Out of My Depth

In the dream I am coming from a gathering of women. The streets are dark but for the faded light of a lonely streetlamp on a far corner. I approach the pay lot where I’d left my car. A Ford Fairlane, Acapulco blue, with vertically stacked dual headlights. 

The meeting has left me depleted. Women I know only casually: smart, competent, underpaid in their non-union jobs. Talking without real direction, mouthing phrases they’ve heard on TV or from their husbands.

The parking lot is empty. My car is not to be seen. There is no attendant on site, no attendant’s booth. I look for a posted sign that might display hours, rates, or maybe threaten towing. The brick walls of the two adjacent buildings are blank. I see no sign. 

A car passes on the street behind me, its tires swooshing on wet pavement. A muted siren in a distant neighborhood announces emergency. I stand on the sidewalk gazing stupidly at the emptiness in front of me. It’s like I’m at the edge of the stone quarry at Wildwood Lake, and if I can just will myself to dive in, I’ll be all right.


Hot town, summer in the city. It was the summer of love, and I was in love. 

Marty drove. I snuggled close against his scent, a mixture of light sweat, freshly bleached tee, and English Leather. It would be hours until dark, skin to skin, mouths hungry. For now, there was the peace of summer heat coming through the open window, easy weekend traffic to the Wildwood Lake quarry, Lovin’ Spoonful on the radio.

In the back seat, Angie was singing to Greg. She got the words wrong, like always.

We did everything together, the four of us. Best friends and best friends. 

First love.


The first time I ventured from the grassy knoll, leaving my beach towel behind, and strode to the stony cliff edge above the quarry – now a spring fed lake – my eyes met the sky, my gaze rose above the trees across the water. A slight breeze ruffled my long hair. I was not afraid to look down. Not afraid to take the dive. Not afraid to go deep. 


Drew’s room at the frat house was cramped, the dresser blocking half the window, a desk not more than a foot in front of the closet. A twin-size mattress atop a two-foot platform squeezed into a corner against the far wall. The bed was always messy. Drew complained it was too difficult to change the sheets. We often slept on top of the corduroy bedspread.

On Valentine’s Day I was visiting from St Louis, a thousand miles away. It was early Saturday morning and we hadn’t yet made love. We hadn’t made love the night before either. What we’d managed after my arrival on Thursday couldn’t really be classified as making love.

Drew rose and, barely awake, I watched him go to the dresser where a huge pile of records was stacked beside a turntable. He flicked on the stereo, gently lifted the stylus and even more gently placed it on a rotating album. Lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed. Dylan, as Dylan had never been heard before. A boy from Duluth, pretending to be country. 

Valentine’s Day, visions of a big brass bed, Dylan singing Nashville twang. A study in irony.


I’m very good at making beds. The secret is in the way the sheets are folded: top end to bottom end first, then side to side. That way, the sheet can easily be flapped into position. Then it’s just a matter of tucking corners into place.

I learned this skill as a nurse’s aide at a long-term care facility. I got a job there shortly after dropping out of college and I stayed two years. I had a great fondness for the residents. But even more I loved the women I worked with, who made beds, gave baths, cut toenails, changed catheters, cleaned up after unexpected bowel movements, fed and clothed and comforted. At minimum wage, many of them. For many years, with few perks or benefits. 

Sometimes I was reminded of Angie, who was in nursing school and still my best friend.

Where did they get their courage, these unrecognized heroes? This was years before Donna Summers’ She Works Hard for the Money, before Cher’s Working Girl, even before Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman, which didn’t really resonate with these women who never considered themselves feminists. All they asked for was a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. 

They all thought Dylan was self-indulgent.


Some day I’d like to find out what happened to them, the women who worked beside me. I can imagine walking into a bar and finding Louise and Cadie and Sheila and Gayle seated at an oversized booth sharing a couple of pitchers. They’ll maybe only vaguely remember me but will readily offer a seat and let me into the conversation, which will have no real direction and be filled with phrases they’ve heard on TV or from their grandchildren.

Some day. For now, though, the best I can do is think fondly of the person that I was and forgive myself for the person I’ve become. 


In the dream I am lost and confused. Unsettled by an awareness of women’s lack of awareness. I’m in the dark, I’m in deep. But I know a dream even as I’m dreaming. I know I can wake myself. And I’m very good at making my own bed.


  • Nancy Cook runs “The Witness Project,” a program of free community writing workshops in Minneapolis designed to enable creative work by underrepresented voices. Some of her recent work can be found in Channel Magazine, decomp journal, and the Michigan Quarterly Review. More about her work can be found at NancyLCook.com.

  • Novel and astonishing as they may have been for Enlightenment readers, it is difficult for us to comprehend how the magnifications of lice, fleas, houseflies, and other vermin might have been conceived as amusements for the mind and eyes. In full hand-colored clarity, stingers, pincers, biting mouthparts, and other irksome insect organs become menacing monsters thanks to the powers of the microscope in Martin Frobenius Ledermüller’s three-volume Microscopic Delights of the Mind and Eyes. For all of their scientific verisimilitude, microscopes were first and foremost instruments of wonder, and Ledermüller (1718–1769) — a German polymath, physician, and keeper of the Margrave of Brandenburg’s natural history collection — extolls their virtues for illustration and pure entertainment. Along with the vermin, Ledermüller gave state-of-the-art descriptions of plant, animal, and human organs, fungi, plankton, and crystals that accompany more than 150 attractive colored plates, produced by Nuremberg publisher, artist, and engraver Adam Wolfgang Winterschmidt. From Public Domain Review.