Who’s the Bad Guy?

My dream last night was frustrating and upsetting and hopeless. Asked to make a presentation on association marketing to an organization in Chicago, I had prepared an hour-long presentation. Thinking I had plenty of time before the presentation, I took a train to the outskirts for a look around. When I reached the final station, I discovered mine was the last train; no other trains would return to the city from that station for hours.

I asked someone how to get to a station that would take me back to the city. I was directed to go to a station two blocks away, but after I walked one block, the street ended at a below-grade freeway, so I had to walk two more blocks alongside the freeway to a street that crossed over. Once over, I was confused as to the direction I should take. I entered what appeared to be an open-air pavilion that looked like it might have a pathway to the next station, but once inside it appeared labyrinthine, so I asked a man who appeared to be a waiter if I could ask him a quick question. He said, “no, I don’t have time,” and rushed away.

Somehow I managed to get on a train and just barely made it back to an underground mall station in downtown Chicago, adjacent to the theater in which I would give my speech, in time for my presentation. My shirt was soaked in sweat, so I popped in to a mall shop to buy a new shirt. After I paid for the shirt (which I was by then wearing), I looked through a plate-glass window between the mall and the theater and saw a woman who had been a good friend years ago.

I rushed out to the entrance to the theater and, just as I was to be ushered in, the woman appeared again and approached me. She was much,  much thinner than she had been when I knew her and she was deeply tanned, the sort of splotched tan one gets from too much time playing golf or sitting too long on the beach. When I knew her, she was a little plump and quite pale. She spoke to me as if there had not been years since we had seen one another, holding out her arm and pointing to two huge raised red lumps on one of her arms, saying, “These aren’t any fun, are they?”

Next, I was inside, beginning my presentation. Just minutes after I started, though, the man who had introduced me stepped back to the lectern and said, “Thank you, John,” and launched into his own presentation. Baffled, I slouched back to a chair. I turned to someone nearby and said “I have an hour’s worth of presentation; I’d only just started.” He looked at me and said, “You must have misunderstood. This is a five-person program; you were supposed to complete your presentation, but it sounded like you didn’t know what you wanted to say, so Eric stepped back in.”

The presentations had ended, somehow, and a group of us were waiting at an elevator to go upstairs. The elevator opened and people poured out. Three people in front of me stepped through a glass door into the elevator but as I started to enter, someone said, “she can only have three visitors at a time, and you’re not family, so you can’t come in.” The doors closed and I was left standing in a crowd of people who seemed to know what was going on, but I was utterly confused.

I turned away from the elevator and saw my former friend with two other women, some distance away. All of them were holding bags like they had just been on a shopping spree; they were walking away from me. My friend looked back at me for just a moment; she made a point of looking right at me, then turned away as if she did not recognize me.

I wrote all of this down the moment I awoke this morning, trying to get everything down before it disappeared. I know I failed to capture it all. Somewhere along the line, I complained I hadn’t been adequately informed about expectations; I turned around and saw the person who had invited me. He said, “You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand how some people can treat others like crap and get away with it!” I don’t know just where this fit into the dream, but it’s a segment that I know belongs somewhere in the convoluted swarm of thoughts that rushed through my head while I was sleeping.

That last piece, the one that I can’t place chronologically, is one about which gave me the most questions after I woke up. Was he talking about me treating people like crap? Was he deflecting blame for failing to give me sufficient details about the presentation? Was my old friend’s weathered and unattractive appearance a suggestion that I judged her too harshly, and simply by appearances? I seem to have a vague recollection that, in the dream, I finally concluded, at some point, that I may have simply failed to pay attention to what I had been asked to do. I also seem to recall, albeit just barely (to the extent that it may be post-dream interpretation) that I wanted to have time to ask my old friend questions, but couldn’t bring myself to do it for some reason. Who’s the bad guy in all this, I wondered as I reflected on the dream.

All in all, the dream was an exercise in frustration and mental anguish. I do not enjoy dreams that, upon awakening, make me feel like I’ve been through an emotional wood-chipper.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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