I had a vivid dream last night. Strangely, many of my dreams have the same setting, the way different movies from the same studio reuse the same backlot sets. In my dream, I am an employee of a large and nameless company, and I work at a desk facing out the window of the 21st floor of an office tower.
These dreams in many ways are less interesting than my real life. In life I work for tiny companies that scrabble for existence day to day, exhausting but an unremitting challenge, man’s work. In bad dreams, I am a cog, a Babbitt, a salaryman slogging through a corporate existence.
In the dream last night, I was working at my desk on the 21st floor when my computer malfunctioned. I began to disassemble the computer and found I needed a peculiarly shaped screwdriver to finish the repair.
I went to the closet to find a screwdriver. The closet was stuffed full Fibber McGee-style and there was an avalanche of boxes and coats and clothing. Under the pile was the toolbox that I thought I’d lost years ago. There were no screwdrivers inside, no ordinary tools. Instead there were bizarre and intricate implements, like dental instruments intended for the mouths of mythical animals. They seemed familiar though, and I tried to remember when I had seen the toolbox last.
I carried the toolbox back to my desk, hoping to use the tools to improvise some sort of solution to my computer problem. From my window, I could look out over the entire country, 3000 miles from the Chesapeake Bay to the Farallons.
The tools had been missing for 10 years, I calculated, and my memory insisted they’d started out as screwdrivers, hammers, pliers.
What else had changed in a decade?
Back then I had only one daughter instead of two — no, wait, my younger daughter is fifteen, so she was already born then. I pictured her, not as a five-year-old but even younger, two or three, a toddler.
How long would it take her to toddle from the East Coast to the West? A lifetime, I thought. A tiny child she would start out, walking in that stiff unsteady way, and spend her whole childhood crossing the gentle Appalachians. Then as a young woman, she could stride across the Great Plains, and face the Rockies as an adult. She’d be my age by the time she got to the desert of the Southwest, stumbling through Utah and Nevada. Somehow, we all do, the old woman would manage the Sierras and the grassy slopes of California’s Central Valley and reach the cold Pacific.
Even in my dream, I collapsed distraught at my desk. My co-workers milled uselessly around me, watched me sob.
I always wake up at the worst part of a nightmare, I always have. There’s a monster or I’m falling or I’m dissolving into dust and I wake up safe in my bed, sunlight streaming in, and I can laugh at my fears. But I’ve kicked off the blanket and someone must have left open a window or a door, because I can feel the chill sea air.