I recently had a disturbing dream about a very nice girl I knew in my early years (elementary school through grade nine) until my family moved away from the area.
In my dream, this girl I remembered was as vivid as anything, except that in it, we were both adults, and I was in my role as a teacher,and she, a visitor. Perhaps it was a parent-teacher night. It was an unusual situation, It was nighttime in a school that I never taught at. The room we were in was like a classroom I may have been in before at Roslyn School in Westmount. Not that exact room, but it had that same vintage (ancient) smell, and feeling. Both of my girls had attended Roslyn, so perhaps it was from those drawers in my memory let loose seemingly at random in my dream.
I don’t recall what it was that she and I were talking about, but out of the blue I asked her if I had ever been mean to her when we were kids. She astonished me by saying “as a matter of fact, you were!” Then she disappeared as the scene shifted and I was scrambling to find my day book and a pencil because I realized I was going to be late for another class and someone kept kept turning the lights on and off in the classroom making the search more difficult.
I woke up. I desperately wanted to find out if and how I had been mean to her, and to make an amend. I had been rocked by her quick response in my dream, as I had no recollection of ever being unkind to her. I realize it was only a dream, much like my entire childhood is dreamlike to me now.
I remember all sorts of foolish things that i did as a kid that I would never do now. Saying racist things like calling french kids “pepsis” and saying insensitive things to kids with handicaps, etc. Laughing at racist or sexist jokes that weren’t funny. I chalk it up to childishness and ignorance and just selfish unawareness. My parents did not teach me to be a little dickhead. I don’t beat myself up over it, but being aware of it now has helped me evolve into a kinder and more tolerant and open human being.
My music teaching career has provided me with many opportunities to observe and challenge similar behaviours and try and teach children to be empathetic and aware of the harm and hurt that such loose and thoughtless language and behaviour causes. Music is an amazing resource for teaching (as Elvis Costello wrote) Peace, love and understanding.
It was only a dream, but there was such clarity about what she said, and it was definitely her, not some vague composite memory like the room and the situation was.
It has been 50 years or so since we were classmates and Sunday School mates as well. I hoped that if I did or said something to her in those early years that caused her any sort of pain or anguish, I wanted her to know I was deeply sorry and I would ask her forgiveness.
In my conscious memory, she was someone smart, friendly and pretty who I genuinely liked and my father teased me about. I think I may have let slip that she and I were friends. Maybe she was the only girl on a birthday party list or something else very innocent. He would embarrass me on purpose calling her my “girlfriend” in a mocking tone. He was teasing, but i remember the shame and embarrassment I felt at that tender age. Just writing this now evoked that visceral memory again.
The cruelty of waking up with this shame and this mystery unanswered is why I sought her out on social media and wrote her with pretty much this same story.
My friend promptly replied in a beautiful letter which I have abridged here:
“Oh my goodness Ian! I had a huge crush on you in elementary school and you were never, ever mean to me!!! I remember your infectious sense of humour.
I remember how kind your mom was. I think I went over to to play at your house a couple of times. And you invited me to your birthday party which was very cool for me.
That day, your mom gave me an empty red velvet Valentine’s box that I kept for a long time to put my stamps in.
While your dream got it all wrong, the timing is interesting.
Thanks for reaching out and rest assured, you were a really nice kid.”
Perhaps bizarre dreams are a part of the aging process where we look back and try and make sense out of the voyage we have all been on. Seeking affirmations or refutations of memories, decisions, choices, roads not taken, successes, regrets…..
Truth be told, I had had a crush on her as well, and my birthday falls on Valentine’s Day. I am relieved that my dream had some truthful memory in it, but that I am absolved from being a jerk. At least, in this case.