A Dream Deferred

'Doorways' by Paolo Dallorso | FlickrAs I hung up the phone, I knew that the last flicker in the lamp of my dream had gone out. I reached down and scratched the dog on his muzzle, the spot that makes him close his eyes in some unspeakable ecstasy. He rested his head on my lap and looked up at me. I grinned.

Langston Hughes famously wondered about dreams deferred, pondered the various ways that they could decay or shrivel or explode, his one great work of poetry giving birth to an equally great stage production. So was my faltering dream like that same raisin in the sun or something else?   

I’d been pursuing this dream for more than a year. It started as a casual conversation late one summer. Poolside, my wife and I luxuriated in the sun, she with her gin and tonic, me with my beer. “You should just do it,” she said. “Don’t let a ‘you know what would be cool?’ turn into ‘I always wish I had.’” So I did. Or at least I tried quite hard.  

I chased the dream to Austin in the windy fall, New York in the slushy winter, and to the bankers and investors in the spring. Everywhere, there was affirmation — excitement, even. The dream was good. It was supposed to be. It was to be a boon for the city I loved, the escape from the job that I hated, and the enviable transition of a hobby to a vocation.  

My heart disappeared into the dream. When asked at parties what I did for a living, I’d lead with the dream, partly because it made me more interesting, but also because I so wanted it to come true that it was exploding out of my pores. Buoyed by this hope, I drove forward with an urgency that was electric and irresistible.

And then the brakes were applied. Let me rephrase that. The handbrake was applied. The race car was pouring pale, putrid tire smoke as it slowed to a halt on the straightaway. The certainty I had about the truth of my goal was suddenly and completely reversed, replaced with a certainty that it must not happen. Just like that.

I continued to take meetings, but I started to dodge the voicemails. Would I be moving forward? Let me get back to you. Things are uncertain. I’ll have some clarity soon.  

I already had the clarity but lacked the courage to share it.

Even if it’s something as inconsequential as dinner plans, when you tell someone that you’re going to do something, the likelihood that they’ll ask you about it the next time you see each other is high. How was the restaurant? How was your trip? How’s that dream coming? The crushing weight I felt was not for the deferral of the dream itself but for the shame of confessing the deferral and the fear that the deferral would be construed as a failure. So I kept silent. I changed the subject. I lied outright.

But when my largest investor called, there was no hiding. The truth would be forced into the open. The one condition, the one contingency that we always knew could bring down the whole façade? That was in effect now.  

He understood. That was a large part of why he was such an ideal investor. He understood me, understood the dream, understood what it meant to me. And he understood the reason why the dream had to go away. I wanted him to be disappointed, to kick me in the ass and tell me to keep going, but he knew what I really needed.

Dreams can be subsumed or trumped, and this was definitely one of those situations. The dream I’d been chasing was replaced by a new reality that moves me to tears and grins in equal measure. I barely think about the old dream unless someone asks about it. Almost two years separate me from that idyllic poolside dive into the unknown, so the dream is slowly regressing into the same nostalgic trophy room where I keep my guitar lessons, my bachelor’s in molecular biology, and my liver from my twenties.

Why do some dreams die hard, painful deaths while other pass peacefully — imperceptibly by night? Does replacement play a factor — the seamless filling of the void, the sudden speed with which the dreams are snuffed out? The axiom that “when God closes a door, He opens a window” seems so architecturally and theologically inelegant, but surely there’s a morsel of truth there. He’s telling our story — His story, really — and there are cliffhanger chapter endings in any thrilling tale.

I may never open a clothing store. No unboxing new gear, serving customers so well that they become friends, locking the doors at ten o’clock just to unlock them again at ten the next morning, enjoying a celebratory glass of bourbon after a big sale. I’m okay with that. I already love my unborn son more than I love a pair of benchmade loafers, and rightly so. A dream deferred isn’t a curse or a lit fuse — at least not when a master Storyteller is laying out the plot. He’s not opening doors or windows — He’s building a whole Kingdom. It’s raisin bread, leavened with hope, not just raisins in the sun.

Rob Hays makes really good guacamole and a decent sazerac. He's dapper, but not a dandy. He lives in Houston with his wife and German Shepherd.

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