I must have known about my mother’s expectation for me to go to college because it came to me first in a dream. I was maybe 4 years old, in a Sunday school room with family friends. The Sunday school rooms were in the basement of the church, so they had the windows near the ceiling with the kind of latches that could be opened with a pole with a hook on the end.
We were all sitting around one of the brightly colored tables. The familiar bible story pictures were posted on the walls. I can’t remember what question was asked, but I answered it successfully, to the amazement of the adults that were lining the walls of the room. “I learned that in college,” I said, and everyone in the room was very impressed.
I was very happy, until the moment that I looked over at my mother and saw that she was visibly disappointed, not because I had answered the question wrong but because I had told a lie.
I hadn’t been to college. I was only 4. Her frown signaled a disappointment that cut deep.
My sister and I were the first in our immediate family to go to college, as neither my mom nor my dad did. We had a distant relative who had gone to college and “lost her mind,” as my great grandmother (granny) put it, and so the idea of college was met with some suspicion even as the expectation was harbored in my family.
My father didn’t think college was necessary. He wanted me to learn to make money the way he made money, and wanted me to care about money the way that he cared about money. I told him that I would major in business.
But I failed out of business classes quickly, as a result of not understanding business calculus and a lack of interest.
That first summer I was home for college, I also failed as a salesperson, as the first time I went out on the road selling auto parts I rushed through my list of customers, so that I could read John Berryman’s Dream Songs alone in my hotel room.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but Berryman’s poetry was exactly the kind of thing that granny would have considered to be “losing your mind.”
That open window would return to me once more in dream. I was in my twenties, in the same basement, grown up now both in the dream and in real life, and I was sitting in the same room alone. I looked up at the window and saw Christ’s feet. Those feet, legs, and the rest of his body, as he bent down to look at me through the open window, were covered in mud. I saw that even his face was covered in mud when he said. “I just wanted to see what was going on up here.”
I woke up immediately. “Up here?” Had he said “up here?”