Not long ago I wrote about a recurring dream of mine, a dream in which my quest for a perfect college GPA is thwarted by a “B” achieved on my final exam in my final class. I’m proud to say I’ve moved on from this nightmare. Unfortunately, another nocturnal narrative has me worried these days.
It goes like this: I have made it safely to graduation day and am prepared to accept my degree. The ceremony has begun, but I’m stuck in the parking lot, unable to reach the stage. I never hear my name called and wonder why I’m so close to graduating but instead find myself lost in diploma limbo.
Panic fills me. At first I think it’s due to my not getting out, to being stuck in the role of eternal student. But then I engage in a sort of meta-dream in which I tell myself I secured the 4.0 and already graduated.
Then the real panic comes, bursting through me. I’m terrified because I know this is true, that I graduated in 2002 and that, at age 31, I’m far from being a student.
Given all my troubles since earning my degree, it makes sense that, in an effort to protect myself from the truth, to deny certain humbling realities, my unconscious mind would create a world in which I never left school.
Part of me, in fact, has never left childhood. At 31 I’m still 21, and when I was 21 I was still 11, and when I was 11 I was still barely one. It’s why, when the narrator in the movie Fight Club declares: “I’m a 30-year-old boy,” I relate so strongly.
But I’m not a fictional character and my life is not a metaphor. If I remain attached to a series of pre-adult selves, longing to hide in a perpetual past in order to avoid grown-up pains, I’m afraid my future will disappear before me.
Now there’s a real nightmare.