Two dreams diverged along Ron Mattocks’ path, and he cannot help but ponder the difference.
A while back I had two dreams that were so vivid I will never forget them. In the first I was a boy, roughly 10 or 11, standing before a white farm house with three gabled windows protruding from the roof and a wide, covered porch spanning the entire front exterior. Yellow daffodils filled the flower beds at the porch’s base, and the surrounding yard was neat and trimmed. Facing the left side of the house stood a traditional-looking barn with two large doors that were swung open revealing its insides.
A path to the left of the barn cut through a spacious field that was bordered on three sides by a wall of maple and oak trees. Something compelled me to follow the path, and as I walked my feet could feel the cool clover growing in the raised strip running between the shallow ruts that were worn into the damp dirt by some wheeled vehicle.
After following the path for a short distance, just past the barn, I came to a pond that seemed to be waiting for me. The pond wasn’t very large—maybe 40 yards or so across—but it was big enough to contain the billowy clouds and blue sky above.
As I rounded the pond dragonflies zipped across the water’s placid surface which was occasionally interrupted by the echoing ripples made by skittish bullfrogs diving forward into the tall reedy cattails growing near the edges. And despite its vibrancy, the entire landscape was tinted in a yellowish-orange color often seen in personal photos from the 70s.
Nothing in particular happened in the dream aside from exploring the scenery, and I don’t remember how it ended; I just recall having this warm familiar feeling as if my boyhood innocence had been somehow restored and everything was perfect.
And then there was the second dream. It came months after the first. Remarkably it took place at the same spot only this time I wasn’t alone. This time my wife and kids were with me, and I ushered them from our minivan, eager to give them a tour. The farm had changed, though.
The house’s gabled windows were broken exposing ragged, listless curtains. Peeling paint hung from the siding like the dead leaves still clinging to the mostly barren trees, and the porch roof sagged like heavy bags under tired eyes.
The barn, too, was in disrepair. Missing boards on its exterior gave it a gapped-tooth appearance, and the entire structure slumped to the side the way a person does when placing all their weight on one leg after standing for too long.
Waist-high weeds had overtaken the lawn around the house and barn, and what grass remained had been bleached white after lying dormant through a long winter. The path from earlier was overgrown as well, but I could still make out its faint existence as I lead my family to the pond. Once there, I found the stagnant water dulled further by the overcast sky which seemed to mute the entire scene of any color.
It was then that I felt overcome by a profound sense of disappointment that drowned out my earlier excitement from bringing my family there. As before, nothing beyond what I’ve described happened nor do I recall how it ended; but the memory of these dreams stuck with me, in particular, the way they related to one another. That they could occur at the same location, yet at different points in my life struck me as odd.
Obviously the two dreams were connected. I knew from keeping a dream journal while in therapy that there was a subconscious message behind them, but the question was what exactly? Eventually, I asked a therapist friend for her thoughts. Her conclusion: That I wanted to share my childhood with my own children.
This sounded plausible. I do tell my kids stories from when I grew up, but the interpretation seemed too simplistic, and it didn’t account for the feelings of disappointment that accompanied the second dream.
I’m not entirely dismissing such an explanation, but I’ve given these dreams a great deal of thought, and I’ve arrived at a different theory stemming from a nagging fear—what if I’m leading my family down a wrong road?
Like the first dream I have a tendency to romanticize things. There are moments when I think that certain choices are best for my family, while seeing only the sunny side, but in hindsight I am disappointed to realize after the fact maybe they were not.
The biggest example of this was the decision to move closer to my sons a little over a year ago. On the surface, it seems like the right call, and to me it’s a perfect summer day. At the same time, though, I worry that this new life has nothing good to offer my wife and stepdaughters. I’ve taken my wife from her family and the girls from their father, and as a result there are definitely days when life 1,300 miles apart is colorless and dead for them.
There are other areas, too. Will my financial choices mean my kids won’t be able to attend college? And more recently, how much of hardship will it be on my family if I go back to writing full time? In my mind I have an image of how things could be, but are they just dreams that ignore a harsher reality? It’s these questions and more that constantly haunt me.
The last thing I want to do is fail my family because of my decisions, but sometimes there are no easy choices either. Sometimes there’s nothing but old run down houses and dilapidated barns to pick from, and I hope my family will understand that one day.