In many dreams, I struggle to gain access to a building, or buildings. These represent either my home, a school, or a sports facility. In the sports dreams, the problem is that there is no room for me. In the years before I got too old, I played squash and tennis. In my dreams, either the courts are full, or I have to navigate a maze of locker rooms, gyms, and exercise and weight rooms, often in several buildings, to get to them (the courts). Sometimes, the two obstacles are combined. The navigation takes so long that either my partner has left, or a reservation has expired, and the court has been given to other players.
More often, I struggle to reach a room where I am supposed to teach a class. (I was a teacher for forty-four years, until 2008, when I switched to full-time writing.) I’m forced to navigate obstacles like locked doors, culs-de-sac, and mazes. (“How do I get to…?” “You can’t,” or “Go back up, take a right, then two lefts, and come back down.”) By the time I reach the assigned room, the allotted time has expired, and the students are gone. On the rare occasions when I manage to arrive before they leave, the lectures are engaging, the discussions, lively and intelligent. But in most of my school dreams, I arrive too late for the class to happen.
My most common denied-access dreams involve getting to, and into, buildings that represent “home.” These dreams often begin with missed buses or trains, navigation of impossibly complex routes, and searches for the place where I parked my car. At some point, I wander on foot through maze-like streets, and up and down steep hills.
Even when I finally reach “home,” access is complicated by locked doors and other impediments, and by obstructive building officials and/or residents who are unwilling, or unable, to open them (the doors). After wandering around for what in dream time feels like hours, or even days, and in real time is probably just seconds or minutes, I wake up, thinking, “Oh, good! I don’t have to do that.”
Two events from when I was nine or ten may still be triggering these access dreams. In the first, coming home at dusk, when I got off the elevator, a bat was flapping frantically around the hallway of the sixth floor, impeding access to our apartment, F 11. (I now live in 11F, in a different building, of course.) Eventually, I did get in, but I forget how.
The second trigger was an ongoing torment with a happy ending. Many afternoons, on my way home from school, I was waylaid by a local bully, who would humiliate me for what seemed like hours, before finally tiring of the sport and sending me on my tearful way. One late afternoon, when I was on the street playing stickball —or was it punchball?— with my friends, the bully made the mistake of wandering into our midst. Several of us gave him a big dose of his own medicine, the memory of which still pleases me, seven decades later.
Do that bat, bully and ball game really still haunt my dreams? Only a shrink could say, and I don’t have one. Besides, even if I started treatment, I might dream of being unable to gain access to their office.