The night my boyfriend moved in I had no dreams. There was a hanger shortage. Actually a closet shortage, which left him stranded, Hefty bags of boots and towels in hand, piles of dry-cleaning bags sticking to his arms. There was a scene, one involving flying sweaters and freshly cut keys, after which he went to bed. I stayed up, shuttling between the linen closet and my basement storage locker, wondering if I’d get the chance to call the dream hot line. It was only open one weekend, 56 hours: all you can dream decoded absolutely free.

I packed up the ugly sheets and the extraneous mattress pads, the college-level towels and the heating pad. One unfinished sewing project and six or seven unstarted ones. Sports equipment for sports long abandoned. Cameras–the complicated kind–and a set of beautifully pastel and thoroughly incomprehensible lens filters. Some B-grade purses. A garment bag sequestering a long-lost bodysuit. I taped up the boxes, scratched out the invoice from my last move, and inked on the new: Linen closet, low-level. I took down the cat carriers and discovered that the sewing machine nested comfortably next to the fridge. I straightened out a stack of dream journals and moved them to the bookshelf. I segregated four loads of neglected clothes to give away. Scrubbed down, the closet looked almost inviting.

I bumped the full cartons down all three flights. While rearranging the locker, I uncovered the porch furniture, which I dragged upstairs. I took the give-away boxes down and reconsidered the kitchen shelves I had stowed last winter. I hauled them up; scoured, they turned out to be the perfect solution to the toaster and coffee-maker problem. By then the kitchen was looking so spiffy I decided to finish the dishes. Then there was the recycling to sort and carry down.

At six I called the dream hot line anyway. “I’ve been walking up and down stairs all night,” I said. “Any other details?” the chipper voice inquired. “Boxes,” I said. “Lots of boxes.”

Mary wanted to know if the boxes were on the steps. Was I packing the boxes? Did I resent packing the boxes? How did I feel? Tired. Then she got down to interpretation. A student at the Berwyn School of Metaphysics, she’d volunteered to stay up all night and coax symbols out of dreams.

“Everyone in the dream is you,” she began. “Everyone represents part of you. Everything in the dream has a connection to you.”

“The house is the mind,” she said. “The basement is where we store things we don’t want to look at.” I knew what she meant.

“The first floor is the conscious mind. The second floor is the subconscious. The kitchen is where we keep knowledge. The bathroom represents the need to release. When you’re moving up and down the steps, you’re moving from the conscious state to the subconscious. You’re raising consciousness.”

Mary paused to do a symbol check with her teacher. “Boxes,” I could hear her shout. “Packing boxes, you know, as a chore, not as a joy.”

Back on the line, Mary had the goods. “OK,” she said. “Boxes represent limitations in your life. Also you felt tired. Some limitation in your life is making you tired.

“The dream always represents something that went on that day,” Mary explained. “Dreams either pat us on the back or kick us in the butt. They’re always trying to guide us.” Then she sketched out a long-form diagram about how thoughts create attitudes and attitudes affect lives and how focusing positive energy on a choice can bring good things into life. I think she was worried about my time in the basement. “You can use willpower to change thoughts to change attitudes to bring the proper opportunities into your life,” she said. Maybe if I concentrated hard enough I could sprout another closet.

Mary wanted to put me on a metaphysical mailing list, but I declined.

The birds were up. It seemed like a good time to take the clothes to the Infant Welfare Society. I also dropped off the recycling and took some shirts to the laundry. Mine and his. I bought champagne and juice and cheese and bagels and beer and 12 varieties of pretzels. I wanted him to feel at home.

When I got back all his clothes were hanging neatly in the closet. We recorded greetings for our separate voice mail boxes. We talked about wedding invitations. I had an idea about a woven-paper pattern and tried to illustrate it by tearing scraps of old check registers into strips. I got out the rubber cement. Crafts make him nervous.

I thought I’d take a nap before we opened the champagne but sank into a dark and dreamless bliss that parted at 9 AM. I dialed the dream hot line.

“I can hardly remember a thing about last night,” I confessed to John. He had to finish an interpretation on another call but eventually clicked back to me. “Darkness represents a lack of awareness,” he told me. I remembered a woman. And some scraps of paper. “Everyone in the dream is you,” he said. “Everyone represents some aspect of yourself. There’s an effort there to emphasize communication. The pieces of paper is passing on information. The dream is talking to you about the past 24 hours. Maybe you just made a big decision?” John seemed troubled by my lack of awareness. He assured me I could trigger new confidence and discover new insight by “requesting” more information from my dreams. “I would say it’s a big advantage if you remember your dreams and apply them throughout the following day.” He offered to put me on the mailing list.

That night I dreamed about the inventor of radio, a place where buildings are shaped like mountains, their bricks mortared end on end. There was a massive pine table, a journey through water, and a trucker cowboy’s Woodstock. The semis pulled off the road, and the neatly dressed and pressed cowhands jumped down from the cabs, spread out their picnic cloths, and lounged en plein air with their cows. This was disruptive to a small poetry collective meeting on a nearby park bench. The poets packed up their fountain pens and notebooks and walked up the hill, but in the morning the dream hot line was closed.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Charles Eshelman.