The other day I had a nightmare. Again. A very familiar one. I have it 2-3 times a year maybe, maybe less. It’s hard to tell with dreams. I used to write them down in a dream diary to reflect upon later. To make sense out of them. The only true thing I can say about this one is: It’s always the same theme. And it always has to do with my math teacher.
The latest variation of this dream was that I was late to go to school, late for the first lesson: math. Of course. There’s always a problem with math. I’m either failing the exam or am too late for it or I have not been to class the whole year and they are going to find out, because when I actually used to go to school, that was in fact true. Well sort of.
It all began after the summer of what would be my last summer holidays before graduation: I had caught glandular fever, also known as kissing disease. I had unfortunately not kissed anyone that summer but still gotten it somehow. For three weeks I was lying in bed, barely moving, barely able to eat, complete exhaustion. After that I gradually went back to school again. Gradually meaning that I only went to my major courses: German and History. The ones I would be tested in my final exams.
Because glandular fever is a tricky disease that leaves you exhausted for weeks, sometimes in my case months, physical exercise or concentrating for a long time is not recommended. Which obviously was pretty brilliant: a free ticket to pass on any subject I didn’t like (e.g. math, chemistry and P.E.)
As nobody could proof my limit of exhaustion and given the freedom to choose for myself: for a while skipping math was pretty fun. After all I was tired, I was ill, I wasn’t lying: How to tell how tired I would be after math? Better not find out.
I guess somewhere around here is where my recurring nightmare was born.
The worst part of having nightmares about school when you are long long graduated is how ridiculous they seem when you wake up. How in the first five minutes you think: But I don’t go to school anymore. I have graduated. Damn it! I’m not afraid of that teacher anymore!
Bad dreams about school are amongst the five most common nightmare themes, with tons of versions to choose from: Not finding the classroom, being naked at school, having an exam you never studied for. And it is perfectly reasonable why so many people are dreaming about it: going to school is happening during the formative years in our lives. The experiences and surroundings are stored in our brain as blueprints for everything including major stress and anxiety.
The other day I watched Nightmare on Elm Street. A classic horror movie I had not watched yet. I had known its story, the whole Freddy Krueger kills children in their dreams thing, the eerie song One, Two, Freddy's Coming For You, the hands that are knives…
People who know me know that I tend not to watch horror movies. However there’s a few I have watched on Halloween nights when I was a teenager, whilst sleeping over at a friends house and these experiences have told me: Horror is what gets stuck in my head, so I’d rather not fill myself with more ideas.
So usually when people asked whether I would want to watch a horror movie, I would say: No thank you.
But just like being tired of dreaming of school as this terrifying place where math teachers are scary just with their presence, this autumn I was tired of my own childish fear so I challenged it and found out: that I can do horror. In fact, I am totally fine afterwards. And also: Nightmare on Elm Street is not a scary movie at all. It is actually quite funny at times and kind of campy. Maybe everybody knows that but: I didn’t until just now.
I do wonder if teachers do realise that they will haunt most of us forever. If they think upon falling asleep at night who of their formers students is going to dream of them.
It annoys me slightly.
Because in reality any of these things that are happening in school dreams except maybe the being naked part: it’s not even that terrible!
Who cares if you fail the exam? Who cares if you are too late to class? If you are sitting in a classroom you didn’t enroll for: Just get the fuck out.
Because the thing about graduating high school and being an adult is that you realise that these things you stressed out about so much when you were young are actually pretty mundane. The teachers that were so terrifying are actually quite sad and pathetic and in some cases should have just been reported.
Just like horror movies with the eyes of a grown up: they have no power over you anymore.
And I guess maybe it’s nice to acknowledge that.
Maybe that’s the actual reason we still dream of school, because when we wake up, how great it feels to say:
Thank God I’m not in school anymore.
ONE THING TO DO
Obviously watch some horror. If you are an easily scared chicken like me, start with Nightmare on Elm Street. It really is not scary. Trust me.
"I'd like the one with the non-existential dread, please."
My book: "Things I Have Noticed - Essays on leaving / searching / finding” is a poetic memoir, about the process of finding ones own voice.
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