Life on Another Planet: Lessons for a Year of Pandemic Living

Last night I dreamed I was deported to another planet. The reason for my deportation was unclear, but I think it had something to do with protecting me from something bad that I’d done or a dangerous event that was forthcoming.

In my dream, I ended up in an all-white dorm room with several bunk beds. Everything was white — the walls, the ceiling, the bunk beds, the sheets. I was assigned to the bottom bunk, and a woman named Lee who’d I’d met just briefly at my last job was tucked into the top slot.

Lee was the only familiar face in the room. The other “guests” were two teenage girls who scored the only two non-bunk beds and a very large multi-generational family who occupied the other three bunk beds. I wasn’t sure why the teenagers were there, but somehow I knew that the family had been high in a Mexican drug cartel and were on this planet for protection.

I was confused but not scared. In my dream, I realized this was my new reality. It was not a vacation or a time-limited prison sentence. It was where I would live for the rest of my life. A chronic worrier, it was strange to me that my dream self wasn’t panicking about having been transported to this strange new land. My dream self just accepted it and tried to work with what I knew.

I unpacked my familiar burgundy carry-on. I had packed little — just a pair of pants and a few t-shirts. That was weird because I rarely wear t-shirts. I couldn’t find any underpants or bras and as I was digging around to see if maybe they were buried somewhere Lee yelled down, “You have eight million dollars cash in there. I know cuz I got it too.” Sure enough, there was a Ziplock baggie with eight million dollars. I knew that this currency was no good on the new planet and wondered briefly who’d stuffed it into our suitcases. I thought of all the things I could have used that money for a few short days before.

Two orderlies dressed in scrubs with light blue stars all over them brought in trays of food for the teenage girls. Leaning on one elbow and facing each other, the girls picked at their food with dead eyes and bitter smirks. Those girls scared me. I assumed they’d been here for a while and had given up hope. Maybe they knew something about this bizarre planet we were on. I thought to my dream self, maybe they’re just teenagers.

When I finished unpacking, I realized my glasses were broken, not just at the end piece where I could use a paperclip or safety pin to repair them, but further down the arm. I would need heavy-duty tape or a whole new arm to replace it.

My alarm woke me up, and I quickly jotted down the key points of the dream. What struck me the most was how unworried I was on this new planet. I just accepted all the strange things. I’m usually the person who would freak OUT, demanding to understand what is happening, to know all the details. I would run from room to room looking out every window, in every drawer. Normally in stressful times, I’m like Shelley Duvall in The Shining — smoking, eyes darting around, intermittently shrieking, and playing possum.

But in this dream, I was just going with it. Everything was new and different and disorienting, but it was okay. It was simply my new life. My dream self accepted that I would have eight million dollars that I could never use, that I would wear broken glasses and the same bra and underpants forever. My dream self accepted my new roommates and the fact that I’d never see my home or my family forever.

The person in this dream, I thought to myself, was not the version of me I know. It was the reformed version, the person who can let things go, accept change, and live in the unknown.

Reflecting on the period of history we’re in — more than a year of living in a pandemic where everything is scary and disorienting and we know very little about what the hell is really happening — I realize that this past year has been a bit like living on another planet.

I’ve learned a lot on this new planet. I’ve learned early in the pandemic that if my inner Shelley Duvall ruled the roost, I would be completely insane and permanently alienate all the close friends and family members I love and care about. I’ve learned that happiness is possible even when I am living in the unknown. I’ve learned that I don’t actually need the number of clothes and shoes and accessories that crowd my closet and drawers. I’ve learned that the world can feel scary and weird and crazy, and I’ll still be okay. I’ve learned that I can make do with broken glasses.

My dream was a prescient message to stay on this path. It was a sign that the lessons I’ve learned are good ones that will serve me on my journey no matter what planet I’m on. I’ll always be a worrier. I’ll still freak out from time to time. But I like to think that my dream revealed a little of the new me, the one who can still be happy when life is scary, unknown, and incredibly weird.

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