Alan's life was on pause but he didn't know it. He lived in Michigan City, Indiana, where he was teaching middle school until a classroom incident prompted him to quit. He had lost his temper with a disruptive 7th-grade boy. The parents complained, and Alan was suspended for a week and asked to get counseling. The Counselor assigned to him let him know he was suffering from a "mild depression." He simply didn't return after his suspension was up.
He was seeing Michelle, his friend and sometime lover, who he had met at the local art center. She had been married once, had no kids and now lives with her aging mother.
Sometimes Michelle spent the night at Alan's, and one night his dreaming woke her up.
On this particular night, she watched him muttering in his sleep. He was asking questions such as, …Carla, is that you? What am I doing here? What is this place? Who are these people?
This wasn’t the first time he’d woken her up this way, so she poked him and said,
“Is there something going on with you?”
Alan opened his eyes, and groggily looked at her. “…Huh?”
“Hey, you've been talking in your sleep for a while now, sounding like you’re lost or something. Are you okay? And who’s Carla?”
He blinks a minute trying to recall what was just going on. “Um, oh yeah, Carla... Well, I guess I’m okay.” After a moment he adds, “I was having this dream, where I’m at this strange place, near tall cliffs, or on a desert. And then I’m in a small town with strange-shaped little houses, and there are people walking everywhere, who seem really friendly, almost creepy-friendly. A few reappear then disappear. I think Carla was one of them. Oh, and then I’m out on a beach near more tall cliffs, and I’m following a narrow path above the beach, at the base of the cliffs, and I’m feeling joyful – but for no reason I can think of.”
He stared toward the ceiling and added, “ I’ve dreamed about this before, Michelle, and what is weird is that I’ve been dreaming about it more frequently, and I don’t know what to do, except to make drawings of what I've seen there. It’s all that matters to me these days.”
Michelle rested her head on her arm and looked at him “Oh, yes, the drawings. I was just wondering the other day how all that was going – you never talk about them. I mean, it’s great that you are doing them and all, but you’ve also been telling me that you’re broke and they might repossess your house - don’t you think you should try to sell a few of them to pay your bills? Or get some kind of job? And what about your teaching job? Weren’t they willing to take you back after your suspension? And you have no car, you walk all over the place like those scruffy guys I see downtown, and you don’t seem to be doing anything…I wish I could help!”
Alan shut his eyes, heaved a sigh, and looked at her, “Yeah, I know, but I can’t stand the thought of going back to that school. Except for my drawings, I don’t know what else I want to do. When I draw, I feel like I’m at home somehow, and, I know this sounds weird, but if I keep doing these I might eventually find 'home', wherever that is, and maybe the drawings themselves are home, or…"
Michelle, hearing this before, stopped listening and let her fingertips wander over some sensitive areas on his chest. “Ooh, that feels nice – don’t stop.” Alan is lost in the sensation, like a petted cat. Resigned, she smiles and settles herself down with this strange dreamy man.
An hour or so later they were having coffee on Alan’s back porch. Alan stared at his cup and finally said, “No offense, Michelle, but Michigan City is just not home. I could go back to California, but where I grew up is so built-up and crowded now that no one seems to be enjoying life there much. And there's the cost! Besides, the friends I knew there have all scattered. I probably should have gone back long ago, but here I am! I guess I feel comfortable here because I’ve been here so long.”
“Hmmm, it feels to me like you are a little lost, Alan, and not just in that dream! If Michigan City isn’t ‘home’ to you then maybe something else is going on. I do get a sense you’re not really happy here, though I haven’t heard you complaining that much.” She sat a minute with her coffee, and then asked, “So what do you really want?”
Alan stared at his coffee, “I think I want to be in a place that feels like home, like I belong. Maybe it’s some place inside me - I don’t know! I draw places that give me a feeling of home, like the natural places I loved as a kid – wide open beaches with only dunes or marshes behind them, or hills full of wildflowers, but I know most of that has been paved over!
“But I also need people who love me to make a home, and they appear in these dreams like ghosts, but I don’t know them. Who are they? Do they want me? Is there something I’m missing here?”
“I don’t know about your dreams," Michelle said, "but I agree with you – we all need real people that we love to make a home – not just a house or a pretty place! Don’t you ever want to have a mate or get married again?”
“I guess so...but I don’t see it happening here. Um, no offence, Michelle.” He looked at her. “So-o-o, what would you think if I moved someplace else? Now don’t get me wrong, Michelle, you know I like you a lot, and I probably love you, but we’re both kind of taking this day-to-day, right?”
She looked at him, taking this in. “Well, I kind of love you too, but I suppose you gotta do what you gotta do. And yea-a-a-h, I guess we are ‘taking it day-to-day’ as you say, and now I think I need to go home.” Saying no more she drained her cup and left.
Alan sat there and stared at the porch steps. Crap! I’m so good at saying stupid things. She’s right, I am kind of lost.