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“The Past Is Never Dead. It’s Not Even the Past” By Elsie Ramsey

I had a dream last night that took me all over the world.

A short trip to the African content with my first boyfriend, followed by a long plane ride back to New York so I could make a therapy session. On the plane and back in New York, I was wearing sleep attire not the slightest bit appropriate for use outside the bedroom.

While on the plane, I lost a valuable bracelet the old boyfriend had bought me on the trip from Cartier. I needed to call the airline to see if it had been recovered but I was rushing to the appointment and couldn’t make the call. I was aware that each lost moment made getting it back less likely and I wanted to sell it because it had zero sentimental value and I needed the money.

The therapy session was to take place in a hospital setting and prior to our appointment, my doctor, who I haven’t worked with in years, was being honored for exemplary clinical performance. When I arrived at the building, celebrations were underway, and the time for my session came and went, ignored in the presence of so much festivity, so I left. My old doctor was dressed like a circus performer and the celebrants were families with young children. Songs were being sung, candles were ceremoniously blown out to sounds of applause, and I’d sat observing it all still dressed in the ‘at home only’ attire.

This one was bazaar enough for reflection this morning.

Some therapists I’ve had over the years suggest writing down my dreams in a “dream journal”, kept on a nightstand for easy access. They suggest doing so first thing, while it’s all still fresh in my mind.

Others are agnostic, of course willing to listen if I want to relate a nocturnal experience, but no real encouragement to record or dwell too intensely on analysis.

I’ve adopted the second philosophy, with the exception of recurring dreams that contain the same people, themes and settings. Persistent dreams contain a message that must be processed.

For at least two years, I would intermittently have a nightmare about giving birth. In each dream I was pregnant, though no one else knew and doctors couldn’t give me a due date or final confirmation. Then at some point I would feel the need to deliver, rushing to a hospital, getting hooked up to an IV, and bracing for excruciating pain. But it wasn’t to be—the baby wasn’t ready to come. I was left with a feeling that I was going to be carrying around a partially developed fetus forever.


That one I did work on with a therapist and through understanding and discussing the feelings provoking the dream, it ended.

Last night gave me some hints about where I am now. Like all of us, I’ve been feeling anxious about the future, at the one year mark of pandemic lockdown. The inability to pursue new avenues of experience has drawn my focus to the past.

The first boyfriend relationship ended badly (we were only 18), but in the dream I’d initiated a trip in the hope of bringing it back to life, though our affection had dried up decades ago. Knowing the futility of this effort did not prevent me from doing it. I think my initiation of this doomed mission reflects a concern for potential unforced errors now, even though I’m more secure and happy than ever.

The bracelet came from a movie I watched last night, On the Rocks, though that first boyfriend did buy me a piece of jewelry once for Valentine’s Day, before either of us could ever have dreamed of owning anything from Cartier. Wanting to sell it seems like a reflection of my current financial anxiety.

Being at the hospital without proper clothing while this therapist was being honored by a “respectable” institution, containing “respectable” families, indicates present feelings of inadequacy. Modeling in my 20s sometimes included lingerie work that made me feel not so great. Those feelings kept me from pursuing academic and career goals during that period: I walked around feeling less accomplished than essentially every other human being.

Those days are long gone. I’m in graduate school, with years of professional experience behind me. I’m confident in my abilities and have stopped measuring my value against others based on superficial metrics.

But the past lives inside us always, doesn’t it?

Friedrich Nietzsche’s sentiment has always resonated with me on this topic. He wrote “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.” 

What are you dreaming about these days? Ideas conquered? If so you’re in great company with Faulkner and the King of Nihilism. And me, too.

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