The phrase ‘Back to School’ always activates in me an image of Rodney Dangerfield in the film Back to School, armpit-farting and then dusting a Triple Lindy off the high-dive. A permanent mental GIF. Then, my mind pivots to, the Billy Madison song to himself at the bus stop. Pop culture sure leaves its mark.
I live in a college town, so the phrase ‘back to school’ also gets my hackles up, thinking about how traffic is about to triple and parking downtown is going to again become a nightmare. An army of college students who look like they’re twelve will stand between me and getting a table for breakfast in less than 45 minutes until winter break arrives. I promise that’s not coming from any sort of ‘get off my lawn’ place. I enjoy youths. I devoted my college career and professional life to education, so seeing a sea of fresh-(shit-)faced younglings does put a smile on my face. Part of the reason is that every spring, I relive being one of them.
Even though I have been out of grad school for over a decade now, without fail, every spring, I have the same dream. THE GROUNDHOG AIN’T GOT NOTHING ON ME*in Denzel’s Training Day voice.
I hesitate to call it PTSD, as that seems to be one of those terms sarcastically thrown around these days that can diminish the impact and suffering of the actual thing. But as an actual sufferer of the actual thing, I’ll go ahead and throw it seriously and sarcastically simultaneously so that even I can’t follow the ball of whether or not I’m an insensitive asshole. My anti-psychotic medication is black cherry flavored and says so on the box.
Anywho, I suppose being told, essentially, that you need to spend spring break of your graduate year writing a 25 page paper or you will have no job prospects—therefore no earning potential, therefore no ability to sustain yourself, let alone attract a mate with the prospect of security—can leave a negatively-charged psychic indentation. It may not be PTSD. But it is something.
The basics of the dream are always the same. I am graduating. I am wearing the cap and gown. Somehow, however, I have realized that I forgot to attend a class all semester and have undoubtedly failed it. It’s always a history class, even though I never majored or minored in history. The rest of the dream is spent trying, and failing, to get to a place on campus.
Suddenly, my college campus is in Inception. Streets and hills are labyrinthine. Entire blocks fold in on each other. Sometimes, I need to find a computer lab to drop the course. Other times I just need to get to wherever the class is and at least try to take the final. Sometimes, I get far enough to confront the professor. Other times, I run into that TA I had a crush on freshman year who lets me go down on her if I can remember the year of Magna Carta—it’s 1215…that’s probably Billy Madison too.
This year, I was in a commuter van that I drive to work and it was stuck between two buildings, somehow on a second floor. College friends tell me they have similar dreams every year too.
In retrospect, I should have spent that spring break getting drunk and writing something that really matters like a retrospective critique of the films of William Friedkin—The French Connection and The Exorcist have a lot more in common than you think.