Sometimes, I am trying to put my contact lenses in and they keep turning into these big square chunks of plastic that don't fit onto my eyes. Sometimes I need to make it across a room or yard, and long exotic snakes are uncurling everywhere, and I feel paralyzed. Sometimes I am on a bus or train heading for a death camp, and I want to scream but cannot find my voice. Sometimes I remember that I killed someone and the body is buried in a place that is sure to be discovered.
In my most common nightmare, I am suddenly back in high school, with a printed schedule of classes in my hand, completely lost and feeling totally panicked. I have a test somewhere, an important test, but I cannot find the room. Bells ring, the halls empty, and I cannot find my classroom. I am doomed to forever wander the halls of the high school, lost.
This particular dream has some basis in reality. The night before I began high school, I worried about how I would possibly find all the right classrooms in the brief time allowed between classes. The high school I went to was pretty big – more than 500 kids in my class alone – and the sprawling one-story building had poorly labeled rooms. And I have a terrible sense of direction. The thought of trying to negotiate the building filled me with panic. Blonde Sister, the oldest in the family, came to my rescue and drew me a map, explaining the way the wings were arranged around the auditorium.
My teenage children now attend the same high school that I did, the same sprawling building with linoleum tiles on the floor and rows of metal lockers. Two years ago, the school received some kind of funding and built all kinds of additions -- whole new gymnasiums, a couple wings full of new classrooms, a television studio, rooms filled with computers, offices for teachers. The building is suddenly the size of a small city, a maze of hallways that all look pretty much alike.
When we went to an open house at the high school last fall, we were given schedules of our kids' classes. We were supposed to follow the schedule to attend ten minute class sessions during which we got to see the teacher do a brief presentation. After each presentation, the bell would ring and we would move to the next classroom. I took Shaggy Hair's schedule, and Spouse took Boy in Black's schedule.
When I went to Shaggy Hair’s science class, it was in the same room that I’d taken biology in, with the same black tables and windows that looked out towards the parking lot. But then his next couple of classes were in the new wings, in poorly labeled classrooms, nowhere near the auditorium, which was my compass. I found the computer class okay, but his French class did not seem to exist. I wandered helplessly about the corridors, peering into classrooms filled with other parents who seemed to have somehow found their way. As panic began to set in, it was a familiar feeling. I was living my anxiety dream.
Just then I heard someone call my name. Blonde Sister, who was there to meet Blonde Niece’s teachers, came around the corner. "I can't find the French classroom," I told her. By now, I was feeling desperate about the situation. "I went to this school. How can I be getting lost?"
"I was there earlier," she said, "Here, I’ll show you."
So I made it to the classroom. With my sister's help.
And I have not had that anxiety dream since.