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The Fourth Year Dreams

Up until recently, my dreams kept throwing me back into the fourth year of high school, telling me that I still had credits to finish in order to graduate, even though I have three master’s degrees in real life.

The literal truth of the dreams is that, when I went there, my high school had a three year program. It was an Orthodox Jewish high school, and the idea was to graduate us a year early so we’d feel obligated to spend a year in Israel before college. The other literal truth is that I fell apart during my last (third) year of high school, and even though I went to college the next fall (at age sixteen), I was unable to stay there.

Looking back, I think part of the reason for the dreams was wish fulfillment. I wanted to go back to high school and do a fourth year, because I wanted to believe that my collapse in college was caused by not being old enough to handle it. Maybe, I hoped, if I could go back and finish that last year of high school, I would be all better.

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“Hmm.”

And in those early versions of the dreams, my orthodox Jewish high school had a drama department, and art classes, and a therapist (none of which we had in real life). But the dreams still focused mostly on the anxiety and stress of high school, with all of the social failures, and the tests in math, or physics, or social studies that I was wildly unprepared to take.

The dreams kept going, even as I got older and worked to get better. It was frustrating to keep returning to high school as I slept, because when I was awake I knew how much progress I’d made in therapy, in writing, in self-awareness, and in my overall mental health. But the dreams kept reminding me of all of the things I still couldn’t do. With each year I fell further behind my peers: in relationships, and work, and money, and independence. I never stopped trying to move forward, but for every mile my peers traveled I made it about a foot into the future.

Ellie and the Afikomen

“Every step counts, Mommy.”

There’s a theory that if you can work through the issues behind your dreams, then you’ll stop having those dreams, but for a long time I felt like these fourth year dreams were going to haunt me for the rest of my life. And the thing is, along with all of the anxiety and failure and humiliation of the dreams, there was also a sense of possibility; that I could have another chance to learn what I couldn’t learn the first time through.

Gradually, even during the dreams, I was able to remember the work I’d done, and the degrees I’d earned in the real world. And then, after graduating with my Masters’ degree in social work last year, the dreams changed again, and even though I was still back in my fourth year of high school, this time I was surrounded by my former classmates, all at our current ages, and all trying to finish those last few credits. And then, sometime this past fall, around the same time I started teaching synagogue school a few hours a week, my high school best friend appeared in the fourth year dreams with me, despite being married with four children and living in Israel, and it was such a relief to have her there with me, and to feel like we were in this fight together, even if it was just a dream.

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And I started to realize that I’m not alone in this unfinished feeling. When I looked at everyone else’s lives on social media, they seemed to be overachieving and rushing ahead and having a great time, but the dreams were telling me that maybe we each had our own unfinished tasks that we needed to go back and work on. Because we’re all still trying to figure out how to be okay. I started to think that maybe all of those kids I grew up with were having the same fourth year dreams that I kept having, stuck back in those old classrooms while they were sleeping, and maybe that’s why I saw them there so often.

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“Hmm.”

 

I haven’t had a fourth year dream in a while now, and that seems to be a sign that I’ve passed a marker of some kind, and filled a void that needed to be filled. Unfortunately, other bad dreams fill that space now, with other unresolved issues that need my attention, and they seem to think I need to be hammered over the head on a constant basis so that I won’t forget that there’s more work to be done. And, really, I know that there’s still a mountain of work left to do, but it’s nice to take a moment and celebrate that some of that mountain may have finally been chipped away.

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“Did you say chips?”

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Olivia and Dina

 

Olivia Cole was one of my mom’s good friends in high school. They were both in the theatre group, at their girls’ only school in the city. There were girls of every shade and religion there and none of that mattered. I got the sense that they were in a safe haven in that school, where the limitations placed on other girls in the fifties just didn’t apply to them.

Mom went off to film school in California after that, and Olivia went to RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. Then Mom went on to work as a film editor, and got married, and had kids, and found that film work was not on the right schedule for parenting two little kids, and one big one. And Olivia moved out to Los Angeles, married, divorced and won an Emmy.

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Olivia wins an Emmy!

I’d seen Olivia’s picture in the yearbook and heard her name, but I’d never met her myself. And then North and South, the miniseries, came on TV, and I was busily watching Patrick Swayze and listening to southern accents when I saw Olivia. I started screaming and calling for my Mom – Is that her?! And it was. I knew (of) someone who was on TV!

When I was in seventh grade, I got to see her on stage in A Raisin in the Sun, and then I saw her in three episodes of Murder, She Wrote, and a miniseries with Oprah Winfrey. But all of this time I still didn’t know her. I saw her in another play a few years later and she came out to meet us, and I was shy, and she smiled and called me “A tall drink of water” or was it “long” drink of water. Not sure. But she was still a stranger, a mirage even. When she was on stage or on my TV, she wasn’t really Olivia, and I wasn’t sure who she might be in real life. She wasn’t the kind of actress who played herself over and over, she played characters who were nothing like her, except that they used her eyes and her voice. They even changed her body, making her walk, her body language, the shape of her, unrecognizable.

olivia cole - the women of brewster place

Olivia in the Women of Brewster Place.

And then, when I was in my twenties, she came to stay with us. She had to sell her father’s house on the island and Mom offered our apartment as base of operations. Normally Olivia would have stayed in the city with her mother, but this was more convenient, and, more importantly, a chance to catch up with an old friend.

We had Dina then. She was probably ten years old, a black lab mix from the shelter, still in good health, and calmer than she’d been for the most of her life. I was still at my shyest back then (and only a few steps removed from that even now). I think Olivia was the only adult who ever slept over at the apartment (nephews, no matter what they might think, do not count as adults). Olivia was this mix of grand theatrical wisdom and down to earth, plain spoken quiet. And she loved my dog. And Dina loved Olivia.

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Dina

Dina did not have many friends. Little children were as frightened of her as she was of them. They would see her black hair and sharp teeth and hide behind their mothers. Dina would see their quick movements, and short stature, and sit down by my leg with her back hair raised up. When people asked if she would bite, I had to say yes, she might do that. She’d tried to bite me, for picking her up when she didn’t want to be moved, for leaving her home when she wanted to come with me.

I took her to therapy with me for a few months, when she was suffering from unbearable separation anxiety, and maybe just knowing where I went without her, knowing what the place smelled like and sounded like, calmed her down. By the time Olivia visited, Dina was doing better, but she was still Dina. So Olivia’s matter of fact and immediate friendship was disarming and surprising to her. She wasn’t used to being liked by strangers. The two of them went for long walks together, down to the beach, keeping stride, breathing together.

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Dina loved to listen to Olivia’s voice.

With people, Olivia was a talker. She had that dramatic raconteur voice, with a touch of her southern Mom and her time in London coming through, and a lot of her time on stage filling out her voice so that even her whispers filled the whole room with a low smoky sound.

I don’t know if Olivia talked to Dina out on their walks, telling her stories of her own dog, Oro, or her trips around the world, or the characters she’d played. Maybe they were just quiet together, breathing in rhythm, walking towards the water and feeling the slight breeze in the air. Whatever it was, they came back content.

Dina had a friend. She didn’t know anything about Emmy awards and Hollywood and pilot season and table readings, all she knew was that this presence had entered her life and offered love of a gentle, fresh, relieving kind.

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Dina, the dancer.

I have to believe that’s part of what changed things for my Dina. She never became a social butterfly, but something in her anxiety seemed to slow down. As if she’d decided that it was all okay. She didn’t have to get better to be loved, she just had to be.

 

Olivia Cole is currently in a two-woman play about the Delany sisters, called Having Our Say, in Hartford, Connecticut. If you’re in the area, or plan to be there before April 24th, stop in and see her. She’s magical.

Olivia in Having our say

Olivia in Having Our Say.

This is a review of the play when it was at the Long Wharf theater:http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/nyregion/review-2-sisters-navigate-100-years-of-black-history-in-having-our-say.html?_r=0

Link to Hartford Stage:https://www.hartfordstage.org/?gclid=CLiIobSOh8wCFUokhgodKvYGXA

Butterfly’s Day Out

My best friend from high school lives in Israel, with her husband and four kids, but she came to the states to visit family in the Catskills this summer, and I decided to take Mom and the dogs up for a visit.

            We packed up the car, with dog beds and treats and snacks and cd’s, for the drive upstate. We were prepared, with doggy Xanax (for Cricket), and Pepto Bismal (for Butterfly), and paper towels (for their maid, me).

            Cricket snuggled in behind my neck, and then behind my back, with her nose behind her grandma’s shoulder. Butterfly unhooked her seatbelt in the first ten minutes, with Cricket’s help, but stayed in her bed on the back seat, car sick. She only threw up twice on this trip, compared to the seven times she threw up on the trip to Washington, DC, in January. But I found two large chunks of chicken treat, and a ribbon of rawhide, floating in the puke, when we stopped at a rest area to clean up. Feeding her before a trip is a mistake. Now I know.

Butterfly, keeping an eye on Cricket's back

Butterfly, keeping an eye on Cricket’s back

            We reached Monticello, New York, late in the afternoon and checked in at the “best” local motel. One of the bedside lamps didn’t work. A floor lamp, the fridge and the microwave had to share two outlets. The door to the room didn’t quite close, unless you slammed it, repeatedly. And the bathroom light only stayed on for a certain amount of unspecified time. I won’t describe the carpets. But there was a grassy area next to the motel for the dogs to pee on, and beds to sleep on, and a TV to watch, so we were set.

Watching TV with Butterfly

Watching TV with Butterfly

Cricket guarding the door to the motel room

Cricket guarding the door to the motel room

            The next morning, I met up with my friend and her newest baby, not quite two months old, and only ten pounds, in her little pink footie pajamas. I had a chance to hold the baby while her mom and I caught up and, thankfully, she didn’t have that new baby fragility anymore. New babies feel like they’re barely held together with scotch tape, and a slight wind could break them apart, but this baby was gelling nicely.

Then we met up with the rest of her family at their bungalow colony, and Mom and the dogs arrived, and we were immediately swarmed with kids, some related to my friend, some complete strangers.

I saw Cricket getting a little antsy with all of the attention, despite her anti-anxiety medication, so I picked her up and held her for a while to help her calm down. Butterfly, on the other hand, sat patiently, while the kids took turns petting her back, and followed willingly when they led her around on her leash. She even took on a steady dog show trot to show off how well she conforms to Lhasa Apso breed standards.

How many hands can fit on one Butterfly?

How many hands can fit on one Butterfly?

Walk number thirty two.

Walk number thirty two.

            Before I put Cricket back down on the ground, to help meet the doggy love demand, I made sure that the kids knew that Butterfly and Cricket were different dogs. If Cricket ran under the picnic table to hide, I told them, it would not be a good idea to reach your fingers under the table to try and reach her. The kids adapted well, learning quickly that Cricket could be tempted with sticks, and would keep chasing sticks until her mouth was filled with four or five sticks at a time.

While the rest of the kids lined up to walk Butterfly, my friend’s seven-year-old daughter chose Cricket, who ran her every which way, to her father’s great amusement. Cricket is as bossy as the bossiest little girl, and managed to drag her new friend through the swing set, under the hammock, and into the woodsy area behind the house, until they were both dizzy, and smiling.

Happy Cricket, leading the way, to the water.

Cricket leading the way, to water.

Eventually, even Butterfly hit a wall, and scampered under the picnic table to rest, while I held Cricket, who had hit her limit a while earlier. The kids didn’t understand how the dogs could be done playing so soon. They had only been running for four hours, this way and that, with a crowd of children. Why would that be exhausting?

            Everyone gathered around for pizza and some kind of blue drink that even the kids found suspicious. The only sign that Butterfly was anxious was that she didn’t take pieces of pizza crust when they were offered to her, but Cricket didn’t mind eating a double share.

My friend’s children started to beg for a dog of their own, generously offering to trade in the new baby for said dog. I was a little worried that I’d brought discord into the family with my fluffy children, but my friend reassured me that the kids, and her husband, had been pointing out dogs everywhere they went, making a not subtle case for dog ownership, long before the fourth child came along, and long before my furry children offered such visceral temptation.

            It was nice just to sit there and take in the experience of seeing my high school friend, with her kids, and her husband, on a sunny afternoon in the country. I could feel her happiness; it was this quiet, solid fabric and her whole family was wrapped in it. And for a few hours, I was wrapped in it too.

The dogs slept well in the car on the way home, and through the next day. I don’t know if dogs relive experiences in their minds the same way people do, but I think Butterfly will always remember running like a show dog, with a long line of children waiting for the chance to be close to her. She was a star for the day, and she loved it.

Butterfly, after a long, but very good, day out.

Butterfly, after a long, but very good, day out.