Sometimes I dream I am back in university, but they are not the typical dreams one has of being back in school. I am not late for a test or trying to drop a class I didn’t know I had or have never been to in order to avoid a failing grade. I am not naked despite the fact that in several of these dreams I appear to be married to or dating my second husband, Rob, who I not only didn’t know existed back in my real university days, but who was actually a married father of two at the time.
It is worth noting that I am not searching or being pursued. The scenarios are really quite mundane. Attending classes. Working in the dormitory dining hall. Hanging out. Walking. There is a lot of walking in these dreams. From here to there. Up and down unfamiliar streets. Running into people known to me at the time and from my present life as well.
One dream stood out for its “dream-like” quality though. I was questing with a group of people – a mix of then and now – in an underground labyrinth straight out of World of Warcraft, creatures and all. I was pregnant too, and if that isn’t classic dream-speak, what is? That one memorable dream aside, there is nothing spectacular about these university dreams except for the one constant in all of them. My friend Leslie.
I hadn’t seen or heard from Leslie in pretty close to ten years though I was almost certain she still lived in Iowa City and was still involved in the art community there. I still can’t say really why we fell out of touch. I think though it may have had a lot to do with the fact that by our late twenties/early thirties it was clear she was the hip in-crowd girl who had managed to parlay her bohemian college persona into a Sex minus the City type one while I was just a spinsterish Midwestern school marm, a growing older version of the geek I have always been.
And how uncool would that be?
At this last Christmas my oldest step-daughter was trying to describe a heat induced rash her sister always gets on the sides of her neck and face.
“It’s like the tattoo thing on the Star Trek lady. You know, Dad. You’re the geek. Which Star Trek was that again?”
“DS9,” I chimed in helpfully knowing exactly the character she was referring to in spite of the vague clues.
She laughed. It is a source of wonder and amusement to she and her sister that their father has remarried someone nerdier than himself.
Even in my college days though when I was as hip as I would ever be, Leslie and I were an unlikely friendship match. We met as residents on East 2 of Currier Hall. My roommate was a hometown friend of hers, and she lived next door to Sarah, a high school friend of mine. She was a year younger chronologically and years older in style and deportment.
Impossibly beautiful with apple cheeks and the rounded turned up nose most of us outgrow, she smiled from deep inside, producing a magnetic aura which captured people like a newly formed planet collecting moons. A dancer for years, she was lean and willowy and long. Long neck. Long arms. Longer legs. She would dress herself in thrift shop finds that I don’t imagine mere mortal people ever run across. When I would peruse the thrift store with her, I would find old bowling shirts and mens suit coats stolen from mortuaries. She would find some darling little Audrey Hepburn cocktail dress which fit her like haute couture.
Still, we called ourselves the “happy co-eds”. The punch line of a running joke we had come up with on the way back to the dorm from the library one evening long before we realized that if we wanted to accomplish anything by way of study that perhaps we shouldn’t go to the library together.
We wasted more time at the library, writing mildly pornographic Shakespearean sonnets and talking about boys. One poem – which I think I still might have somewhere – spoke of “moist loins” and “yielding maidenhoods” and was typical of the direction our conversations would often turn. I think she was the one who coined the phrase “lost the power of speech” when speaking about sex. As in “he was so good, I lost the power of speech” or “so, did you lose your power of speech with SoNSo last night?” It was from an article in Cosmo magazine detailing what happened during an orgasm. According to this article, people lost the power of speech when climaxing. Of course, we found this extremely funny, and just a little bit scary, and we had little actual experience on which to gauge the veracity of the information. I remember her telling me some time after this that it was only partially true. Her boyfriend’s roommate walked in on them one afternoon during an oral moment, and she related that while she couldn’t verbalize anything coherently – she made herself understood.
Leslie lived the kind of life that the really cool characters in books and movies always seemed to have. The eclectic dwelling spaces with the quirky roommates. Better Funky Homes and Movies Set Gardens décor that she found at estate sales the way she stumbled across clothing finds at the thrift shop. The people she knew were in bands. They were artists and writers and activists. She had cool jobs in galleries or jewelry shops. And men straight out of romance novels pursued her.
There was the pottery-making Scotsman from Edinburgh. A gay cheerleader who coveted her natural coolness to camouflage his completely artificial exterior. Her eventual boyfriend, a man she was with longer than both my marriages combined, was a former body building interior designer who paid his bills plying the student population with all manner of recreational pharmaceuticals. Not cool in retrospect but in the mid-1980’s that sort of thing still seemed harmless in a TV sitcom sort of way.
When we were all still living in the dorm, he did business right out of his room. I sat and watched he and his partner one day as they did their books and remarked that the little ledger would make some prosecuting attorney’s job all that easier someday. The looks on both their faces spoke volumes. Good little Gordon Gecko’s that they were it hadn’t occurred to them that what they saw as just good business was a well-spring of potential trail of evidence. I never saw that ledger again.
Of all the people I knew in school, and I knew many, many people although I can’t say that too many knew me, she was the one who was the least put off by my sometimes shell-shocked, drifting through life exterior. I spent most of my time in university recovering from my teens and shaking off the years I had lived in the shadow of my father’s alcoholism and my younger brother’s violent drug abuse and mental illness.
My standard survival mode was turtle and during college – and for a few more years after – I seldom poked my head out too far. Then, as now even at times, my preferred method of communication was writing. I was still writing. I hadn’t yet been told I wasn’t good enough, often enough, to put it away completely. While my other friends hadn’t time to sit and talk about things other than the guys they liked and the sex they were having and the parties they were going to, Leslie’s worldview wasn’t so blinkered. That I was bookish and quiet and needed instruction in things like hair, make-up and clothing were not things that bothered her. I got the distinct impression from others that I was a bit hopeless but I didn’t get that from her.
Over the years, I have tried to track her down. But she moved around a bit and eventually unlisted herself. During Google searches I would occasionally turn up evidence that she was still creating her metal creations and showing them in the various galleries in the area that would crop up and go out of business with regularity. She got involved in metalworking in between a series of aborted attempts to find a “real” career to please her family. I think she began as a dentistry student. At one point she may have been half-heartedly studying chemistry too.
But it was the dance classes, the photography and finally metalworking that called to her loudly enough to drown out the Iowa practicality and the Catholic schoolgirl obedience. In a way, I think that was the thing about her that appealed to me most and that I most envied. She didn’t succumb to the “you need something to fall back on” mentality that we are all beaten into submission with by our parents and society. She followed her instincts and did what made her happy. And in the end I can’t really say that I would have been as content if I’d never been a teacher but stayed and gone to graduate school, as she did, and wrote. Rob made the comment to me the other day that I had suppressed my writing side for a long time and though that is a little true, what is probably closer to reality is that my inner writer was waiting for me to grow into myself. One must have confidence in oneself to chase after a goal like the one I have set for myself. I was too shy and uncertain of myself way back then to have withstood the criticism and the failures that are inevitable. My metal needed tempering.
I did find her eventually on Facebook of all the least likely places. A cousin had convinced her to sign up and she confided to me that she had recently run across something I’d written about her on my blog and that it had made her cry and laugh.
Perhaps the meaning of dream Leslie is what her younger self represented to my older one. She is the manifestation of an inner truth. A reminder to stay true to my core dreams. And dreams are not random as life is not random.
This was originally posted on anniegirl1138 and updated for 50 Something Moms.