Tuesday, September 25, 2007

It Wasn't Just a Dream

“It’s due today.”

Spencer’s normally affable grin was reduced to a grim flatline.

You know that recurrent dream that persists, long after high school or college graduation, the one where you show up for class and everyone’s handing in "the big project," the one you never knew existed?

If so, then you’re familiar with the clammy panic that becomes as much a part of the dream as the images of the concerned faces of classmates and the grey blur of syllabus pages fanning through your fingers as you frantically search for documentation to somehow validate your ineptitude. You know the how-could-I-have-been-so-wrong horror, balanced by the relief upon waking up to discover “it was only a dream.”

Readers, I have been to the other side of that dream, to the dismal realms of human experience that serve to inspire these night frights. And not only have I lived to tell, it’s quite possible that reality has conspired to shatter the power of these nightmares.

Here’s how it went down. Last week, a nameless professor had us pair up to produce a joint piece of homework—now I know homework doesn’t hold quite the same weight as “the big project” but indulge me for the sake of the story.

After class, my partner Spencer and I exchanged e-mails, made plans to meet at the coffee shop and the like. Midweek, everything was going according to plan—our plan, which evidently had nothing to do with real life, as evidenced by the panic on my partner’s face as I entered class.

“Who said?” I demanded as I scrambled for my notes.

Spencer made a sweeping gesture across the room. “Everyone.”

He then dissolved into a lament about his ruined grade, his past failures, and his dismal future.

Although stunned to be in the middle of a situation that had never failed to be anything but a dream, I retained my faculties.

“Don’t worry,” I assured my distraught classmate. “I’ve got this.”

Now, fortunately, I had a little something working in my favor. Seems a couple weeks back, Professor Nameless had asked me to do some volunteer work, which I’d heartily tacked. He asked for my aid because he was impressed by my study habits and contributions to the class.

Now, if I were a sane individual, I probably should have succumbed to the dispair that felled my partner. After all, arriving to class with incomplete work, and worse, being unaware of this fact isn’t the mark of the studious person Prof N had taken me for.

What’s more is, we still don’t know where we went wrong. Spencer and I evidently attended some sort or parallel class, where Prof N. said things to which only we were privy. No one else can attest to the existence of that class.

By no account should I have felt empowered by these events, but, nonetheless, I went for it.

“Prof N!” I exclaimed as he came through the door. “Such and such isn’t due today, is it?”

Now, Prof N. may have been startled, but he didn’t show it. He coyly dodged my question, leaving a general sense of mystery in air, while simultaneously conveying through the merest nuance of tone that everything was going to be all right.

By the end of class, he was referring to “those who finished early” while reiterating the essentials for “those who were turning in on Friday”—all two of us—in seamless fashion.

Ironically, the topic of the assignment concerned the lowering of stress levels in the classroom environment.

“Did you have a high stress moment there in the beginning?” Prof N. said with a laugh as he exited the room after class.

“Oh just a little bit,” I laughed.

Spencer was stunned, but he's fully recovered. I think we both got an A.

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