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After Dreaming


I seldom remember my dreams. When I wake, a lingering part of one vanishes as I flip back covers and swing my legs out, gone before I stand beside the bed. Whatever occupied my subconscious in sleep was likely reacting to something seen on television or encountered in bedtime reading before dosing the lamp, but it slips away by the time I reach the bathroom. I don't remember enough particulars to scribble any thoughts about what was in the dream.


My dreams often have vaguely specific settings, suggesting familiar locales but inaccurately envisioning images of them. Perhaps some school auditorium, like the one at Emmett Belknap Junior High or a theater space somewhere, will be in the background, or maybe the cabin at Willow (now Altro) Park behind my parents' home. More remote settings barely suggest anyplace I've actually been. Once awake, I can't recall detailed images of any locations, even less account for what actions took place in the dream.


Yet sometimes a dream sets something in motion when I wake. Recently I dreamt I was in a crowded space, sort of an evening social gathering in a rustic retreat: a screen door opened, someone gestured to me to come outside, I stopped talking to someone nearby and stepped onto a darkened porch where some of my family awaited—I recognized my daughter and her husband, perhaps her brother, and a few others I couldn't identify. Almost immediately I woke up but, instead of still envisioning that scene, I began to visualize walking from our bedroom in our Wisconsin condo, down the stairs, across the kitchen and through the living room toward the front door. I almost reached the entrance when I started tracing a similar route from my teenage bedroom, along the hall past my sister's bedroom and my brother's bedroom, down the stairs, across the front living room, and up to the front door of the house in Lockport where I grew up. I've walked that condo route daily for fourteen years and haven't walked that hometown route in fifty-six years, but somehow those two memories replayed like focused videos, replacing that dream moment in my consciousness without fully erasing its unclear image.


I had that dream our first night here in Sarasota starting our annual weeks-long retreat from Wisconsin ragweed. We'd dropped our luggage at our rental, looked out from the lanai at the Champion Golf Course, and drove to have dinner with our daughter and her family at their house. These factors likely influenced elements in the dream, but I've been pondering those two parallel imaginary walks through my homes ever since. Perhaps once more entering the Florida condo for the third year in a row triggered some kind of equivalent memory of walking through places where I've lived, starting with the condo we own up north. We'd left one residential condominium for another mostly familiar one, a credible association.


But what brought my childhood home into my memory? A brief challenge of my memory brings to mind around a dozen places where I've resided (not counting dormitories) since high school, one for twenty-one years. None of them came to mind. Did remembering that family home have something to do with the passage of time? Only one Florida grandchild was home that evening, a second one staying overnight with high school friends, the oldest—the one I first visited at her birth—away for her second year at college. In that dream, was she outside with her parents in that group? Is that what sent me chasing across time?


That morning I lay in bed, carefully resurfacing images from both locations. I toured our home condo easily—I see it daily—and the family house was surprisingly detailed. I envisioned slowly walking throughout, noticing familiar furnishings in my bedroom, recalling what nearby rooms contained without entering, recognizing the changing perspective while descending the stairs, glimpsing the piano, upright clothes rack, bookcase and mirror in the front living room, crossing to the door, wandering through the adjoining family room, my parents' downstairs bedroom, and the hallway into the kitchen, gazing out the windows above the sink into the backyard, with its clotheslines and the high metal fencing separating our yard from the baseball diamond in the park beyond it. I had no sense that I'd forgotten anything.


This morning in Sarasota I look up from my laptop to peer across the broad living room, through the sun-warmed lanai, and out across the sprawling golf course. If I close my eyes, I could imagine moving here as I projected those older scenes. Memories seemingly have arisen to make me connect these specific highlights, as if they were especially relevant scenes in a tersely-pointed three-act play condensing a very long narrative—my individual life.


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