I am running through the university campus, along one path and then another, looking for the right building. I push through a heavy wooden door and hurry along a recently emptied corridor, my shoes sounding noisily on the polished floorboards. I check room numbers as I go. Then I stop.
I hesitate on the threshold of room 67, peering through the doorway at all the seated students. Will anyone notice if I slip in? Where will I sit? Will the tutor say, “Why haven’t you been coming to my lectures?” Will he even know who I am?
I slide onto an empty chair just in time to hear the words, “Before you leave today, please place your assignments on my desk.”
Assignments? A feeling of panic shoots through me. I haven’t done this assignment, or the last one. In fact, I haven’t completed any of the year’s work. I have no lecture notes either. How will I pass the end-of-the-year exam that is looming? Is there time for me to catch up? Or should I just admit to my parents I haven’t been attending any of my classes, that I haven’t been able to make myself sit through hour after hour of tedious lectures? What will they say if I tell them I don’t want to do this course?
The recurring nightmare finally comes to an end, and I wake up, soaked with sweat, my heart beating rapidly. I open my eyes with relief. I am me, Sue Elvis, married adult with children, in charge of my own life. My student days are far behind me. No one is standing over me making me do something I don’t want to do. There are no exams waiting to chew me up.
The other night, I fell into this dream again, but this time, before waking up, I dreamt something new.
My mother arrives at the university to visit me. I wonder if I should tell her I want to leave, that I hate my course, that I feel sick with worry because I haven’t completed the necessary work. There are so many things she might say…
“How could you have done that? It doesn’t matter if you liked the work or not. You just should have knuckled down and got on with it.”
“You’ll have to catch up with all the work. You have no choice. You need a university education. You can’t do anything worthwhile without one.”
“It would be such a waste if you gave up now.”
“You can’t become a university drop out. What will everyone think?”
I don’t want to hear any of these words but I have had enough. I can’t carry on, and so I say, “I don’t want to do this university course. I’m not interested in science. It’s wrong for me.”
And my mother turns to me with a gentle smile, and says, “You’ll find the right thing to do if you keep looking. Of course you can’t stay here. Let’s collect your things and take you home.”
In my dream I feel the tears of relief slip from my eyes.
Of course, things didn’t happen like that in real life. I did actually finish my degree course. I completed all the assignments, attended all the necessary lectures and passed all the exams. I graduated with honours. I used that degree to find employment in a university research lab. But it was all wrong. A science degree wasn’t what I was meant to do. I hadn’t had the opportunity to discover my talents and passions. I just passed along the education conveyor belt with all the other clueless school leavers, doing what was expected, enduring rather than enjoying. And although I wasn’t very happy, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t feel I had much choice.
When I was a child I had a large cardboard box crammed full of loose papers, which were covered with my untidy handwriting. These were my stories. I loved making up stories. My dreams were full of them. Somewhere along the way, my stories were pushed to one side as I moved onto more ‘important’ and ‘serious’ work. They were forgotten. But years later, I finally have the opportunity to do what I love best: write.
What about my own children?
I want my children to have the opportunity to discover their talents, and the freedom to pursue their dreams, whether or not I feel they will lead to a good career. Of course, they might make a few mistakes along the way, go down a few dead ends and have to start again. But that’s okay. They have my unconditional encouragement and support whatever they choose to do.
I think again about my dream. My mother had said, “You’ll find the right thing to do if you keep looking. Of course you can’t stay here. Let’s collect your things and take you home.” She listened. She understood. She accepted my choice. That felt so good. That’s how I want my own children to feel. I don’t want them to experience recurring nightmares like me.
It’s funny how an experience can affect us so deeply. It can surface in a dream and be remembered for many years after. Except it isn’t funny at all.