press in January 2016. He is the former series editor for the Best American Fantasy anthologies and currently a co-editor of the occasional online magazine The Revelator. His blog, The Mumpsimus, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award in 2005. He is working toward a Ph.D. in Literature at the University of New Hampshire, where his research focuses on the work of Virginia Woolf, J.M. Coetzee, and Samuel R. Delany.