I had a dream once where I was at a party, and this girl I knew came up and asked if I was involved with A Certain Person. Tell me, she said, are you having dealings with This Certain Man? She was wearing a bad outfit, the centrepiece of which was a pink waistcoat. I didn’t recognise it as bad in my dream. It was only when I woke up that I could see it was a terrible thing – made out of that kind of corduroy which is called wide-wale, and then big sassy buttons. This is something that comes up a lot, in my dreams – we are all always wearing the most wretched clothes, and getting away with it. I dreamt once that I got married in blue velvet dungarees and this old man told me I was the most beautiful bride he’d ever seen. I know, I said.
There were a lot of people at the dream party, but me and the girl were sort of tucked away in one corner, and she had angled her body so as to prevent me from escaping. She was all big and rangy, and suddenly wearing a crown. Tell, she said. She pointed to where The Certain Man was standing, and he smiled in a sick way and mouthed Oh Christ at me. It was very clear that he wanted me to lie. I wanted me to lie, too. This man was, in both my dream and in real life, an unsuitable person for me to be dealing with. This fact did not, in either my dream or real life, slow us down.
This is another recurring feature of my dreams, and I suppose of my actual life, where I find myself trapped in an absurd situation made much, much worse by the fact that it is entirely of my own devising. It’s always me, in dreams, who is saying we should go on that train ride, or go say hello to that vet over there, and then it’s always me who reaps the whirlwind. The train is on fire; the vet tries to kill us; the horses turn out to have rabies. It’s always my fault. Even when it’s not my fault, it is. Besides being basically an idiot, and thus liable to find myself in one kind of trouble or another, I am one of those people who was born guilty – I feel bad about everything. I can’t even blame it on religion, because I have none. I just am guilty, the way some people are funny or hard of hearing. I knew that this girl, for instance, was only bending to forces which were set in motion by my own idiot self. She had to come and be in my face at this party, because I had to be the kind of tool who would secretly be in love with that certain man, of all possible men in this sad world.
There was another problem as well, which was that the more I looked at this girl, the more I realised that actually that is my fucking terrible pink waistcoat you have on there, lady. She must have stolen it out my cupboard, I realised. Probably when me and the certain man were kissing, or having a fight. I didn’t feel that I could raise it with her. She had me trapped, and I knew that soon I would have no choice but to admit that yes, he and I were known to each other. I knew that things would get generally worse after that, and that no amount of her having stolen my waistcoat would fix it.
There didn’t seem to be any possibility of brazening it out. Despite the Oh Christing that was going on over her shoulder, and despite the fact that I desperately wanted to lie, it seemed clear that she was going to weasel the facts out of me. She was as tall, now, as a famous basketball player, and her eyes were going a different colour. Well, I said. I looked up into her face, and then down at my right hand, and saw that I was holding keys. I looked at her face a bit more, and then down at my left hand, and saw that it was resting on the bonnet of a van. It was boxy and red, like what a cartoon postman drives. This van belongs to me, I realised. Just this on its own made me feel better. It’s me who is the owner of this van. I chewed on this, for a little while, as the girl’s questions became more specific. Would I please have the kindness to tell her when, exactly, the two of us had started kissing and fighting? Would I at least have the common courtesy to print out every email we had ever sent each other?
It is difficult to convey how oppressed I felt, or how worried I was about being In Trouble. It is even harder to put across how happy I was when I realised that I could simply drive away in my van. I could just leave. I did. I climbed up into my own personal van and drove down the stairs of the house and out into the street. It took me about ten dream minutes to remember that I didn’t know how to drive a van, but I thought it would probably be all right.
Despite this being in my top three dreams I’ve ever had, I am unsure of its significance. Is it bad that I drove off in the van? Does me driving off in the van represent a rejection of adult responsibilities and a reluctance to face up to my own mistakes? OR is it more that me driving off in the van is me driving away from those burdens and expectations which late capitalism has forced upon us, and which make us so unhappy, and which lead to old people crying on massage tables because they are so lonely and otherwise bereft of human touch? Does driving off in the van make me a free bird, or a wicked little snake? Am I driving away from a necessary reckoning with the flaws that constitute my personality? Or am I driving down the stairs and into the road of saying yes to life, saying a particular yes to not caring what other people think?
I don’t know. These are complicated questions. I had that dream like eight years ago, and I still don’t know. “Drives off in van”, though, ended up as a sort of short hand, between my best friend and I. It came to signify a potent version of Fuck This, of looking around at whatever it is that is going on and realising that, actually, you do not need to participate. At least, it means realising that no one will put you in jail if you don’t. It is a balm for the naturally guilty soul.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot because I have spent the last month, about, attempting to drive off in my van. It has been my default response to all sorts of stuff. I have not managed it every time – it gets way harder the older you get. Many more situations in which driving off in your van will not solve anything. Also, you won’t have a job at the end. Everyone will hate you. But I have had a few notable successes, just me with my foot on the gas, getting right the hell out of there. Someone will be talking to me, or trying to do a thing, but they can’t, see, because actually I am up there in my van and soon I will be driving right straight through their security gate. Zoom. Sometimes it can be a bus, like in Almost Famous or basically any movie that has a band in it. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I still don’t know how to drive a van, but I still think it will probably be all right.