I have this recurring nightmare. I'm at college on the first day of finals. I have no idea where my class is because I haven't gone to a single class the whole semester. I have one class left before I graduate yet I know I'm not prepared. Today, I have my final in a subject I barely understand. I can't afford to fail this class. I don't want to have to stay here and take it over again. I don't want my education to be incomplete. My future depends on it. My husband has graduated and found a job in another city. He has already moved there to get our lives set up. I so desperately want to go with him. I so desperately want to pass this class if I can only figure out which room is the right room and remember one or two details from the heavy tome I read the night before.
Usually, I'm standing in the university halls in my underwear.
I went to Purdue. I did graduate. I swear I did. It was decades ago. It was the era of big hair, Jordache jeans, jelly shoes, fanny packs, and the Rocky Horror picture show. Let's do the time warp again. I know I'm bragging, but bear with me. I'm nervous. I have a degree in Biomedical Engineering.
But in this dream I am there at college all over again. Over and over, I have to graduate from that tight-assed school with a degree that doesn't suit me. I have to prove that I am worthy to go off to live my life with my husband. I don't want to live in a dorm one more year. I don't want to have Freshman roommates. I don't want to go out on a Friday night to keggers and frat parties and beer. Oh my.
I'm fifty-seven fucking years old. I am too old and fat for this shit. I really am. I'm a stay-at-home mom, a housewife, a woman of leisure, except when my husband gets the idea that we need to spend our precious time volunteering. I spent ten years volunteering at my son's schools. I still volunteer there. I spent ten years volunteering for his Boy Scout troop. I'm almost done with that, but now and then, I still get a phone call from a Scout who doesn't know he's supposed to say hello on the phone and tell the person on the other end of the line who's calling and why he's calling. Last Sunday, I volunteered for seven hours in a tiny kitchen helping to feed 127 people at the Forest Theatre's last show of the season. I had a good time. I was busy, but this wasn't what you would call a deadline. None of it is what you'd call a deadline.
I don't really have deadlines. If I don't show up to volunteer, what are they going to do, fire me? If I don't make dinner one night, is my sixteen year old boy and adult husband going to starve to death?
So, here I am. I'm fifty-seven exhausted years old. My son is in high school, practically raised except for the finishing touches.
I don't have deadlines.
And yet I still have these fucking dreams. Over and over. I wake up from them in a sweat. I'm breathing heavily. I want to roll my husband over in his bed and make sure I'm not sleeping in a dorm with an oversized pillow instead.
I wonder if it's God talking to me. Or the "Universe," you know with a capital 'U.' Or maybe it's just the deeper parts of my own brain, talking in its sleep.
"Jules, you're not finished yet," it says in a stage-whisper. "You do have a deadline to meet. A dead. Line. Get it? If you don't get this stuff done soon, you will never be able to do it. Ever."
Did you know that Van Gogh did most of his paintings within four years? He was practically manic, trying to get them all done.
I sometimes wonder if he had recurring nightmares about school. Did he worry about dead lines? Did he dream that he painted in the fields of hay in his underwear?
Finally, after ten years or so of these nightmares, I realized what they were all about. The end of my ultimate education was approaching. I still didn't know a thing, I mean really know. If I was going to take that final step, I knew I wasn't ready. I would never be ready. But I had to take it because if I didn't, I leave one huge thing incomplete. And I never get a chance to complete it.
And so I am here, telling you my story, hoping I know enough to pass, feeling like I could easily fail, feeling like I'm standing here in this hall, in my underwear.