Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“Naked Nightmare”

            As the school year winds down, all my friends still in education post on Facebook, with fairly high frequency, status updates on their “no sleep nights.” With gratitude, I realize that retirement ended my horribly restless nights and bad dreams. My dream frequency always increased in number right before returning to work in August and then again in the weeks prior to the end of each school year in May.
            These dreams or nightmares invaded my REM sleep relentlessly, leaving me with battle fatigue because of their vivid nature. Two nightmares recurred off and on for years. In both, I find myself back in my first high school classroom. This interior room, with no windows and plain brown paneling and musty orange carpet, lingers in most of my school dreams although I taught in five other classrooms before I finally retired. I’m certain Freud or Jung would have interesting interpretations on why I find myself back in the same boxed room over and over again.
            In one dream, I sit at a student desk aiding a student with a passage in our literature book when the principal’s voice breaks into the quiet. “Mrs. Chapman, report to my office. Now!”
I feel my cheeks burn as I hurry down the hallway, stumble down the stairs, and dash madly to the administrative building. When I get to the principal’s office, he gestures for me to sit in a chair as he angrily sorts through piles of papers. Finally, he triumphantly waves a document and announces, “Do you realize you never graduated from high school?”
            My mouth drops open in comical disbelief as I gasp. “What?”
            My hands shake as I read my high school transcript and realize that for some reason, I never took government and economics! “Why didn’t my college admissions notice this? Why didn’t my high school counselor notice? What am I going to do?” The panic attack hits quickly and painfully.
            “Only one answer,” my sage principal replies. “You’ll finish those two courses here.”
            And the remainder of my dream blurs with me teaching my own classes and attending those two high school classes during my conference period. Each time I have this dream, I’m never certain if I’m a student or a teacher. Of course, in education this reality exists—we are always both the student and the teacher. Every day, I learned as much as I taught.
My second recurring nightmare finds me in the same classroom as the previous dream, usually standing before my students, giving instructions for the day’s assignments. With every eye riveted to me, I walk across the front of the room, move up and down the rows, pause here and there as I gesture for emphasis. All of my students pay attention to what I say, and I feel pleasure that I have their total concentration focused on me.
            I move back to the front of the room and glance down. With horror, I realize that I have no clothes on. Nothing. Nada. Totally naked! I look back at my students, but they’ve begun their work.
            “No one’s noticed!” I whisper to myself in relief.
            Looking next to me, I notice my clothes neatly folded and sitting on the corner of my desk. So my plan is simple. I just need to get dressed without anyone noticing. Certainty floods me that my students will only notice my nudity if they become aware of my reverse strip tease. Flustered and embarrassed, I sneak over to my desk where I try to casually don my underpants and bra without catching anyone’s attention.
            Never once, in all the years I dreamed this nightmare have I pulled on an item of clothing without one student looking up and the entire class laughing at my nakedness!

Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman


  1. I love this. I think most teachers have a naked dream.
    Mine is usually some version of me wandering around the "A" building of TR. I'm late to class, not sure where it is, and starting to panic.
    I finally find the room, and of course, it's packed. I now realize I have no clothes on. I have to walk into the room and all the way to the back of the class. Everyone is staring.
    The teacher doesn't say a word. She just watches me, with one eyebrow raised, as I slink into my chair.

    I like to think that Mrs. Curry (who else could cock an eyebrow like her?) would be pleased to know she had a long-term impact on me.

    I loved and respected that woman.

  2. I, too, appreciate yiour writings. Right now, I am toying with the idea of retirement....well, actually, it is toying with me, really. No "naked" dreams for me, just a painful reality that "education" is not what it used to or should be. Yet I am loathe to call it quits, as being a teacher has identified me for nearly three decades. I keep wondering if I will lose my identity when I leave the classroom and, with it, my purpose in living.
    Anyhow, good writing!!!

  3. Mary, I think Mrs. Curry impacted all of us! Were you in the class that taped the doorway one day when she was called to the office? One of the APs came in to watch the class and tangled himself in the tape. He looked at us and said, "Is this for Mrs. Curry? You'd better hurry and get it fixed back in place!" Then there was the day we stood in the back of the room before class started, doing the Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil poses by covering ears, eyes, or mouth. She came in and conducted the entire class with us standing there!

  4. billybobwrt, Deciding to retire ended up being easy for me because my mother needed to leave assisted living. I'd been running a countdown for about six years, though. I don't miss it at all even though everyone said I would. And my days seem to fill without effort. My stress levels have dropped to minimal. I'm glad you've enjoyed my pieces!