Dream of:08 September 1997 "Long Ago"
I had just walked into one of the big modern buildings on the campus of The Ohio State University. Earlier I had been talking with my wife Carolina about my plans for the future, telling her I was thinking of returning to college for a year to study history. I could feel she was a little confused that I would return to college again, at my age, especially since I already had a law degree. I had tried to explain that I knew I was drifting at the moment, but that I thought I was finding some direction. I had explained that it wasn't my intention to continue going to school forever. Even I was getting tired of it, but I still wanted to study history for a year to develop a more concrete vision of world history. With a firmer grounding in world history, after a year, I might go to Germany and study German law for three more years. I knew such a plan was a bit cock-eyed. I was already in my 40s and to take up such a course of action seemed somewhat absurd. So it was possible I might not actually follow through with law school in Germany. I was only sure that, at the moment, I wanted to concentrate on history.
Now, after having taken leave of Carolina, I walked along the hall of this Ohio State building, looking for a place to study. I was unsure what era of history I would first like to study. I had a rather full understanding of nineteenth century history, having once taken a course in that very subject at Ohio State. The course had proved quite helpful.
At the moment I thought I should try to find the library and begin my studies there. Before locating the library, I happened upon a small room along the hallway, and I walked in. I immediately knew this room was a lounge to be used by members of the history department, exclusively for faculty members and some students, probably only graduate students. No one was in the room at the moment – only the various chairs and tables. Hoping nobody would mind, and sensing this would be an excellent place to study, I sat down in a plastic lounge chair (the long kind that can fold back so someone can lie down on them) pulled out a book and began reading.
I wasn't bothered that a television was playing on an overhead stand three or four meters in front of me. At the same time as I was reading, I became interested in the show on the television, a movie. The present scene in the movie was taking place in the office of a gray-haired, gray-bearded professor who distinctly resembled Sigmund Freud in his middle years. The professor was conversing with a younger professor, both of whom were sitting. Standing in front of them was a young female student listening to what the two professors were saying.
Behind the female student was a wall of bookshelves, all filled with books. As the movie moved along, the camera panned over the backs of the books, finally focusing in on one large volume, the title of which was the names of two people. At the same time, the younger professor was also looking over the books on the shelves, and he also focused in on this particular book. The younger professor turned to the girl and asked her if she knew who the two people were whose names were in the title. She clearly had no idea.
The younger professor then proceeded to flaunt his knowledge of the subject. He explained that the two people had been opera singers. One opera singer had been a young girl who had been taught by the other singer, an older woman, one of the most illustrious opera singers of her age. The younger professor was obviously proud of his knowledge of these arcane facts, and as he spoke, he managed to challenge the older professor, seeming to imply that the older professor didn't know who the people in the book were, that the older professor kept a roomful of books, but he didn't read them and he didn't know what was in them.
The older professor sighed, as if he found the whole matter quite tedious, and then he proceeded to speak. In the most succinct and lucid manner the older professor began telling the story of the two opera singers, evenly painting the picture of their lives, their relationship with each other, and the time in which they had lived. The older professor also incorporated Mozart into his story, apparently because the two opera singers had lived at the time of Mozart. That was helpful for me, since I was thinking that Mozart had been born in 1756 and had died sometime during the 1790s. I was thus better able to visualize the time of the two opera singers.
I wasn't paying full attention to the movie, as I was still reading at the same time. I knew this was probably not the best way to study, reading while watching television. It was a practice I had followed in my youth but had discarded in later years. However, lately I had taken up the practice again. I thought that I once again would probably give up studying and watching television at the same time – but not just yet.
My concentration was interrupted by a college student who walked into the room. Black hair, slightly pudgy, early 20s. He seemed to pay me no mind. I knew that he might present a problem, that he would be aware that I didn't belong here. I might have to leave. I just hoped that so many people used this lounge that he might not know who everyone was, and thus not realize I didn't belong here. He walked to the back of the room, did something back there, then came back up front where I was. He picked up the remote control to the television, sat down a little to my left, toward the television, and then asked me if this was the kind of thing I normally watched.
Since he clearly wanted to change the channel, I told him to go ahead. I thought to myself that it was extremely rude to walk in and ask to change a show which someone else was watching; but I immediately suppressed any anger, thinking I couldn't afford to start any problems.
The fellow flipped through the channels and then gleefully announced he had found a good one, the CNN news channel. I didn't mind the news, but it clearly wasn't as good as the movie which I had been watching. I just tried to ignore it and sink back into my book.
A few minutes later, another interruption. Three middle-aged women walked in, obviously professors. They proceeded to the back of the room and sat down at a round table. I had been leaning back in my lounge chair, almost lying down, but I immediately raised myself straight upright. My first reaction was to simply get up and leave. I certainly didn't want any kind of confrontation if they were to suspect that I didn't belong here. I looked down at my feet and saw that I was barefoot, that I had taken off my black shoes and put them under my chair. I thought I should get the shoes and put them on, but then I stopped and thought it wouldn't be wise to leave just yet. If I jumped up and ran off, they would know that something was wrong. I should wait a few minutes first, then stand up and leave. That way nothing would be suspected.
I again settled back into my book. After only a few minutes I heard a voice say my name, "Steve," and I looked up to see one of the women hovering over me. She was a lean brown-haired bespeckled woman. She continued talking, saying that she was concerned the women were talking and disturbing my reading, and that I might want to leave. She wasn't telling me that I had to go because I didn't belong there, but simply that I might not feel comfortable with them in the room.
I was relieved that she wasn't throwing me out, but that she was only concerned with my comfort. However, what most startled me was that she had known my name, that she clearly knew who I was. That seemed amazing – that anyone might know me at Ohio State after all these years. It was even more startling that anyone would recognize me because of my present looks. I had let my hair grow long. I was sporting a beard. Rather scruffy-looking on the outside. I hardly resembled the person who had gone to college here so long ago.
I looked at her more closely and realized she had been one of my professors when I had gone to Ohio State those many years ago. She seemed friendly but unsmiling. She was about to turn back to the others when she asked me a final question: had I received the grant to go to Germany and study law? Her question opened a floodgate of memories. I had completely forgotten that at one time I had applied to go to law school in Germany. I now remembered this woman had helped me in all the preparation. I stood up and hurriedly began talking, all the faster because she seemed impatient to return to her peers. I quickly explained that I had been accepted those many years ago. I said, "I was accepted at the university of West Berlin."
I then explained why I hadn't gone. I told her I had waited and waited for the acceptance letter. I had waited until it had almost been time for school to begin in Germany. Only two weeks had been left before the semester would begin. Having finally concluded there was no chance I would be accepted, I had left and gone to Mexico to live for a while.
I explained that once I had been in Mexico, I had received a letter from my father with the documents admitting me to go to school in Germany. But by then it was too late. Over the years I had always deeply regretted that I had missed that opportunity in my life.
The woman was about to turn away. I quickly added, "I did go on to law school here though. So I am a lawyer."
By "here," I meant in the United States. I knew I was, however, not licensed to practice law in Ohio.
I thought the woman would be pleased to hear that I had at least continued my education in some way. But she didn't seem to react to what I had said, and she had already turned away. It was as if I had just been a part of something that happened long ago, and it no longer mattered.
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