Knowing Everything, Even The Future

I had a dream where I was back in college, with all the knowledge and memories of a middle-aged man but surrounded by people trying to discover themselves.

I saw a friend and walked alongside her, trying not to stare. We didn’t actually spend much time together in college; it was after college when we got to know each other, so, in my dream, I didn’t waste any time.

“What if I told you that in 30 years, we’re going to be best friends.”

She didn’t give me the reaction I expected.

“I’d say, ‘Gee, Cliff. That’s a little weird.”

She let me follow her to her study group anyway.

There, in a ring around me were 6 students, some I knew, some I didn’t. They were talking about their majors and lack of majors. There was a lot of anxiety in the room, many knees tucked up under chins.

I miffed that one too.

“I’m an English major. I mean, right now, I’m Undecided, but I’m gonna be an English Major eventually — English Lit, though I’ll be regretful I didn’t do it with a Creative Writing Minor. Or Psychology, even just Sociology. It seems so obvious now. Duh.”

They all stared at me like I’d grown another head.


I slipped away while they studied and sought out a person who I knew I wouldn’t know when I was middle-aged because I would lose them before that.

It took a while, but I found them. They were at the campus center. I watched them order a slice of pizza, scanning the menu with their index finger, standing in white tennis shoes, while I, off to the side, was on the verge of tears.

He didn’t even see me.

All these people around me, working on building stories I already knew. It was painful, like when you realize a child’s game goes the same way every time.

I burst out the door nd looked for paths I’d never walked, buildings I’d never entered.

I ran up the steps of a dorm I’d never stepped foot in. The stairs were bare cement but well-lit, unlike the stairs in my dorm, which was carpeted and closed in. The sound inside was different, more echo-y.

I ran up the steps two at a time, pulling my way up the railing, until I realized something horrible, something that was inevitible.

I couldn’t take another step. I couldn’t move.

This stairwell, with its well-lit cement steps and never-endingness, was yanking me away from the life that I was supposed to live — the life that I wanted to go back to and live again — my Molly, my girls, my Oakland…

I turned around and ran back the other way, knocking into shoulders and book bags, burdened by the knowledge of what I was to become, or was supposed to become.

At the bottom of the stairs, with a hand on the door, I realized it’d be impossible to retrace my steps, and this thought terrified me.

I woke up, like a man falling out of a building.

My wife was sleeping. My dog was sleeping. I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth.

What else could I do?

The toothpaste cap was caked in toothpaste.

Some days that would draw out a frustrated sigh, but after running through the labyrinthian paths of my past, I just picked up a bit of tissue and started cleaning it off.

It was my 7-year old, no doubt. I recalled her cherubic little voice the night before giggling and yelling to me through the door: “I put the toothpaste cap on backwards!” She giggled some more.

I had been deep into a game of Wordle.

“That’s nice.”

Replaying the memory made it easier to deal with the aftermath. I sat on the edge of the tub as I always do in the morning, in my house, on my street, and worked at the toothpaste lid.

When I set it down on the sink, still a bit caked up, I noticed there on the ground was a perfectly clean cap, so I picked it up and switched it out for the gooky one. It twisted on so easily, my reward for the little thing of not getting frustrated, like winning an extra ball in pinball: not really a big deal, but monumental in the moment.

So many different universes to choose from, and all of us swerving around and smacking into death and love in our own scribbly line architected by the unenlightened hand of a child, a teen, an adult, and a middle-aged man sitting on the edge of the bathtub.

Ha. Maybe I AM enlightened.

I’d walked back over my own crooked line between the buildings that changed my life. I relived the wonder of seeing a friend’s face for the first time, experienced the pain of watching another one walk away.

I don’t know all the answers, even after an allegorical dream, but, when it comes to looking ahead, I can tell you this:

The gift is not knowing.