See if you can figure out this dream. I'm in the swank penthouse of a mammoth New York City hotel, and my whole family is there: mom, dad, both sisters. They're occupying themselves the way peripheral characters in dreams tend to, and I've got my eyes glued to the horizon, hoping to spot the once-thought-extinct-but-recently-rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker. Because for some reason, this swath of Manhattan is a known hot spot for the bird, even though in its native Southeastern swamp-forest habitat, the woodpecker is so elusive that there are those who doubt the ornithologists' claim to have rediscovered the bird in the first place. But in my dream, all of a sudden I see one, and the thing is gorgeous. Red head, huge black-and-white torso, powerful, loping flight pattern -- and I think to myself, "No wonder they called it the Lord God bird." Then it heads toward the window, and by the time it gets right up against the glass, it has morphed into three birds with enormous, human-like blue eyes. At this point, my little sister walks over.
"That's not an ivory-billed woodpecker, you idiot," she admonishes. "Those are peregrine falcons. You were fooled by their similar plumage."
She's right -- even though outside of dreamland their plumage is nothing alike -- and as I ponder this, the wind starts to pick up something fierce. The gale gets so strong that it sucks the birds away from the hotel room, then the glass right out of the window, and then it begins to pull us out as well. My family starts running down the back staircase to escape the wind, and then the entire top floor gets sucked into the sky! Then the floor below it, then the next floor, and all the while we're frantically running down those stairs, always one floor away from being ripped into the atmosphere. Finally we reach the bottom floor and burst through the emergency exit into glaring sunlight, and it's Highland Springs, Virginia, the town outside of Richmond where my grandparents live. Just my mom and I are there.
Back to school
"Your grandma and grandpa are getting up there in years, and someone has to take care of them," my mom says. "We've decided it's going to be you."
"But I don't want to live here," I tell her. "I've got my whole life in Denver."
"We've decided it's going to be you."
And then I wake up.
Psych students, feel free to write in with your interpretations.
Aside from this absolutely fucking insane example, my dreams have been pretty mundane lately -- and they all revolve around me going back to school. I had a dream the other night that it was my first day at the University of Rochester. Rochester! With my grades and my SAT scores, and the only place I could get in was Rochester! Still, it was a dream, and that's where I was. And in the dream, I'm genuinely excited about the opportunity to go to school. I'm walking around the campus with a stupid grin on my face, checking out all the other students, thinking about what courses I'm going to take, wondering who my roommate is going to be. Then, in another dream, I found myself sitting at a table, filling out a form for the university I was going to attend, alerting them to any allergies I might have, any dietary restrictions, and attaching a note that I had passed a physical.
This is what my subconscious comes up with these days.
I don't think it takes a rocket psychiatrist to figure out that I miss school. And this time of year hammers that home all the more. I was driving by my old high school the other day, saw the boys' soccer team out on the field for its first session of two-a-days, and it was all I could do not to pull my car over and hop into the column of young men jogging around the field.
"Hey, guys," I would say with exaggerated zeal. "Looks like we got a pretty good squad this year, huh?"
The only thing that kept me from doing this was the fact that they would have been profoundly creeped out by my behavior -- although I'll bet they would find my ability to purchase alcohol pretty clutch.
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What I miss most is the sense of opportunity that each school year brought. It was always like the slate had been wiped clean and I had a fresh start all over again, the way a professional athlete does at the beginning of each season. I miss buying back-to-school clothes and a new backpack if my old one was too banged up, discussions with friends that always started with "Who do you like this year?"
Adults don't have anything like that. We simply continue to report to work, day after day, with no three months of fun and frivolity and no change in attitude or situation come fall. Summer's just the same old same old except hotter and, if we're lucky, with a World Cup. This is not a profound realization, and unless you're stupid, you've seen it coming your whole life -- but when the reality of this reality sets in, it's disconcerting.
But I'm an adult now, I suppose, so I trudge dutifully to the office day after day, and I write this column, and I dream of the day when I can buy a kayak and head to the swamps of Arkansas, where I will paddle my way through the cypress trees and water tupelos in the hopes of seeing a real, live ivory-billed woodpecker.