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Sunday, November 1, 2009

In the Fog of My Dreams

I have many dreams-- you know some of them by now.

My dream of becoming a police officer-- saving my own little corner of the world-- and revitalizing the image of "the cop" by wearing my uniform pressed and proud and being a gentle intermediary in peoples' disputes.

My dream of becoming a professional writer-- being compensated for my thoughts and opinions, musings and rantings, ravings and cravings.

My dream of becoming a father, of raising children who will suffer terribly through many an operetta featuring their pattering dad and will no doubt be allergic to everything, including the dog that we'll own anyway.

My dream of owning a vintage Volkswagen Beetle, not a beautifully-restored showpiece to shut away in a temperature-controlled garage, to obsessively molest with a diaper, and take out for a 1/2-hour spin three bone-dry Sundays a year when my knuckles are gnarled and my hair is as white as freshly fallen snow-- but a handsomely imperfect daily driver to, well, daily drive.

While driving to rehearsal on Wednesday night, I spotted a silver 1971, idling at a stop sign. It was no showpiece.

"When am I going to own my own Bug?" I said aloud, not even really to my wife, though she did happen to be sitting in the passenger seat.

"I don't know, Buddy."

"When I'm old and wrinkly and won't be able to enjoy it?" I asked, definitely to her this time, "and when there'll be practically none left?"

"I don't know," she said.

Of course, we both know. And knowing hurts, because we also know what happens to a dream deferred, thanks to Langston Hughes. She was against the Beetle-- and she pushed all the right buttons. We are planning on having a child, and there is no way I would put a child of mine in a 40-year-old car like that, would I? No, of course not. She can drive a stickshift car, but flatly refuses to because of the anxiety it causes her. "What if my car needs to go into the shop and I have to go to work? I won't drive a manual Beetle." She pointed out that a 40-year-old car just isn't reliable or sensible to drive every day, in all seasons. I countered with my deeply-entrenched, almost Aspergian knowledge of the Beetle's excellent reputation in the snow, due to its rear-mounted engine, its simplicity to maintain, and the fact that, while the car might be 40 years old, most Bugs that have survived this long have scads of redone parts, including engines and transmissions.

But I was fighting a losing battle, and I was barely even fighting.

We had a long talk about it in bed together on Saturday morning, and it changed and diverged and morphed into a talk about my job and my employment aspirations and just what the hell I want to do with my life. See, my wife has a career. I, as I've always had since college, have a job. And I've had many several of them, and none of them have ever really had the potential to turn into careers. Partly because I've never wanted to do any job I've ever held for longer than a year, even though I have.

I don't remember how we got to talking about my job when we started talking about a vintage Bug to replace the P.T. Cruiser, but sometimes talks go in different directions. I think it had to do with dreams-- the unfinished, unrealized kind. Around the time we moved back to the suburbs, I read that my town was hiring police officers. It's a lovely little suburb-- not very dangerous (the last officer killed here was in 1989) and the pay is pretty excellent and the benefits are far better. More importantly, I said, when I came home and talked to my wife about it, I would be able to police the community in which I was born and raised and live. My wife was very upset.

"I thought we went through this already," she said to me, "I thought we were finished with this."

But, with me, things aren't ever really finished. Remember, I owned a 1966 VW Beetle from the time I was fourteen to the time I was fifteen-and-a-half.

"Part of me wants to just say, 'Sure-- go for it-- what the hell? Let's see what happens...' but I don't want to. I don't want to live like that, in fear that you could get hurt, or that I'll never see you because you'll be working weird hours."

With a measured amount of frustration, and sadness, I let the application date pass without another word about the subject.

Yesterday morning, in bed, my wife looked into my eyes and the lower left corner of her mouth turned down, as it does whenever she's about to cry, as it's done ever since 2004, when she had her brain surgery.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm always stepping on your dreams-- and I don't want that. I don't ever want to kill a dream you have."

I told her that she, the affirming, respectful, loving life I have with her, is my biggest dream of all-- one that, when I was a younger man I never thought would ever materialize. And I told her that, because it was true.

She apologized for "forcing" me to go to grad school, and that broke my heart-- maybe because it was true. I told her that I don't even remember anymore, because I don't. Who knows how things happen anyway, they're all a mess of circumstances and words and best intentions. On paper, it looks like I'm not using my graduate school education, only paying for it, but I am using it. In every interaction with a young person, I use the techniques and tactics I learned there, and I know that. "Just because I don't work in a school with cafeteria trays and lunch bells and shitty ditto sheets doesn't mean that I'm not a teacher."

"I know," she said, between sniffles.

She then told me that, if I wanted to try to become a writer, she'd support me, and that was hard to hear. I do want that, but I lead a life littered with enough rejection letters to wallpaper every house on my street-- so is that really a worthwhile risk? I think I'd be more successful at owning and operating a vintage Beetle.

In my life, the Beetle is rather like a pimple that recurs in a tell-tale spot on your cheek, by your nose every now and then-- you forget that it comes there until it arrives, all round and red. So is being a police officer, or a writer, or an actor-- these things come up and up and up and they only go down below the surface after a good astringent and squeeze session, and maybe that's what Saturday morning was, or maybe it was something larger. Maybe I've finally understood what is important in life, and what is less so. Dreams are good, and they keep us moving forward, but it's what we've got in life that keeps us alive. And I don't ever want to forget that.


  1. ditto paper is not shitty.

    are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? something to consider one aspiring writer to another

  2. Mrs. Apron is a good soul! For real!

  3. Dreams are funny things, especially when they conflict and clash with each other -- like the VW Beetle conflicting with your realised dream of the life you have with Mrs Apron, and your dream of children. I wish I had good advice or words of wisdom to impart to make everything fit.

    When it comes to being a writer or being an actor, what would it take for you to consider those dreams realised? Would they need to be your primary source of income, or is it not about doing them for a living?

  4. Unrealized dreams. Ouch.

    But like you said, sometimes taking a look at what you have in front of you is the best way to soothe that particular burn.

    Keep your chin up. You have a lot to be grateful for.

    We all do.

  5. I think you have summed up the feelings of lost dreams in that beautiful last paragraph.

  6. Speaking of dreams, last night I dreamed of a pygmy being kept in a zoo, and he was biting my head.


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