Last night, I had that cliche dream. I sat meekly in a large class on a subject I knew nothing about. But there at the front of the room stood Sam Findley, my college Latin professor. Prancing before us in the same worn purple corduroys, he drilled his victims on obscure declensions. Be educated, or be embarrassed. Endless rows of ethereal students dutifully raised their hands and spoke in tongues, their selfsame, bland faces repeated ad infinitum as if reflected in two mirrors. His glee fueled by our mundane failures, Findley was hastily scribbling “um, us, urum, utus, utilius” and other such nonsense on the blackboard.
According to the usual script of such dreams, I began to panic. I hadn’t turned in a single assignment all term, and it seemed the final was rapidly approaching. And I had to pass this class to graduate.
I heard my name and looked up. Findley was gazing directly at me, along with most of the class. Chalk held expectantly in hand, he continued to stare.
“Kelly?” The professor was walking down the aisle, headed straight for me. He stopped in front of my desk and bent slightly, the thin strands of his goatee dangling just above eye level. “Did you find time to do the workbook assignment for chapter nine?”
Straightening up and rustling the pages of my mint-condition workbook, I stuttered, “Um… I don’t know?”
Findley turned around with a look of resigned disappointment. I had to say something… but it was too late. Before you could conjugate tempis fugit, the lesson had adjourned. Findley desperately waved his arms at the incomplete catalogue on the fading blackboard, then disappeared with the rest of the classroom.
I wonder if Professor Findley ever saw a faint flicker of passion in my eyes, or if he just pegged me as lazy. When my classmates were struggling to memorize their vocabulary, I was marveling at the sparkling edges of a nearby glacial erratic by headlamp. When Findley’s students were shuffling by his office to schmooze before class, I was rummaging through piles of dirty clothes and climbing gear looking for my notebook. And when my friends were diligently applying to be entry-level cubicle jockeys, I was embarking on another cross-country mission to high, rocky landscapes and wide-open skies.
That spring I sent my long-term project at Rumney, punching through the low crux at last only to spend twenty numb minutes battling the frigid steeps above. Screaming, I finally fumbled the rope through the anchors with a useless, frozen claw. I still felt pumped when I returned to the weeknight quiet of the dorm, laden with beer and looking to celebrate with friends. A lone email waited on the computer screen: my psychology professor inquiring whether I’d had “something better to do than attend today’s midterm exam.”
“You’re damn right I did,” I said in a hoarse voice and cracked one open as righteously as my tips would permit.
Now even after waking, I still have a lingering feeling of guilt. My mother warns that I’m doomed to repeat this dream for the next thirty years. But my reality reassures me:
I graduated nearly two years ago. Professor Findley is 3,000 miles away. And absolutely no Latin will fall upon my ears today. The sun’s glow is beginning to rise on the Eastern Cascades, and it’s time to go climbing.