Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Gray Stairs

I've had this reoccurring dream that started right after I graduated from high school and has spanned over the past two decades.  In the dream, there is gray all around me - I am standing at the top of gray cement stairs, and I am even wearing gray.  I am consumed with this palpable feeling of evaporating joy being consumed by regret - not regret about what I've done, but what I haven't.  I'd never known whether that dream was based on something that happened to me in real life that I was reliving again and again, or whether is was some kind of metaphor.

Recently, when some old high school friends were planning to come visit, I had asked one them to bring any pictures she had from those days.  She said she would, and that she would pack her senior yearbook in her suitcase as well.  While I already had a copy of the same yearbook, I told her to go ahead and bring it  - partly because I was curious about what I had written to her all those years ago on some page in the back of the book - maybe wishes for a good life ahead and some reference to an inside joke....

One night during her visit, we took out some pictures she had taken, and in one of the pictures, I am wearing a very early 90s-looking, over-sized gray tee shirt. I am sitting on our high school campus outside with a group of friends.  I couldn't remember what we were doing that evening though I suddenly recalled temporary shafts of sunlight peeking through a gray overcast evening.  My friend told me it was our senior barbecue near the end of high school - that we were there to sign each others' yearbooks.  I realized that is where the reoccurring dream came from.  I remembered being incredibly happy to be surrounded by my friends during the end-of-the-school-year barbecue and then, as everyone was leaving, standing alone at the top of cement stairs on our high school campus.  I remembered so vividly the feeling of being scared that high school was over, of feeling alone in facing the world on my own, and most of all, feeling that some detail was left unfinished.     

Consumed with the same emotions that my reoccurring dream had always given me, I asked her if I could see her yearbook and I flipped through it only to discover I had never signed it.  Strangely, there was just one spot left in her yearbook - an empty space on a corner of a page in the back that had been waiting for me all these years.  And while it seemed silly for a moment to write something to her that I could just tell her over the phone or in an email or a card, it seemed necessary for me to write in that space to tell her how much she meant to me. 

I told her about the dream and told her of the memory that had just come flooding back - that I realized the unexplained regret I had felt in the dream was that I never got to write the words to her that I meant to in real life.  I think she had left early from the barbecue that evening all those years ago because she had another event to be at, and that was why I didn't get a chance to sign her yearbook.  As all the dots connected, it began to seem like I had been intentional about standing on those steps and letting those emotions, although somewhat painful, freely wash over me.  And it resonated with me intensely when she said it out loud and confirmed it - that maybe I had done that on purpose.  I intuitively knew to set into motion a lesson that I would need to learn many years later.  I was standing on those steps in 1995, creating some snapshot image in my mind to be filed away only in my dreams until, in real life, I was ready to learn that there is no longer a need to live in regret because of the unexpected second chances that can come our way. 

The rest of that recent night with my friend was filled with talk about quantum physics, and wormholes in the outer regions of the universe where people send themselves message through time, like:

Stop doubting.  Stop fearing.  Stop regretting. 
Our recent late summer visit came to an end, and after several weeks went by, there was some busy fall afternoon where I paused from the work of my day and suddenly realized that the reoccurring dream, after all these years, had finally gone away.  The lesson had been learned, the loose end had been tied up.  That same evening, I was looking in the mirror when something caught my attention - my first gray hairs were making an appearance on the top of my head.  I am learning the lessons in life I am supposed to,  just in time.

(c) 2013 writing and photography by Chloe Koffas