Pandemic Panic Dream (with special celebrity guest)

I just realized that I’ve been walking around with a dead Fitbit for two days and if that’s not the perfect image for the state of my pandemic mental health, I don’t know what is.

Like a lot of people, I have been having unusually vivid dreams since March, dreams that tip over into nightmares more often than not. I’ve relived high school, college, bad jobs, even Girl Scout day camp. Even though I do not want to go back to any of those places, my subconscious must think that any previous time is better than now. Or it just wants to torture me.

My brain is a bit of dick.

But last night, I had a dream so lucid and laden with detail and symbolism that not only did I begin recording it while I was still in the dream itself, I can recall it almost perfectly.

My brain wanted to save this one.

That thing is a rascal.

We begin in some vague point in the future. A and I are living in a nice but small apartment with bright white walls and floors, and we have BOTH decided to redo our senior year of high school at my former school in Ann Arbor, despite the fact we graduated high school . . . many years ago.

With the pandemic, redoing senior year has become the cool way to start over for everyone, regardless of age. A and I get the experience of going to school together, which we’ve never done. 

My high school must have come into some money because they now have a beautiful Hogwarts style campus which only the actual young students can use, while we are restricted to the old and falling apart campus—so of course we hate them. 

But most of my graduating class has returned to redo this year, including our two best friends: a gentle but troubled guy named Roger (who looks nothing like anyone from my high school) and world famous actress Charlize Theron (who really looks nothing like anyone from my high school). Charlize is particularly close with A since they have a lot of classes and group projects together. 

Even within the dream, I say, “Wait, didn’t Charlize Theron grow up in South Africa?” And everyone was like, “Well she came to our school in tenth grade, so it works.”

Charlize has a key to our apartment and frequently visits with her adopted infant daughter, Lexie (which checks out, as in real life Charlize has adopted two African-American girls! Good job, brain). Lexie is super cute, always wears a pink onesie and white beanie and loves both of us. Even though she is a baby and can’t talk yet, she can say my name perfectly, which is thrilling to me, since no baby, including my own sister, has ever been able to pronounce my name.

Lexie was originally adopted by Ellen DeGeneres, but Ellen is not a nice person (again, checks out) and only adopted her for the positive press of adopting a Black child, so once that didn’t work, she “rehomed” Lexie with Charlize. Ellen still drops by and asks for favors because Charlize “owes her” and I was waiting for that to pay off but it never did, which was actually disappointing. 

Charlize loves us because we don’t treat her any differently than anyone else. She never had any friends in school because she was just too beautiful, so she treasures doing normal things with us, like studying for tests and doing art projects. She even treats us to a state-of-the-art plumbing system with lots of copper pipes and brass dials so we can have a giant hotel-style whirlpool soaking tub in our apartment. 

Stella stops by constantly, because of course she does. 

So we’re just chugging along and A is loving our bathtub, which has Greek-style blue and white tiles, but I’m nervous about graduation—I don’t have anything to wear (Charlize and Stella reassure me that I’ll have robes over my clothes anyway) and it’s going to be a packed auditorium, despite the fact that the pandemic is not over. And just like my actual graduation, I’m nervous for what the future holds and what to do once it’s over and what it all means and so on and so on. 

Suddenly it’s the morning of the ceremony, and our massive plumbing system, which looks like the contraption that Belle’s father builds in Beauty and the Beast and takes up half of our apartment, starts to leak. So I’m sent out into the world to find some part that will fix it. 

We’re babysitting Lexie, so I have to leave her with Roger, who has taken to writing benign but unsettling prophecies on the big whiteboard in our apartment. I can’t really remember it but there was something to do with the real god battling a false god for our souls or something like that, but the real god isn’t the one people believe in anymore, according to Roger. Also, he keeps telling Lexie that she has a part to play in the future, which I think is just him being nice because the future is so bleak and uncertain and she’s just a baby who’s been unwillingly thrown into this world and juggled between celebrities for their own amusement.

I seamlessly end up in some gigantic outdoor mall with music blasting and lots of weird subliminal messages on TVs like “Everything is fine, buy lots of stuff.” Everyone is carrying massive shopping bags and talking excitedly to other people, except me.

While I’m wandering around looking for this part, I see all kinds of weird shit like adults getting ready for their graduations by staging musical numbers from the show Glee (which I hate) or singing the songs they performed at their original graduations, but this time they have elaborate costumes and stage lights.

One of them is a girl from my actual high school class, who sang the song Landslide at our graduation, with far more confidence than actual singing ability (in fact, my one clear memory of my real graduation is my parents asking “Was she sick?” and when I said “Nope, that’s her singing voice,” they said “Oh no”).

So I’ve given up on my quest and just want to go home, but I can’t stop watching people buy things and dance around and at some point I realize that no one is wearing a mask (including me! OH NO) so I try to escape and of course it’s too confusing and packed with people to get out quickly. I’m forced to watch more people in their 30s and 40s wearing pigtails and cheerleader uniforms practice cartwheels and bad line dancing (but is there any other kind?).

Meanwhile, actual young kids are glaring and trying to start fights with the adults who are graduating alongside them.

Everyone is buying shit they don’t need and wearing clothes they can’t afford and the air is thick and frantic like everyone wants to celebrate to ignore the fact that something really bad is happening. 

And I very clearly have this thought, multiple times: “Every time I stop to look around, the world is clearly falling apart. And every time I notice this, it gets worse.”

Fortunately, Charlize comes to rescue me and we have to traverse an area where giant candy-colored machines are tilling the earth into gigantic Lego style surfaces for the purposes of exploiting resources—of course I’m horrified by this and scared that we’ll be crushed, but Charlize reassures me that it’s fine. We even briefly turn into bright pink Lego towers ourselves, our bricks taking the form of human figures, until we are restored to normal and emerge in my high school’s auditorium (which, now that I think about it, is not where my graduation took place, it was in the gym, so the tuneless rendition of Landslide carried even further and echoed off the basketball boards).

The auditorium is filled with people, but A and Roger have saved us seats, and brought Lexie with them. Charlize and I sit down, but I am so anxious that I don’t think I can keep it together for the entire ceremony. The actual young students keep shouting at the older students and trying to start fights, so the atmosphere is even more tense. And to make things even weirder, the graduation ceremony opens with a PRAYER (which would never happen at my super liberal school in a million years). It’s not any prayer I’ve ever heard either, but a weird prayer to this false god of consumerism or the apocalypse or something else.

I yell “BOOOO!” because somewhere in the audience is my badass atheist mom, and she will murder me if I don’t. 

Fortunately, this is where my school’s actual spirit emerges in both the young and old students, and we all start booing together and yelling “Fuck your false god!” in unison. This completely derails the ceremony and all of the people in their 30s and 40s in cheerleader uniforms are devastated that they can’t perform, so they all start singing and dancing at once in the aisles, and of course it’s a disaster and clearly time to leave. 

My high school didn’t even have cheerleaders.

The aisles are blocked and people are piled up everywhere, and I can’t find a way out, yet again, but Roger says, “I prayed for this!” and commandeers this weird train/trolley/golf cart thing and we all pile in the back. I’m holding Lexie. The plumbing system still isn’t fixed. Roger is not good at driving. I have a clear image of Roger driving us away from graduation with a mailbox stuck to the front bumper complete with grass still growing underneath it. 

Even though this all feels very real, right down to the sensation of Lexie snuggled on my lap, I know I’m dreaming. And I know this dream is very weird. So when we get back, I start writing it up on the whiteboard in our apartment EVEN THOUGH I’M STILL IN THE DREAM, but the board is super cluttered with Roger’s prophecies about defeating the false god, which I now realize we’ve sort of fulfilled. 

Stella arrives at some point to fix the plumbing system, because of course she can. She casually reveals that Roger is actually her friend who she leaves at our place when she can’t watch him, and that many of his prophecies remind her of things that her father used to say. He passed away exactly two years ago, and was quite the character—a World War II vet who lived about ten different lives in his time. When I turned 21, he gave me detailed instructions for how to smuggle moonshine onto an airplane, and just before he passed, he told me very seriously, “Elizabeth, this is how you stab a Nazi who’s hiding in a wall.”

So I’m left puzzling if Roger is some kind of reincarnation of Stella’s dad and if Lexie is maybe a reincarnation of someone else that will come into play at some point in the future, but in any case I feel a little more peaceful and less afraid of what’s to come than I did before, even though there is still a trolley attached to a mailbox outside our apartment and Stella has broken down our plumbing system into pieces that are now covering the entire floor. 

And then I woke up and I had to go to the dentist for my six-month check-up.

Going to the dentist was a bitter milestone for me, as my last appointment was also the last week everything was normal, when I was only eight weeks away from all my hard work paying off and a new start in life, and now that new start is paused indefinitely, and going to the dentist marked exactly six months of being stuck in limbo.

I got to ponder that and recount the details of this dream while having my gums poked with sharp instruments to the sounds of a maudlin radio station that only plays songs that everyone hates. 

My dentist said I’m grinding my teeth in my sleep. I’ve never done that before.

“It’s pretty common these days,” he said. “Some people are so stressed they wake up with cracks in their teeth.”

I’m lucky, I guess.

But as I’m leaving the dentist, what song is playing? Landslide.

I don’t know what that means, but it has to mean something.

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