Analyzing a back-to-school nightmare | Bleader

Analyzing a back-to-school nightmare


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Well, it could always be worse...
  • Well, it could always be worse...
A recurring bad dream: I receive a phone call from someone informing me my high school transcript is incomplete and I need to make up some classes in order to graduate. For reasons that are never explained, I'm not allowed to take correspondence courses; I must return to school, take the classes in person, and see out the full year. The bureaucrat tells me that even though my course load will only take up a few periods, I'll have to stay for the entire school day, as per protocol. Before I can object, I'm reminded that I always wanted more free periods in high school. Shouldn't I be a little more grateful?

And so, I go shopping for school supplies and fill out the paperwork to get an on-campus parking pass. I consider fixing up my childhood bedroom so as to minimize my weekday commute, but thankfully I never make it home in the dream. I always go straight from the errands to the school, where I find myself in the middle of a free period, pacing mostly empty halls and anticipating my return to adult life.

I seem to have inherited this dream from my mother, who's described it to me since I was in high school for real, though I suspect it's not unique to the two of us. The scenario speaks to the fairly commonplace insecurity that no matter how grown-up you think you are, an unforeseen crisis can make you revert to your adolescent self. Tellingly, I've had the dream most frequently when I've just broken up with someone or during periods of unemployment.

It's indicative of dream logic that a high school setting should correspond not to one's actual memories of being there, but to anxieties associated with adolescence—namely, feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty about one's future. I don't recall experiencing either of these whenever a new school year started. In fact, I remember something completely different, a feeling of relief that for the next nine months my life would have a sense of direction. Everything that was expected of me was clearly laid out, and I could expect a predictable flow of events in return. By contrast, adult life seems aimless and lacking the guaranteed validation that comes with a final exam or graduation ceremony. Perhaps this bad dream of mine reflects a longing to regain that certainty by any means possible.