Exit Ramp

I was probably about four or five years old, riding in the back seat of a station wagon on a long trip.  It was late in the afternoon in the middle of summer and we were headed north across three contiguous states out west somewhere.  We were caught in holiday traffic, cars bumper to bumper, blaring their horns on all sides.  I had cousins next to me on the seat and more cousins in the back, all of them yelling and grabbing and fighting and bouncing around on the upholstery.  I was keeping to myself, scribbling in a coloring book in the middle of all this heat and noise under the glaring sun.

As we inched along, I could see that the highway passed under a bridge up ahead, and there was an exit ramp there to get off the freeway.  No one seemed to be getting off at this ramp, but I had an urge to see what was off the exit.  As though prompted by my curiosity, I found myself propelled forward, flying free at the speed of sight. Off the ramp there was just a little local gas station there with the old ticking numbers on the pumps and an attendant that stared out from a dirty window as the traffic passed on the highway all day.  I slipped along the vacant roads of the little town.  It was sad and quiet so late in the day.  I came to crossroads after crossroads with nothing but posts and tufts of grass.  A few pickup trucks rattled by.  People lived around here and they were headed home and the world was so unbearably big and lonely.

I got turned around in a gravel lot somewhere that was decorated with strands of colored flags fluttering in the breeze like they were having a sale, but the lot was empty and the building there was boarded up and there was no one around selling anything.  I felt lost to myself, disembodied and haunting my way along these back roads.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted my coloring book.  I wanted my place in the seat in the middle of all the jumping cousins.  And then I came to another crossroads, and I took another turn, and I found myself back on the bridge that passed over the highway, and I could see all the gridlocked cars stretching out of sight in either direction.

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8 thoughts on “Exit Ramp

  1. You have an extraordinarily rich dream-life, Bryan. I read your notes so I realise that you tweak them a bit to improve the narrative but still, the content must correspond to the dreams themselves and I'm astonished by this seemingly endless source of dream imagery and story. Have you always dreamed (dreamt?) so vividly?

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  2. There were quite a few dreams that I had when I was a kid that made a very vivid impression on me and I still remember them even today, but I think my interest in dreams also stems partly from some of the dreams that my older brother had that he told me about when we were little.

    I remember one in particular that he told me about. We had gone to see a double feature of the animated Alice in Wonderland, and some other movie that a western of some sort. And I guess in this second movie, there were pictures of Abraham Lincoln in several shots. And that night, my brother's all worked up and he tells me about this dream he had where this giant head of Abraham Lincoln was chasing him, yelling, “Off with his head!” He explained about how the picture of Lincoln had been in the background. He drew the head for me and it was like Lincoln with these big flaming eyes. I was about three or four, I guess, and I think especially the idea that something in the background of a movie had worked it's way into my brother's nightmare really turned my brain upside down.

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  3. The grass isn't always greener on the other side, is it? A balance between the two is probably what all of us want, but when faced with that same choice – be among an overwhelming amount of people or be lost in loneliness – I'm not sure I'd want to deal with all that loneliness either.

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  4. I wonder if there is a “dream gene” hidden somewhere in our brains? Because some people definitely are more vivid dreamers than others. Interesting that you and your brother both have that gene (if indeed it exists). I too clearly remember certain dreams from many years ago, maybe because I don't have such amazing dreams very often.

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  5. I read that as “dream genie” at first and I imagined a genie appearing in a wisp of smoke curling up my brain.

    I've known some people that say they don't ever remember their dreams, and a lot of them just don't seem to be very interested in their dreams to begin with. And I find myself that my ability to remember dreams comes and goes with my interest in them. When I go off and do something else for a month or so, and I barely think about my dreams, I rarely remember any of them. A lot of times, even when I am interested, it takes a lot of effort to remember them. Dreams have a way of just popping out of your brain when you wake up, like a lost train of thought.

    What was I saying?

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  6. I couldn't escape the feeling in this of a desolate America, the kind I have seen many times in movies, a vast empty suspicious place to those driving on one of those long trips that just don't exist here in this small island called Britain. And in your dream there are only the two things: the stifling proximity of your jumping cousins, too many of them, and the gridlocked cars, too many of them too.

    The whole thing mutely expressing a big unanswered question, something like “How do I get out of here? Where can I possibly go?”

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  7. We took a trip across the country last summer, and I'm sure I was thinking of that as much as the dream itself when I wrote this.

    When you take a trip like that here, you find busy truckstops off of most of the exits, where everything is especially equipped for people travelling. But sometimes, for one reason or another, you get off someplace like the town described above. It's a strange place, and you're miles and miles from anywhere, and you just want to get back on the road and keep moving.

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