Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shelf of broken dreams

In July I suffered through tolerated celebrated my birthday. Most people consider the birthdays that end in zeros their big birthdays. I don't. My big birthdays are the ones that end in fives. I didn't realize that until this year's birthday.

I didn't recognize that there was a pattern to my years -- a wobbly pattern, to be sure -- but I'm calling it a pattern. I've always done big things during my 5-years, or big things have happened. Here are some examples.

I started school when I was five years old, and learned to take tests and count the slow seconds on the clock.

The year I was 15, I probably smoked my first joint, and I got drunk the first time right after my 15th birthday, which may have set the pace for the rest of high school. It doesn't seem that significant. What is significant is that I fell in love for the first time that summer, and also set precedents for choosing the wrong men and taking a very long time to heal from a broken heart.

The year I was 25 two big things happened. First, my dad dropped dead of an unexpected heart attack at age 46, leaving my mom with 2 kids at home, and 2 more barely out the door. It was my first deep experience with death and adult grief. A few months later when my neighbor's plane flew into a mountain, I was one of the few people who knew how to deal with the grief, if such a thing is possible. I knew something about life that was hard-won.

Second,  we decided to get pregnant with my son Drake. Balance.

Fast forward and I sold our house during a 5-year and bought another one. It was in the same city, which was a first for us. Air Force families don't do that very often. Another 5-year I indulged in an enormous mid-life crisis, lost a bunch of weight, and decided I'd better start living a little harder if I wanted to suck all of the juice out of my life.

Past 5-years have been both positive and negative, obviously. I don't know what to expect this year, except that this will be the 5-year to end all 5-years.

I was telling Drake about my 5-years, and he said he predicted "a rich boyfriend and a muscle car parked in front of my house."
I'm not saying "no."

"Mine or his?" I asked. 

"Yours, of course," he said.

"Both of those things would be big and unlikely," I said. "But I'll be glad to let you drive the one that's possible when you come to visit."

I talked to my daughter Elvira about it, and I said I wasn't sure what might happen this year. I told her what Drake had said, and we agreed he didn't know me very well.

I said I hadn't had a real best friend in several years. Lots of good friends. An embarrassing richness of good friends, as well as my kids and their beloveds. But not a best friend to go places with and share intimate best friend experiences. It takes a lot of work and some fine good luck to find and keep a best friend for any length of time. (It's not me. They find spouses eventually who become their new best friends.) I've had a true best friend for most of my life, except for the past few years.

I told Elvira that could be something that would happen this 5-year. And I said I also wanted to travel more. And I wanted to let myself fall into adventures.

But I don't really think I have that much control over the 5-years. I was just trying to dream. Because ...

Shortly after my birthday, I was listening to a speaker talk about dreams. He told a story about when he was a kid and he wanted to be a drum major, but his dad squashed that worthless wish. He talked about dreams, and how they often get put away, forgotten.

As I listened, I tried to remember what my dreams were when I was a kid.

I couldn't think of any. Not one single dream. I started to feel anxious. Surely I had dreams. Everybody has dreams, right?

I tried to listen to the speaker, but my mind was working in the background looking for dreams. C'mon now. There has to be a dream back there somewhere. Sift. Sift. Sift.

College! That was a dream. I wanted to go to college. I received about as much encouragement as if I'd dreamed of being a lion trainer.

OK, I thought. College. But college itself isn't a dream. What did I want to do? What did I want to study?

As I sat there listening, I couldn't remember wanting to study anything. (As I wrote this I remembered tossing around wanting to be a doctor or a psychologist. Yes, that would be it. A psychologist. I'd help people. It wasn't much of a dream. Lots of kids choose psychology because they can't think of anything else to study and it seems achievable. Like them, I didn't realize the years of school and licensure it would require. I did get a social work degree though, so close.)

Doesn't matter. What I really dreamed about was getting the hell out of that small town and living in a city.

But I couldn't remember any dreams that morning during the talk. Not one, except that vague dream: college. In fact, I haven't been able to remember any dreams until I started writing this tonight. And then I remembered when I was 7 I dreamed of being a writer. And I always yearned to play the piano. And .... that's it. Leave as soon as I could, write and play the piano.

I did all that. But those don't seem like enough. Why can't I remember having concrete dreams that would move me forward in a direction?

What I dreamed was vague. To have a career. To be a liberated women who knew what she wanted and didn't care what other people thought -- especially men. (Maybe that one is still in the box.) Those are character traits, not dreams.

The speaker said it was time to realize those dreams, to get that old, dusty shoe box down off the "shelf of broken dreams in your heart closet."

I wrote it down because it hit me so hard. If something big was going to happen this 5-year, I needed to figure out what my dreams are. It has to be now. I need to use this special year while I've got it, but I need some dreams.

I mean, I'll take the muscle car if it happens and it's cheap. The boyfriend -- rich or not .... well, if he's been sitting on a heart-shelf in a dusty box, he's probably desiccated  I don't want dreams that are half-dead or not achievable.
The best friend .... maybe. I can't force that one, and I can't call it a dream really. I'm OK with having lots of wonderful friends, and a few who are close enough to get past the sand beaches of my island.

So far, I've had a couple of surprise adventures. I'm not sure if they came out of my shoe box though, because they were more a result of my saying "yes" to whatever was offered, whether it was comfortable or not. There's definitely value in that. I'll be writing more about those adventures. They are a valid part of 5-year.

But they're too fresh to be dreams that have been shoved to the back of my heart closet in a dusty box.

I'm sorry to say, I haven't located the box, much less opened it. Writing this helped. I realized I did have a couple of dreams, and I've achieved them. Writing. Piano. Leaving home when I was 17.

I'm still searching for my shoe box though. I'll let you know if I find it.

Do you have a shoe box on your shelf of broken dreams? Is there anything in that box that you want to dust off and make happen? Inspire me! Tell me one broken dream.

And I'm sure one of these days I'll find that box and tell you mine.

(All photos stolen from the interwebs.)


  1. When I was in second grade I was given an assignment to write about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was very excited about this assignment because I had already given it a lot of thought and I knew exactly what I was going to write about. I either wanted to be a mad scientist or an assassin but combining the two was my ultimate dream. When I turned in my assignment it was a lot like that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralph turns in his assignment about wanting a Red Ryder bb gun for Christmas. Oh the excitement on my face just knowing how much my teacher was going to love reading it. Two days later my teacher handed me a note to take home requesting that my parents come meet with her. Oh my god oh my god oh my god, she was so impressed that she wanted to meet with my parents!!! Maybe she knew someone who was going to help me with this because she could see my incredible potential to be a mad scientist assassin! I am sorry to say, no such luck. My mother was very upset and had a long talk with me about what was "appropriate" to say and do at school as well as to think and desire. My father didn't say one word to me about it but I overheard my mother scolding him for laughing.
    With the dream of being a mad scientist assassin squashed I was set adrift not knowing what I wanted to be for the next four years. One day it just hit me, I wanted to be a stuntman. I began devising all kinds of stunts that I could start working on immediately. I was very fortunate that #1 the train tracks ran, literally, right behind my house on the top of a steep tree lined hill #2 that we had an antenna tower attached to our house that went up thirty feet #3 there were several large weeping willow trees in our neighborhood #4 I had friends dumb enough to be willing to try most of my stunts with me and #5 my friends and I had inattentive parents. During the five years that I pursued that dream I pulled off many death defying stunts involving trains, guns, axes, very high falls, a near hanging, and "borrowed" speeding cars. The only injury I received during that whole time was knocking out my front teeth. My two friends who tried the same stunts with me received two broken arms, five knocked out teeth, eleven sprained ankles, four torn out finger nails, one scratched eyeball, and many bruises. Shortly after my sixteenth birthday I was hit by a car while riding my bike down a hill at breakneck speed. I did not break my neck but I did break my, to put it briefly, foot, leg, arm, collar bone and knocked out my front teeth implants. I also "hurt" my back and neck, most likely sudden compression. The lasting effects squashed the whole stuntman dream.
    When my father died in 2000 I saw my two friends and we talked about those years and all the crazy things we did. I always viewed them as super cool and wanted to impress them all the time with my wit, wisdom, skill and ability. Turns out that they thought I was super cool and only did those crazy stunts with me because they wanted to be just as cool, even if it left them in the hospital. I miss having friends like that.

    1. What an evocative story! I can just see all this happening. You would have made a perfect stunt man. And of course, you are super cool. :-)

  2. I didn't realize that was getting so long, good thing I stopped when I did! I only wish that you could see all of that they way it is in my head, very movie like.

    1. I did! And there's no limit to the length of comments. No proper etiquette. I loved your story.