It begins with me needing to make copies of a very large document on a floor of the library to which I had never been. On a weekend. I have to figure out the giant copier by myself. It snakes all over the room. The output drawer is near where I came in, the input space not far from it, but the copies make their way across that whole floor of the library. And the machine stops, calling for more paper. I have to find where to put it in.
As I'm looking, I run into Stephen, a guy from my real-life graduate school who studied to become a professor and forever remain in college. He was designed for that life. I went to graduate school to complete my teacher certification, the life I thought I was meant for. In the dream, Stephen comes out of a study carrel and tells how hard he's studying for a final I'll take soon enough. I'm headed down the same path as Stephen, but in that dream moment, I don't know why. I realize that I don't want it any more. But what is there to do? I have to finish this copy job I've started.
Stephen morphs into my best friend, Chris who is with a group of twenty-year-olds. He and I talk about this huge machine I'm stuck in and how complicated it is just to to add paper. One of the kids scoffs at me as I walk around the backside of a long section of machine. He says I'm just not committed enough. I take umbrage and call him out as I come back toward him. I sound tough. "Fine," he says, taking off his jacket, getting ready to fight.
Chris shakes his head and smiles. He walks away. He doesn't go to school here. He's just passing through and headed to other places. The look he gives me, walking away, is unsettling. It's so easy for him to leave even with the copies still unfinished. And so he disappears.
I say to the kid, "come here." I say it like a teacher. Calm, ready to talk. "Put your jacket back on." He does and looks relieved.
"How old are you?" I ask. He's twenty two and I laugh a little. I tell him, "Listen, Twenty-Two, I'm forty five. I've got two kids and a wife." The real world pushes into these things sometimes. "That changes the equations. I'm battling this machine because life gets complicated." There's more to my speech, but the kid isn't buying it. He's just humoring me now. I don't believe it either.
I figure out where the paper goes and find my way back to the output trays. The job finishes, the machine goes silent, the entire floor is vacant. Everyone has moved on. I can no longer find the output drawer. All the drawers are empty or locked. I don't even know what I've copied or why. I panic. I have to finish the copy job. I need those copies. It doesn't matter that I don't know why. I just have to.
A thought comes to me then: I don't want to be here any more. I want out of the library and I don't want to attend graduate school. It's not for me.
But I have to, right? Stephen did. Chris too. And Twenty Two, even he's going through it. I already enrolled. There's no turning back. The only sound on the empty floor is the whirring of my brain as I go through all these questions and keep hearing a voice that is probably mine saying, "get out. Go, go, go."
I wake myself up then. It's 4:15. I'm not going back to sleep. I'll never find those copies and finish that job. I'm not twenty two, or Stephen, or Chris. I make coffee, carry it down to the basement office, still stuck in that silent library but no longer looking for the copies. Instead, I sit down at my computer, writing on, looking for the door. I have the strong feeling that the darkness inside will give way to bright sun as soon as I can find the outside.