Dear Mr. Herron,
In my dreams you are the manifestation of all my insecurities. In high school, your form of mentorship involved a lot of threats, public humiliation, and the occasional begrudging compliment. I thought you hated me, and I was desperate for your hard earned approval. I’d never been pushed to be better before, so I had no idea what you were doing. Years later you admitted you saw potential in me, and I finally understood that every stern reprimand was an investment in my future.
And yet, since high school, 99% of my anxiety dreams take place on a stage. We’re mid-performance, I’m backstage, and would you believe it but I can’t find my costume and don’t have a damned clue what my lines are. I don’t even remember rehearsing! You were always on my case about memorizing my lines. I always waited till the last minute. I guess it’s apt. Anyway, normally there is a lot of rushing around, I find a costume that isn’t mine but at the very least isn’t my street clothes, and I get on stage. I start to freak out internally while trying to make sense of the scene. I try to come up with something appropriate when people turn and give me the “it’s your line, Lili” look. It’s mortifying, I wake up exhausted, and I think of you.
Last night I started have the same dream (different show, of course). We were in some sort of musical, and Lauren Buglioli was the lead as always. I was totally lost backstage, but it was coming up to the final number so I figured “Eh, I’ve made it this far, what else is there to do?” I got dressed as best as I could with what I was given and thought I looked pretty cute in it. I couldn’t find my shoes so I wore flip flops. I realized I was supposed to be on stage when good ol’ Lauren gave me the stink eye (again, a remnant of high school anxiety, courtesy of our well-established leading lady). I walked onstage in a line with other characters. I was close to the front, and people were singing. I got the feeling it was my verse, but I had no idea how it went. This time, instead of trying to fake it, I just smiled, bopped along to the music, and let some girl in the back with a faltering voice cover my solo. She knew the words. She was waiting for her chance to shine. And yes, it sounded terrible. If I had known the words I would have sung it so much better, but I didn’t. The funniest thing about it was that I didn’t feel panicked at all. I thought the whole thing was rather amusing. I even remember saying to myself “Ha, this is just like those dreams I used to have!” while totally convinced it was real life. I didn’t give a damn that everyone would be pissed at me later. The audience didn’t really know what happened. The show went on. This dream is no coincidence. I’m kinda doing a two-bit shuffle on the stage of life right now. I guess this means I’m okay with it?
The thing that really gets me about these dreams is the total lack of preparedness I feel every time and the knowledge that it didn’t have to be that way. I think that’s what you were trying to hammer home in your sardonic fashion. I have potential, and I’m wholly unprepared. What I haven’t quite understood is if there was any way for me to be better prepared, or if life is just one big improv and a single curtain call. Should I just bop along, smile, and be okay with it? I don’t know. Regardless, I could really use a mentor like you again. You are one of the only people who told me to cut the crap on a daily basis, and one of the few adults I respected then and now. It means so much to me that you pushed, even when I stubbornly dug my heels into the ground. I needed it. I still need it, now more than ever.
I hope you’re well, and that your students this year know how lucky they are to have you.