Bad dreams

If the details change, is it still classed as a recurring dream? Because the intricacies of plot differ, but my friend dream always keeps its theme consistently. The point my subconscious wants to ram home, night after night, is that I am a bad friend.

Other people’s dreams are dull – their inner surrealism is only magical to themselves – so I will avoid giving a detailed account. The précis is this:

I agree to meet an old friend in a familiar place. But when we meet, the old friend’s smiles become jeers. They expose the indifference that I have shown to them and remind me of every unfriendly act, missed appointment or unkind word. They are lyrical on my hypocrisy. Then they disappear. Popping up occasionally to remind me what I prick I am, as I try to navigate through the once familiar place, which has now mutated into a maze.

For years the disdainful friend was D*****. Now it is Rachel.

At university, I shared a flat with Rachel for three years. She was a well spoken, well behaved young lady. An enthusiast, she wore thick, green woolen stockings, fussed, muttered to herself and made coco at bedtime.

Even as a student, Rachel had the air of someone who would eventually make jam and chair WI committees. She was church-going, small c conservative, CofE right down to her range of plaid, knee length kilts and flat soled shoes. Does that sound dismissive? It’s not meant to be. I loved her in a clumsy, brotherly way.

No, not brotherly. She had the practical, enthusiastic charm of a favourite aunt. Or more likely, I did not have the brains required to analyse our relationship, at all. At the time, Rachel simply existed in the twin states of ‘friend’ and ‘house mate’.

I can’t remember what Rachel studied. Whatever it was, she did it with a sense of industry that meant her lectures were all attended, her books got read and her essays arrived on tutors’ desks proofed and on time. Her approach to study sat awkwardly with mine.

In fact, her ethic and elbow grease was a stark contrast to my more loutish, ramshackle approach. In my studies, diligence and hard work were remote destinations. Like Paris or New York, they where places I had heard of, but hadn’t visited.

If I hadn’t been wrapped up in the storm of ego and chemicals that made up my career as a student, I would remember more about Rachel. What she thought, felt or believed in.

Instead my memories of her are defined by her relation to me, rather than as a separate, complex and interesting person in her own right. But who has the time to appreciate others? I had a torrid infatuation to worry about. A pointless and painful obsession with our other flatmate Lisa.

When Rachel returned to University for our final year, she had fallen in love. By the time we graduated, she was engaged. Was she married that summer or the one after? Does it matter; although I accepted the invite, I didn’t go. And that is something I will always fund shameful about myself. Nor did I apologise or explain my absence. I find that even worse, the reprehensible acts of a coward.

This all happened before social media. Rachel got married a year before I even owned a mobile phone.

It’s been 15 years since I last saw Rachel. If there was a big goodbye, the memory hasn’t stuck. It’s the ephemera of the last day at university that remains: piling the flat’s collection of empty wine bottles into an old potato sack; the panic that we’d not be able to empty out a year’s supply of other junk; that no one would get their deposits back. But no goodbyes.

I am sure Rachel is out there, carting well-adjusted, bright children to recitals and drama club. She is in her kitchen, sterilising jars, or in Waitrose buying frozen fruit, for jam. And part of me wants her to stop and suddenly think ‘I wonder whatever happened to James?’. But on the other hand, I’m not sure I deserve her time.

Other people keep hold of their university friends. All over the country, sideboards groan with photographs taken a yearly reunions. But not in my house. As my dreams remind me, I am a friend. not a good friend though – good friends are the one’s you get to keep.


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