I have a kind of recurring dream that always involves packing—or, more specifically, the panic of last-minute packing and the dawning consequences of what I have forgotten. In them, I go from breathless, panicky anxiety that makes my mind go blank to calmer, resigned anxiety as I go forward in no way equipped for my travels. In last night’s dream, as usual, I couldn’t decide which clothes to take. Then I agonized over which cloth bag to take in case I needed extra space coming home. Leaving for the airport, I grabbed coat—a grubby camel coat that didn’t fit quite right, and was pitched immediately into a state of regret. My black coat was so much nicer, but it was too late to go back and get it.
There was a wild ride to the airport and questions about what the best strategy would be once we got there. I knew—weirdly, from another packing dream I had long ago—that there was a secret place in the international terminal where you could go and they’d take you right to the plane. You just had to find it.
When I got to the airport, I couldn’t figure out how to get to the gate. I went up and down a few sets of escalators, looking for the place that led to the international terminal, but nothing was familiar. When I did figure out which way to go, I had to go to the bathroom. After which, I realized I’d forgotten to bring something to eat on the plane and found myself in the staff room at Broad Ripple High School, searching for peanut butter crackers I might have left when I taught there years ago. No luck. I headed for the gate. I was wearing idiotic shoes, high-heeled clogs, which I could barely walk in. I took the cotton bag from my suitcase and put the shoes in it so I could run—and took off after a woman who seemed to know what she was doing.
When she reached a huge brick building, someone opened the door and let her in. She disappeared. I went to the door, knocked, and a woman attendant opened it. I could see that the building was a hangar full of airplanes, all lined up, exiting at a regular pace. She asked where I was going. “Paris,” I said. But I couldn’t remember the airline, flight number, or exact time of departure. Just that it was leaving…soon. She scanned a list, but couldn’t find it. She didn’t seem at all perturbed. “We’ll just go look for it,” she said.
Walking through the hangar, dwarfed by the gargantuan jets, I remembered that it was an Alitalia flight. And I wasn’t going to Paris, I was going to Rome. “Oh!” she said, as if it were perfectly normal not to remember where you were going. She headed directly for an Alitalia plane at the far end of a long row of planes, knocked on the side of it, and a stewardess opened a small door on the side. When the woman explained that I needed to get on the plane, the stewardess lifted a screen over the opening so I could climb in, dragging my suitcase behind me—realizing, as I burst into the aircraft that I’d forgotten my sandals and running shoes and, worse, I’d forgotten to bring a book.
I stowed my suitcase on a shelf, the plane began to move, and there was a moment of panic when one of the passengers realized that the stewardess had forgotten to close the opening. Meanwhile, I walked through the plane looking for a seat. I found my friend, Pat, who was deep in conversation with some women around her. “Look,” she said—and pushed a button on her seat. There was a whooshing sound and then I saw what looked like a long tube with a row of windows, a person framed in each one—some looking rather bewildered at finding themselves there, being viewed by other passengers. Pat explained that this was special seating where people could get whatever they wanted. There was no seat for me anywhere near where she was sitting, so I wandered some more. I was still wandering as the plane taxied down the runway, and then I woke up.
Of course, dream was about being overwhelmed with things to do. The packing dreams are always about that. But, while these dreams send me, already anxious, into the day, I still love discovering the little kernels of reality in them, pondering their connections, and marveling at how they glued themselves into a kind of story. Some of them from this dream were:
* My every-summer dilemma about comfortable shoes
* A news photo I saw of passengers looking out of the windows of an airplane, watching soldiers unload a flag-draped coffin from the hold.
* Seeing my friend, Pat, the night before in the parking lot at the Writers’ Center with the members of her poetry group.
* The fact that I’d eaten peanut butter crackers for dinner that same night.
* The fact that, recently, I’d been talking to someone about teaching at Broad Ripple.
* Reading a David Sedaris piece about Paris, and the fact that I’m booked on an Alitalia flight to Rome in August.
Thinking of how dreams work is the best metaphor for the way stories gather that I know. All that stuff in your head—memories, details, bits of dialogue, sounds, ideas, photographs, anything, everything— bouncing around like the ping-pong balls in one of those lottery “barrels,” and—who knows why?—a certain set of set of them presents itself, and you work to connect them until solve the puzzle of the story you’ve been given.