I’m approximately 17 years old. I enter a large classroom with my [junior high] friend Cathy F. As we’re walking towards our seats, I notice many students’ desks display have square, cream-colored envelopes with elaborate calligraphy in green or plum spelling out their names. I wonder why.
It’s probably just another thing that won’t apply to me.
Later, Cathy leads me up several floors to an auditorium I’ve never been in before. I see some of the calligraphied envelopes at a few seats, many of which are unoccupied.
There’s a receptionist of sorts, who directs us to “find our names”. I wonder how my name could actually be there, since I have no idea what any of this is about.
Some of the names in the boxes are the beautiful calligraphy, but most are in more-prosaic large block letters.
Under F, where I’m looking, a woman teacher? proctor? shows up and pulls out a card [large block lettering, green ink] that says “Fiadhig–, Cathy”. I tell her the card is wrong. I say, “No one spells their name with those letters except me. It’s the beginning of ‘Fiadhiglas’. And I’m the only Fiadhiglas in the whole world, so there can’t be a Cathy with that name.” I’m expecting her to tear the card up, maybe apologize, but it’s like she didn’t even hear me.
I wonder if I’m invisible to everyone but Cathy.
I find a seat in a long row, second from the aisle [to my left]. As I get settled, I notice the person to my right is Father Lennon. I remark, “it’s a good thing I didn’t know about this test last night, or I would’ve been too anxious to sleep!”
I still don’t know why I’m there, or what the test will be about.
I take the test, which requires a lot of writing, by hand, on paper.
[It turns out to have been a test of my critical thinking and writing skills, not a subject matter exam.]
While awaiting my turn at detailed feedback, a man proctor brings me over to a different section. There are a bunch of more-advanced students standing around in small cubicles, along with large tomes that show where they’re from.
The proctor shepherding me leads me to a section that contains people from the Midwest. I see that the last person in this row seems to be Kansas, and I expect we’ll stop there, but the proctor stops at the person just before. A boy/man of about 20, crewcut, pale. The proctor starts talking to the man, but I’m arrested by the cover of the book: a stylized sycamore tree. I realize the man must be from Indiana, and yes, the proctor is mentioning the Indianapolis 500. But the tree! I recognize it. I’m overcome with deep emotion; tears pour down my face. Luckily the men are absorbed, talking, and don’t notice, don’t ask me questions.
A woman proctor is talking with Cathy and me. She’s glad that we’ve (so surprisingly) done well enough to join the (exclusive, unadvertised) writing club where we’ll have years to make improvements in our skills!
It’s true when I reflect back on the other names I saw on envelopes, back in our classroom, that they were of high-status people with bright futures. It’s also true such people likely don’t even know my name, and would never have invited me to join them.
But wait! I suddenly recall I’m a senior, so I just have 1 year. (How is it that the woman proctor doesn’t know this about me? Has anyone else not on a list ever showed up at the test? Taken it, and passed? Maybe not.)
Later, I’m walking with a different woman proctor. She hands me a 4” x 6” yellow card. My name is indicated [in glyphs] in the center; there are individual Roman letters in each of the corners: D, L, E, C. [There may be others that I no longer recall.]
I ask the woman what the letters mean. She says, “oh, you’ll find out later.” Without losing a beat, I say, “but this is a dream! I won’t find out later! If you tell me now, I’ll remember, and I’ll know something important!”
She seems amused, but she refuses to tell me anything.
I speak to a second woman proctor, more urgently, and she also refuses to elaborate.
Half-awake, I hear what I think is Spouse in an adjacent room, so I try harder to stay within the dream. I wake up.
This wasn’t the usual kind of “I’m back in high school taking an exam I haven’t studied for” dream, because I have zero recollection of the test itself. Also, I passed it.
I haven’t seen Cathy F since we were 15 or so. We did not attend the same high school. She was not a studious girl, so her presence in this dream is odd. Her last name does begin with “Fj”, though, so cards with our surnames would’ve been close together.
Father Lennon was the priest of our parish in Glen Ellyn. Later, when we lived in Naperville, he got assigned to our parish there too. I haven’t seen him since, probably, high school (30+ years).
When I was in high school, I actually loved taking academic tests. I might have been nervous the night before, but it was mostly excitement — I relished testing my mettle. And I have always done exceptionally well on high-pressure exams. Adrenaline kicks in, and I hyperfocus. Time slows down, and I’m in the zone.
17 year old me, if she found herself in the position of unexpectedly taking a high-pressure mystery exam… would have been exhilarated.
I don’t quite know how 50 year old me would feel, as the last high-pressure exam I took might have been my GREs (in my 30s). And for the first time in my life, I did… middling. And they weren’t fun either.
Also, since we’ve moved to Maryland, and I have nothing but free time, my anxiety levels have skyrocketed. Nowadays when I have anything important the next day, anxiety prevents me from being sleepy often for several nights before. I then am desperately tired on top of ordinary worries while whatever it is is going on.
Spouse and I were watching Harry Potter 5 last night, and I mentioned to him how I didn’t miss taking timed exams.
Now that I think about it, it’s quite odd in a way how much I enjoyed taking exams when I was in school (or IQ tests, with a psychologist or whomever administers those), but now that I am free to do all the learning I want, in the subjects I choose, there are no exams, and I don’t miss them.
Well, school is human-social. And doing well on tests confers a type of social status. I’m not Likable (even my own family of origin largely despises me), so I had no shot at reasonable status if I hadn’t been 1) really good at tests, and 2) really smart. Because of my (undiagnosed) autism, I didn’t even realize, all those years, that people were grappling over status all along. That was all invisible to me. That’s a game I can’t play, never mind excel at.
The tree on the book cover didn’t actually look like a sycamore, but I somehow knew it was one. That’s what I meant by recognizing it.
I learned to identify a great many trees while I lived in Indiana — I took a class in Plant Communities. So, trees I’d seen all my life, I suddenly knew what they were, and where they liked to grow, among which neighbors. Sycamores have been an especial favorite ever since. They tend to grow along rivers and streams.
There’s also some Purdue connection with sycamores. I attended Purdue for a year.
Usually in a lucid dream, I’m feeling that it’s a dream as it’s unfolding, and I’m making choices all along to do cool stuff. This wasn’t like that. As I said the words, “but this is a dream!”, I still wasn’t even feeling anything like that at all. I didn’t have the sense that I could choose some crazy thing to illuminate what I wanted to know [look in secret records, etc.] — I still felt like I had to depend on what someone was willing to tell me directly.
Last night/early this morning, I ran aground on yet another attempt to find a sub-genre of writing where my writing seems to fit.
I read anthologies of poems, essays, etc., but none of them ever seem like the types of things I might write. The themes and motifs don’t appeal to me. I don’t have the type of life that lends itself to writing about similar issues. I definitely don’t have the academic background, credentials, or connections, that people who become authors do.
All I seem to have is… a desire to explore the world, to feel alive within it, and to write about it.
Joy, friendship, kinship.
Not-knowing, uncertainty about every thing, ambiguous possibilities.